Sunday, 3 June 2007

Dress codes

I'm always bemused by workplace dress codes. As far as I can see, asking employees to wear special clothes that conform to some arbitrary company image is almost entirely pointless and misguided.

For all the effort people put into finding the right suit, not looking too sexy, choosing sober colours, or toning down the jewellery, how much difference does it actually make to the business they're working for, or the customers?

The idea is that chaste, decorous clothes inspire confidence in whoever you're dealing with and get the cash flowing, but I have my doubts.

After all, suits are the norm for some of the least respected jobs - politicians, estate agents, car salesmen - but they don't cut the mustard there. And no intelligent adult is going to swallow some dodgy mortgage deal just because the man in the bank is in regulation pinstripes rather than a racy shirt and chinos.

On the other hand, casual clothes are routine in some of the most successful businesses ever, like IT and online shopping. And nobody doubts a plumber's expertise when he walks in wearing stained jeans and a torn T-shirt.

I suspect the motive for dress codes is not so much company credibility as controlling the staff and showing them who's boss. Give them too much personal freedom and they'll just get too bolshy to do a proper day's work.

Believe it or not, I've only possessed one suit in my entire working life! I've spent most of that time in bookshops where just about anything goes clotheswise. I could have worn a gorilla suit and it wouldn't have stopped Harry Potter flying off the shelves.

In fact the female staff would often wear eye-wateringly short skirts and low-cut tops, and the only effect on trade was a marked increase in the number of goggle-eyed middle-aged men buying unlikely titles from Fiona or Natalie.

And it wasn't just lack of ambition that made me opt out of management - it was more the awful thought of the obligatory white shirt, sombre tie and neatly-pressed suit. To my mind, not so much high-flying executive as slicked-up ticket tout. Thanks but no thanks.


  1. Ties in particular are really very strange things indeed. They aren't so popular over here where people dress much more casually for work than other countries. Even the guys reading the news on the state tv channel don't wear ties and have the top button on their shirts open. Doesn't seem to harm their credibility one bit.

  2. When I was waiting tables the worst was working the lunch shift because I had the worst trouble telling men in suits apart from one another. They all looked the same. Boring.

  3. Con - yes, ties are one of my pet hates - they have no function whatever. In fact I don't possess any ties at all. It's been pointed out that ties in hospitals are a hygiene risk as they can harbour all sort of bugs. But dammit, a chap just isn't pukka without one, doncha know?

    Medbh - I know what you mean. When I see a row of suits, my eyes just glaze over and they all merge into one anonymous suited mass. Which is hardly good for business if your customer is trying to recognise that helpful guy they talked to last week.

    (BTW, broadband is back. Hooray!)

  4. I spent 8 happy years as a bookseller, one of the best things about it was lack of uniform. When I worked in the Civil Service and Accountancy before that the very first thing I used to do when I got home from work was get that awful suit/uniform off and into real clothes!

  5. That's the word - real clothes as opposed to phoney clothes. I tried the civil service once and lasted one week - I was asked to check certain bits of information on incoming planning applications and then pass the form on to someone else. By the end of the week my brain was like mush and I fled.

  6. Couldn't agree more Nick. My favourite uniform for work is my PJs :>) I designed and made a pin-stripe flannel pair for when clients/mates drop in on me. Think there'd be a market for these??? They are damn cute and could be uni-sex....

  7. Sounds good. Do you have a picture you can put on your blog? What we need is a big suit-burning on the lines of the (mythical) bra-burning. Though a suit can look damn sexy on the right woman....

  8. I don't know where people find the time to put makeup on each morning - I'm lucky if I drag a brush through my hair and my clothes are vaguely matching...