Ask the expert: is casual business attire a sign of slipping standards in the workplace?

Rupert Wesson
Police Officers Attend Ceremony At Training Centre
There is no evidence to suggest wearing a tie causes changes in behaviour at work (Source: Getty)

Q: My organisation has just relaxed its dress code. Previously all the men wore a suit and tie, but we have now been told that our “business wear” dress code apparently does not need a tie. I am concerned that this will erode standards in the organisation, and on a personal note I am not sure how I want to approach this. What do you advise?

It should come as no surprise that times are changing, and of course the way people dress for work is no exception. It was not so long ago that professionals wearing anything other than morning dress in the City would have been considered to be dressing down.

More recently again came the age of the City gent for whom the wearing of bowler was virtually mandatory, and when was the last time anyone was seen in the Square Mile wearing one of those?

On that basis, the change to your organisation’s dress codes is simply reflecting what is going on in the wider world.

Slipping standards?

You expressed your concern that the absence of a tie will erode standards of behaviour, yet there is no evidence that there is a link between standards of behaviour and dress codes. In fact many people would argue that those organisations whose standards have been found wanting, such as banks or even Parliament, are those in which tie-wearing is the norm.

If you are concerned about an erosion of standards of behaviour, bear in mind that dress is only a small, and possibly even a negligible, part of this.

In order to do your bit to maintain standards in the absence of neckwear, focus first and foremost on what you say and do. In particular, reflect on how you treat others. There is no quicker way of undermining the culture of an organisation than failing to treat each other with courtesy and consideration.

Carrying on as before

You asked for advice on how to approach the new rules. The simplest approach may be to carry on as before. If your colleagues are still wearing ties, this will be fine.

If they take the opportunity to rid themselves of their ties, what is to stop you continuing to wear yours if you so choose? You could be guided less by what your colleagues do, and more by the people who matter to you outside of your organisation and what their expectations might be.

If you spend more time in an external facing role then this could be more critical than just reflecting what your colleagues are doing at work. If there is an expectation that you should look a certain way to people outside your organisation, and that involves wearing a tie, then so be it.

It’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it

If your primary concern is to look smart and professional then of course it is possible to do this without a tie.

More important are the fit and finish of the clothes you choose. Even the most expensive, well-kept suit in the world will look cheap if it does not fit you.

The other details are important too: a well-fitting suit that is paired with worn or scuffed shoes or an unironed shirt will not enhance your credibility.

Freedom to choose

The great thing for you is that you now have more flexibility in your dress code and can vary what you wear to suit the circumstances. The option not to wear a tie on the hottest days of summer must be a bonus?

Be careful not to fall into the trap of pushing the boundaries too far. Your clothes should be part of your image, of course, but they should not be a distraction.

If your clothes have more to say that you do, that is a sign that you have got things badly wrong.

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