Tuesday 29 December 2020 4:25 am

Fashion-forward: Is Covid the final nail in the coffin for City-formal?

Nick Wheeler OBE is founder of Charles Tyrwhitt

The City has long been a bastion of men’s fashion. 

While you may not instantly put Cheapside, Leadenhall and Threadneedle in the same category as Carnaby Street or Camden when it comes to setting fashion trends, since time immemorial the best-dressed businessmen in the world have strutted their stuff in the streets, offices and certainly bars of the City of London.

As with all things, fashion changes and evolves with time; beyond recognition in some areas. But when it comes to men’s suits and shirts, the basic uniform of smart British men has remained largely unchanged for decades.

Read more: What the UK watched in 2020

While grey pinstriped suits with shoulder-pads, synonymous with 80s businessmen, would be considered rather a faux-pas today, the suit, formal shirt and oxford shoe are a timeless staple. 

Ties are a great indicator of changing styles — flamboyance, width and patterns, now considered gaudy by many, are fast being replaced with slimmer designs, simple colours, silk alternatives and even pocket squares.

To some degree, the past represents a simpler sartorial time. For many years, the biggest decision men faced when perusing their wardrobes in the morning was whether to wear their navy or charcoal suit. It was rather incredible, given this simple choice, that so many men still managed to get it wrong. 

That, of course, was in the pre-Covid era. So what comes next?

Great crises — in war or peacetime — have often been the catalyst for change. And this little pandemic (you might have heard about it) has been no different. 

Coronavirus has massively expedited the evolution in flexible working, and with it, expectations for what is acceptable professional attire. 

Businesses have been challenged to reconsider what working arrangements deliver the best results, in a globalised, highly connected, technologically empowered world. But while remote working to some degree will no doubt continue after the pandemic, the development of teams and talent is difficult if people never meet face to face. I am hoping to be back in the office in person as soon as it’s safe to do so, and I imagine other City workers are similarly eager to return, even if it’s not every day.

So how will fashion have changed in this new era of hybrid working?

For years, smart casual has been infiltrating more and more offices around the City. Dress-down Friday has fast morphed into dress-down-daily. Chinos, shirts and knitwear are rapidly replacing the trusty suit, shirt and tie for many professional men — even the more traditional bankers, brokers and lawyers who have steadfastly resisted change for so long.

This pre-Covid trend only looks set to continue. While I firmly believe we are a long way off the “death of formal” (Charles Tyrwhitt has been selling shirts and suits for the last 34 years and I hope to be doing so for the next 34), there is undeniably a new uniform in town. 

We call it Zoom Casual. 

These are smart, professional clothes you can wear equally as comfortably in the boardroom as you can working from home on a video call in your bedroom. This is the future of men’s formal fashion. 

That said, I can see the timeless suit and formal shirt making an important, but less regular outing as occasion-wear; worn for the big pitch, the important interview, and at celebrations like weddings. 

And with this change, I foresee a willingness among men to spend a bit more on a special occasion outfit. We’ve been amazed at the level of interest in our made-to-measure suits over the past few months. So far from the death of the suit, I see a reincarnation — but with a new purpose. 

When the world starts to open up again and regular trips to the office, to the pub and business lunches resume, adding a welcome balance to those overly intense work-from-home days for workers in the City, I expect to see a lot more cashmere worn over shirts, merino jumpers paired with chinos, and coloured squares in jacket pockets.

I’ve lived and breathed suits and shirts for my whole professional life. Nothing beats the look of a man in a well-cut suit. 

But if this year has taught me anything, it’s that you must adapt to survive in business. If cashmere is to replace collars in the 2021 City man’s wardrobe, then Zoom Casual is really going to strike a great balance between smart and comfortable. 

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Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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