Sunday, February 07, 2010


I have a business problem at the moment. Thankfully, it’s not causing sleepless nights, but it lingers nonetheless.

I’m talking about dress codes, or lack of them, if you like - and not for shopping at Tesco, barefoot or in nightwear, I hasten to add.

No. For most of my working life a simple formula existed: work = wearing a suit and a tie, or trousers and a jacket and a tie. No wriggle room.

From my earliest days as a young hack, it was drummed into me to wear a shirt and tie for all eventualities. I did so until I left a newspaper editorial floor for the final time back in 1996 and I followed that advice faithfully as I started out in my own PR business thereafter. I never thought twice about it; it was as natural as putting on your socks or cleaning your teeth at bedtime.

But the sartorial world in business terms, and I’m concentrating on men as I am one, has undergone a massive shake up. Ties are now optional and that’s been confusing me for a while.

Ties are still OK, open neck shirts are not frowned upon, either, these days. Think Alan Sugar (tie) or Richard Branson (no tie.) Some guys happily toddle off to work in jeans and polo shirts and, I suppose, if you work indoors, don’t meet anyone other than your colleagues, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Dressing appropriately for a particular professional, business environment is sensible. Some might say that it adds a touch of gravitas. Newsreaders like Jon Snow look good in ties and I reckon if he opted for an open neck shirt in the TV studio, it might just look out of place. So-called football TV pundits can leave the ties at home alongside any original thoughts, insights or points of view.

That said, I think that how people dress is entirely a matter for them, and I’m not one to judge given my uncertainly in this matter. For example, the Top Gear team on BBC TV recently got a dressing down in a survey for being less than Top Men when it came to their on-air threads. Jumping in and out of souped-up toys hardly calls for a neat, dark blue or black, all-wool two-piece, from Savile Row, or Ralph Slaters, which is my emporium of choice, does it?


Do I wear a tie at all times on business, as I was brainwashed to do?

Do I never wear one, regardless of the business appointments?

Or do I wear one selectively? That is: a “yes” when meeting lawyers who are clients, for example, but, a hey man, “no” when dealing with music festival promoters and organisers or other creative/artistic types? I don’t imagine the legal eagles would really mind, either.

My general rule of thumb is, therefore, this. If I am not sure, I wear a tie – and I prefer a white shirt with a self-coloured one in the main, not being a fan of patterned or striped ties. After all, as I said once jokingly in an interview with a business newspaper: “I’ve never been refused entry anywhere for wearing a tie.” I can always remove it if I feel I’m over-dressed in comparison to those I’m meeting for the first time.

This happened when I went to see potential clients in London a few years back during a heat wave. In my suit, shirt and tie I was uncomfortably hot – those greeting me at their Tower Bridge offices looked as if they were heading for a beach barbeque with not a pair of trousers in sight, only garish shorts.

Before the pitch began, my tie was off, so was my jacket with great relief – and I got the contract, which actually involved meeting lots of people wearing ties, so I wore one, too.

This week, in a very unscientific poll conducted on a Glasgow-Edinburgh train, I noted that about half the chaps in suits were wearing ties, the other half, including myself, were not. Very inconclusive.

But, I’m bending to the view that the tie-wearers did look sharper, keener and smarter, even though some of the tie and shirt combos were of the “dress in the dark” variety.

As I don’t have a mirror that talks back, I asked my darling wife, Maggie her opinion. After a moment’s consideration she said I looked smart and dashing with or without a tie, a pleasing compliment I must say.

So, with apologies, this is a blog with no conclusion, or answer to my initial question. It’s personal, isn’t it? Any comments would be, as always, most welcome.

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