There was once a time when most businessmen’s attire was dictated by dress codes. These codes were not necessarily written, rather they were an accepted part of a profession’s identity. Before the financial and political crises of the 1970s City bankers and civil servants were proud to sport bespoke suits, bowler hats and brollies. Nowadays, many professionals the world over wear the same uninspired business-casual uniform – an open-necked shirt and a pair of chinos – throughout the working week. In some circumstances turning up to work in a suit may actually be frowned upon by peers, who might view it as a case of one-upmanship and/or brown-nosing.
Does this sloppiness in men’s work attire indicate that we need to return to the days of strictly enforced dress codes? Perhaps not. Dressing smartly is more a reflection of how we feel about ourselves and how we want to be perceived by others. Stricter dress codes may result in more men turning up to work in suits, shirts and ties, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any smarter looking. In Japan, for example, a lot of companies still have dress codes; codes that usually prescribe a dark (preferably black) suit, white shirt, silk tie and leather shoes. Unfortunately, they don’t stipulate that clothing should fit the wearer properly and be in good repair. As a consequence, abysmally fitting suits and scuffed leather dress-shoe/trainer hybrids are an all too common sight. And, perhaps surprisingly, it is often members of the older generation who are the worst offenders.
Thanks to the hard work of traditional style advocates, and the ability of the internet to spread their ideas and bring sartorially-minded individuals together, a growing number of young men now know more about the cut of a suit, the subtleties of pattern mixing and the benefits of bench-made shoes than their fathers do. They’ve grown up in the business-casual era and joined workplaces that don’t have strict dress codes. Rather than impress a feeling of liberation, business-casual has created a new kind of conformity that they want to escape from. They dress smartly, and they do so because they want to.
If you’re reading this blog then the chances are you are already a pretty smart dresser. I also suspect that a lot of you like the idea of dressing smarter on a daily basis, but are worried that you might somehow be overdoing it when compared with your peers. I used to feel this way myself (and, to be totally honest, occasionally still do), but one day decided to throw caution to the wind. I soon discovered that I’d much rather be overdressed than underdressed. Once in the office I can always dress down by taking off my suit jacket or (heaven forbid) loosening my tie; it’s hard to dress up a polo shirt and khakis in the same way.
So, for you smart-dressing fence-sitters out there, try putting in the extra effort in for a few days and see how it goes. You might be pleasantly surprised by the response. In fact, you may find that dressing smartly actually encourages your peers to dress smartly as well.