BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 31 OCT 2014


I wrote Generation Y: You're Not Bono a while ago. After another feisty, fiery ten minutes on business dress with a large group of young-ish professionals I am reflecting. I do not want to be the reactionary older bloke in a suit who is wheeled out to sartorially sock it to the youngsters as they roll their eyes and close their pierced ears.

(I want to add here I am not him but that could be over-doing things, so I won't.)

Those who have been in front of my flipchart when I have writ large "NO JEANS EVER" will not be amused that I am in work on a Monday afternoon, in jeans: Black Levi 501s; nice, fine, red jumper; proper shoes; good coat. Lunch with the team, an hour at my computer and a client call meant that the tin flute was not required. And anyway I never had a shirt ironed. I will also admit I now wear a tie only half the time I am suited. Working from home I can be in my dressing gown until Bargain Hunt.

It is observable that dress in the workplace has become more casual and eclectic. For both genders things have shifted away from suited and booted. Sometimes far away. And not just on a Friday. Not quite anything goes, but less is off limits. There are some big trendy businesses that consciously eschew old conventions, thereby ironically confecting their own conformist dress code and pressurising the more conservative businesses to hang a bit looser. It is a big issue.

Getting dress right is a minefield, it always has been: you want gravitas and authority while keeping your own personal style goblin intact. Getting it right in a blog is equally fraught but beards, heels, tattoos and suits are useful markers for what's what and what's not.

There was a time when Jesus himself would be sent home for sporting a beard at work. No longer: Beards are in, sometimes big bushy ones. I tried a goatee on holiday and people thought I was Ricky Gervais, which was a good thing and a bad thing. More recently I bought the gear needed to keep a fuzzy face tidy and neat, used it for a day and started shaving again. It's less bother and there was that Gervais thing. The beard bonanza will pass but for now the rule is simple. Keep it nice, keep it trimmed, you're not Santa.

Good shoes are terrific and I am envious of the colours and styles, including heels, available to women. I can also see how a cracking pair of heels with the right outfit might help give confidence. They do a similar job to a well-knotted tie and a crisp white shirt on a man. Both compromise comfort for aesthetic.

But heels are not for everyone. Do you have to wear them? Absolutely not, though the confidence thing can be real so don't knock it. And if we are talking about being visible and memorable in the business environment shoes are a facet of dress where a statement can be made by both men and women, but it's a fact that women have much more scope for impact... and extra height.

My precocious, talented daughter has a few tattoos. I discovered this recently from Facebook holiday snaps and it made me smile because they are hidden and she had not told me. How your children grow up, eh? With Dimbleby and Sam Cam having been under the needle it is hardly a rebel yell. And did I say they are hidden? Not visible? Subtle and understated and discrete? Yes? Good.

Every weekend on Sky Sports I play spot the footballer without the body art because he is the outlier. In the past wee while visible tattoos and piercings in unusual places have made an appearance in the daytime corporate world and I confess they have never worried me, though I have yet to see multiples of both that scream "look at me".

Tasteful tats and precious metals in particular places might even make me more rather than less likely to employ you. There is something refreshing and life enhancing in someone who does not conform one hundred per cent. But that's just me, a child of the 80s where everyone wore make-up and we occasionally changed gender at the weekend. Remember my taste, like yours, is subjective and if your permanent accessories provoke excited reaction then accepting the consequences of your brand will be something you need to get used to. But if you're smart you know that already.

So times have definitely changed. You can be hirsute, multiply-pierced, casually clothed and still be a useful member of the workforce. Who knew? And yes jeans, occasionally, well cut and navy or black and well accessorised and not showing your pants over the top of them. And maybe not faded, ripped blue denim...

In truth it was ever thus; stop me in the street and I will show you some of those 80s photos. Oscar Wilde said that fashion was a thing so horrible it has to be changed every six months and Coco Chanel said that when fashion fades only style remains.

That well fitted dark blue suit with a flash of appropriate colour, whether a tie or a cracking blouse, understated accessories, well-shod, coupled with being immaculately turned out? It was in the locker then for me (a navy Next fine-checked double breasted in 1989, trendy square-end tie from Flip of Hollywood) and should still be in yours now.


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about the author

Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.

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