By Mark Richards.

Is there an office dress code where you work? Does it make sense? Eight years ago a Swiss bank was telling female employees what colour underwear they should choose. Now an investment bank has thrown the dress code out of the window. And with it, the item of clothing that proves women are more intelligent than men…

The most dreadful thing happened to me on Wednesday. A client came into my office. What a disaster! How inconvenient! I had to a) tidy the office and b) make myself look presentable.

Like many people reading this, I work for myself. I rarely see my clients. I have been working with one client for just over two years. We have spoken on the phone a few times but actually met? Face-to-face? Good Lord, no.

Hopefully, they are happy with the heavily-photoshopped image I sent them. The unshaven hack reaching desperately for more caffeine and wearing odd socks might be a step too far for them…

But as writers go, I am certain I am not alone. I would wager good money that Shakespeare largely wrote Hamlet in his night-shirt.

Flesh coloured underwear…

But writers have it easy: what about people with proper jobs? The office dress code debate really hit the headlines in 2011, when Swiss bank UBS invited worldwide scorn by publishing a 44-page dress code for their employees. As the rest of the world moved towards dress-down Fridays and countless stripy ties were sent to charity shops, UBS went in the opposite direction. Among the helpful hints were:

  • Women should keep their toenails trimmed as this ‘extends the life of stockings and knee socks’
  • They should only wear flesh coloured underwear
  • Should the brazen hussies colour their hair then UBS were adamant that roots should not show, and black nail polish was strictly verboten
  • Men should have their hair cut once a month and ‘avoid unruly beards and earrings’
  • Both sexes should make sure they keep their glasses clean: ‘on the one hand this contributes to optimal vision’ but dirty glasses also ‘give an impression of negligence’
  • Everyone should wear a wristwatch, ‘to signal trustworthiness and a serious concern for punctuality’
  • And – how could this even need spelling out – everyone at the bank should avoid eating garlic and onions, lest they should breathe on a customer.

Another bank takes a different view

Fast forward eight years and along come Goldman Sachs – yes, that Goldman Sachs, the investment bank with assets approaching $1tn (around £750bn) and founded in 1869 – to blithely announce that it is ‘relaxing its office dress code’ to reflect ‘the modern working environment.’

Sadly there is no guidance from Goldmans on eating onions or what colour your pants should be but, having relaxed ‘what to wear’ for the nerds in the tech department in 2017, the bank has now extended that policy to the previously sober-suited bankers.

You might argue that a company whose chief executive DJs under the name D-Sol could do little else, but it is still a big step for an investment bank. In a remarkably mature statement, the bank appeared to actually trust its employees.

“All of us know what is and is not appropriate for the workplace,” it said. “We trust you will consistently exercise good judgement [in deciding what to wear for work].”

So is this the end of the suit and tie?The Office Dress Code: to Tie or not to Tie?

Outside of weddings, funerals and getting drunk at the races it could well be. After all, the fact that your trousers match your jacket does not automatically make you intelligent. And how can your working performance possibly be achieved by tying something around your neck and pulling it just tight enough to be uncomfortable?

But there is the counter-argument. Dressing smartly puts you in a better frame of mind. It makes you feel more confident. And, rightly or wrongly, people do seem to defer to others who are smartly dressed. Not for nothing is it called ‘power dressing.’

Clearly, there is a generational divide here. We all know that millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce by the middle of the next decade and that they will be closely followed by Generation Z. These are generations that put work/life balance and ‘making a difference’ as their priorities. They are going to care much less about what their bankers are wearing – assuming they ever go into a bank – and much more about the bank’s policies on diversity and inclusion.

You may have seen this YouTube video of two teenage boys trying to use an old-fashioned phone: will we shortly be seeing one of them trying to tie a tie?

The most useless item of clothing in the world

Before I ran away to join the circus I spent most of my adult life wearing a tie – and awarding it that title. Seriously, is there any single thing you can do better because you are wearing a tie? And a tie is, of course, the item of clothing that definitively proves that women are more intelligent than men. Only a man would spend twenty quid on a silk tie and then eat an egg mayonnaise sandwich…

Apparently, we have Croatian mercenaries to blame for the tie. Fighting for France in the 30 years’ war (in the 17th Century) the mercenaries from the Croatian Military Front wore small, knotted neckerchiefs. Thanks to a mish-mash of the Croatian word for Croats and the French pronunciation, these items of clothing got the name cravats and aroused the interest of fashionable young men in Paris. The rest, as they say, is history.

Ties have been wide, they have been narrow, there have been any number of different ways of tying them and they have always been the mark of a gentleman. A respectable member of the professions went to work in a tie, while a horny-handed son of toil did not. Except, of course, that all the greatest liars, conmen and crooks also wore a tie.

Well, they did. Until even that business went online and, like the rest of us, liars and conmen could cheerfully work in their PJs. Or, in my case, my dressing gown. Have a good weekend: I’ll go and get dressed…