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Bring Back the Bowler Hat

When starting out in IT over 20 years ago, companies had a strict dress code. Gents wore shirts and ties, smart business trousers, and then depending on your rank and seniority, other items were compulsory like blazers, suits and short hair of course. The ladies were also subject to a strict dress code.

There’s always an argument to be had, that as long as a person is doing a good job and performing well, does it really matter if you are wearing Jeans and T-shirt, a skimpy little number that would not look out of place in Ibiza?

As a new IT trainee, I’d been working on a project, which involved long hours, overnighters and weekends averaging about 18 hours a day, 7 days a week for a couple of months.

I was invited to see the HR manager. I naively thought, great, we’re going to discuss my pay rise/promotion , maybe my company car request or something along those lines. I was quickly deflated when his opening line to me was,

“do you think appearance is important?”

I suddenly became self conscious that I had not shaved in weeks, in desperate need of a hair cut, and was wearing an un-ironed shirt. I sighed and said “Clearly not…”

He then asked an odd question, would I treat him differently if he wore a kilt?

I explained no, he’s Scottish so that’s not out of place. He then reasoned if he wore a dress would I treat him differently. I’m starting to feel uncomfortable at this stage, and quipped “Is there something you want to tell me?”. He was old school management and that didn’t go down too well, I quickly learnt quickly from that mistake.

His point was that no matter how busy and how long your hours of work, there are minimum acceptable standards in appearance to be maintained.

Over the years, those standards have dropped, and provided you weren’t meeting externals, the dress code went with it, slowly eroded over time to what has become the acceptable norm. Rarely do you see a tie worn by the IT community, briefcases have been replaced with rucksack bags, and jeans with holes seem to be accepted worldwide.

I was stuck in a lift recently, with two people, both old school, and they muttered that standards had drastically gone down since their time, and commented that in the 70’s they remembered a person being sent home to get changed for having the wrong type of blouse.

Whilst that is a bit extreme, looking at the people in the canteen I realised it wouldn’t look out of place on a “Night of the living Dead” film set. One young chap wore a cardigan with big holes in the elbows. Clearly a fashion statement, but did leave me questioning, have we gone too far in letting business dress standards fall to the point that the tramp look is now fashionable? Am I quickly turning into Victor Meldrew?

Has fashion reached the state that it can now offload my tatty clothes from the 80’s at over inflated prices?

Those that know me, will realise I am guilty of the above, but it saddens me that as some schools have relaxed the school uniform rules, this has a knock on effect for each generation in the work place.

What do you think? Does any one care about dress standards? Is it important in today’s business? Do you treat people differently if they are in 3 piece suits to polyester track suits?


I blog with Blogsy


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