Just before Christmas, the Swiss bank UBS issued its employees with a 44 page dress code, aimed at re-establishing confidence in the bank and giving an impression of total professionalism. In case you missed it, here are some of the main points:
- Men must wear dark grey, black or navy suits, and black knee-length socks
- Designer stubble is strictly out, and if you wear glasses, they must not be ‘fashionable’
- Half a page in the booklet is given over to a discussion on nostril hair
- Women are told that skirts should be mid-knee length, black nail polish is ‘unadvisable’ (as is nail art – obviously) and only flesh-coloured underwear should be worn
- Both sexes are told not to eat garlic, and to avoid ‘onion-based’ dishes
- And as you’d expect from a Swiss bank, a wristwatch also helps to give an impression of ‘punctuality and precision.’ (No checking the time on your mobile.)
So that’s that, then. Mark Twain was right. ‘Clothes maketh the man.’ If you’re not at the next TAB meeting in a navy suit, white shirt, red tie and black knee length socks I’ll know you’re not serious.
But can that dress code really be right? Even for a Swiss bank? Google, Apple, Microsoft…all their staff dress casually and they haven’t done too badly. In fact, in an age where an eighteen year old who spends all day in his pyjamas can write the best selling iPhone app, does what you wear really matter any more?
Next time I go to see my solicitor, should I worry if he’s wearing ripped jeans and a Grateful Dead T-shirt?
Here’s my two penn’orth…
I think what you wear is becoming less important. In the final analysis – thank God – it’s what comes out of your mouth that matters. We’ve all been in meetings where Mr Navy suit-white shirt-red tie-black shoes (and quite possibly wearing his wife’s flesh coloured underwear) has stood up…and talked complete tosh.
But sometimes, what you wear gives you the chance to open your mouth. If I’d gone to my first TAB meeting wearing my jeans I wouldn’t be writing this blog now. You need to wear what’s appropriate, and you need to wear what your client (or potential client) would expect – and what will make them feel comfortable. That may sound like common sense, but small changes can make a difference. One of my good friends and TAB members is an IFA – and he has a rule regarding his tie. “Anyone over 60, my tie is on. Young couple, first time buyers – I wouldn’t dream of wearing a tie. I want to show that we’re on their side. That I’m not the corporate drone they’d find in the high street.”
One day last week I found myself with three appointments – and three changes of clothes. First appointment was a potential client. Traditional company and – I suspected – a fairly traditional MD. Navy suit, pale blue shirt, stripy tie. The second appointment was a 121 with a TAB member – and the tie stayed in the back of the car.
My third appointment was another potential client – a hi-tech company at York Science Park. I strongly suspected they didn’t even know how to pronounce the word ‘tie.’ But I still thought I’d be overdressed in a suit and (in particular) my smart black shoes. So out came the chinos, casual jacket, casual shoes. And if you saw someone walking into the toilets at the York Ramada carrying what appeared to be his entire wardrobe – yes, it was me. But the hi-tech company will become clients.
One final point to finish – and gentlemen, I need your help here. My wife takes the existence of the tie as definitive proof that women are more intelligent than men. As she says, ‘which sex is it that spends thirty quid on a silk tie then sits in their car and eats an egg mayonnaise sandwich?’ If anyone out there could help me with a convincing counter-argument I’d be eternally grateful. Because in twelve years of marriage, I’ve never found one…