With their necks on the line, Irish men get knotted
Published 07/10/2008 | 00:00
The golden age of the scruffy dress-down workplace may be coming to an end as office workers desperately try to improve their appearance in order to survive.
As recently as last year, the TV presenter Jeremy Paxman described the tie as a "useless part of the male wardrobe''. He claimed that the only people who wore ties daily were "male politicians, reporters who interviewed them and dodgy estate agents''.
However, with the number of redundancies now soaring, the suit and tie seem to be coming back into vogue.
Tie Rack recently reported a 10pc jump in tie sales in the last quarter compared with the period before.
Increased sales of formal neckwear are considered a classic sign of an economic slump.
In this time of financial crisis, when even bankers are losing money, the tie signifies prudence. As one financial commentator observed, the tie says: "I am not a player who gambles with other peoples' money.''
In an age of redundancy, bosses are also looking around for victims. In the absence of any sound criteria, the open-necked fellow with soup stains on his jumper and a shirt tail that is looking out for fairer weather may be a natural target for the boot.
And running out to Tie Rack to find a knot for your neck may be seen as the cheapest way of smartening up your act.
Dublin Human Resources consultant Rowan Manahan says it is hardly surprising that suits and ties are becoming popular again among some workers.
"The number of redundancies is growing. So, people have to get suited and booted for job interviews.''
The complacent employee who could breeze in dressed in runners, short cargo pants and a T-shirt advertising Che Guevara is having to reach for the knitted item of neckwear that has been gathering mould at the back of a wardrobe since the pre-Celtic Tiger era. Usually it is just too tattered to be of any use.
Rowan Manahan says: "In the current climate every man should have a CV dusted off and a fresh suit and tie ready to go. Because you never know when redundancy will strike.''
He says appropriate dress is crucial for a job interview because an employer may be making an instantaneous decision based on little or no information.
"In human resources they call it thin-slicing. You are only getting to know a small part of a person.
"You have to remember that choosing from job applicants is a process of elimination. Given a choice between a smartly dressed candidate and another one who is not so well- dressed, the employer might take the man with the suit and the tie.''
In the boom, smart dress fell out of favour as employees were able to pick and choose between companies. The dress-down code was also encouraged by oh-so-casual IT companies such as Google and Microsoft.
But even at supposedly casual companies, workers are now being told to smarten up. Workers at Virgin Money, a company owned by the tieless Richard Branson, have recently been told that they cannot wear jeans and T-shirts.
"People are dressing up again. Instead of wearing casual clothes to work for five days, they're doing it on one or two days," says Dublin tailor Louis Copeland. "When things get tight, people dress up."
Instinctively, those ambitious office drones are adopting a more formal approach. Even if you are thoroughly incompetent, there may be a vague hope that if you look like a boss you may end up becoming one.
With sales of ties in the US increasing, Nick Sullivan, the fashion director of the men's magazine Esquire, recently said the whole dress down trend was completely played out. "Especially in a time of recession, the best way to mark yourself as a company man is to dress the part."
"There is no doubt that people take you more seriously if you are dressed in a suit and tie,'' says Louis Copeland.
"Take the example of airline upgrades. If an airline has room in business class, it is more likely to offer the seat to a man who is wearing a suit and tie.''
Janet Clarke, general manager of The Grooming Rooms, a salon for men which recently opened in Dublin city centre, says appearance is hugely important in the workplace.
"When bosses are firing and hiring, how you look might tip the balance. It is vital not to look scruffy at work. Employers know that a slovenly appearance carries over into other aspects of life.''
Suits and ties may be making a slight comeback, but we are unlikely to see a complete return to the formality of previous eras.
A poll of business leaders concluded that just one in four office workers -- 24pc -- is required to wear a suit at all times.
The study found that more than half of employers now allow staff to wear less formal attire to the office on a daily basis, with a suit required only for meetings. However, the workers themselves were sceptical, with two thirds of those who are allowed to dress down at work disagreeing with the idea.
"Most employees take their professional image at work very seriously and will dress smartly by choice,'' said Prof Khalid Aziz, the head of training company the Aziz Corporation which carried out the research.
Human Resources consultant Rowan Manahan says: "Overall, the trend in recent years has been away from wearing suits and ties, but you have to gauge it right.
"If you want to learn about a company's dress code, go along there one evening and see what spills out onto the street. If they all like look extras from a Ralph Lauren advert take appropriate action.''
Whatever happens in the workplace fashion stakes, it can be hard to dress appropriately. Sheep-like men are likely to follow the herd. The Duke of Windsor once appeared at a poolside party in Marbella dressed in a bright Hawaiian shirt. When the Duke saw everybody in suits and ties, he quickly went off to change.
Meanwhile, having seen him in his colourful casual garb, the other guests rushed to take off their jackets and ties. Whereupon the Duke removed his jacket and ostentatiously threw his tie into the swimming pool.