Is our casual approach serving us or hindering us in our desire to build global links in our businesses, asks Jackie O’Fee.
I was recently asked to head into The AM Show on TV3 to discuss ‘business dress’. As often happens with this topic, the subject of ties came up. Are ties still in? Duncan Garner asked me. I answered that they were now optional – with socks becoming the new way for men to express a bit of flair with their suits.
Here in New Zealand we tend to pride ourselves on our more relaxed business wear, and while a collared shirt and jacket are certainly the norm in men’s business wear, the tie has become an optional accessory. There are exceptions of course, if you work in corporate law, attend court, work in a ‘big’ accounting firm or read the news then the wearing of a tie will no doubt be just what you do each day.
I was discussing this further with an HR manager who is based in the Auckland office of a large multinational who has recently moved back home after a stint in Europe and Asia. She tells me she is actually finding it difficult to dress for the office here in Auckland; that many of her previously worn business outfits have become relegated to the back of the wardrobe as she struggles to ‘dress down’ to fit in with her kiwi counterparts.
Much of her work is still conducted overseas and for those trips, she then dresses ‘up’ again. It was also interesting to note that she felt that when the very corporate senior executives from the company make the trip to the New Zealand office, she feels embarrassed by the way her colleagues dress, as they look scruffy and somewhat disrespectful by comparison. Business dress in both London and Tokyo is apparently far more formal to what we are used to here in the Antipodes, and in these centres at least, ties are most definitely still ‘in’.
So, that begs the question: is our casual approach serving us or hindering us in our desire to build global links in our businesses? My own opinion is that it is always better to be overdressed than under dressed but I recently worked with a man whose Kiwi business works with many of the top Fortune 500 companies in the US.
He told me he needed a suit, but not a tie and tended to under-dress rather than dress up for business meetings. I certainly don’t have first-hand experience of meeting with senior executives in the States but when choosing a suit for him (we actually bought two) I was very aware that at the very least it needed to be very well-cut and excellent quality, and that the shirts we bought fitted him beautifully.
In the United Kingdom there has recently been a bit of a kerfuffle due to an MP being allowed to address the House of Commons while not wearing a tie. The Speaker of the House has decreed that the wearing of a tie in Parliament is now optional, so long as the rest of the ensemble is smart.
There’s plenty of opposition to this ruling, with many declaring it a slippery slope and symbolic of the ‘dumbing down’ of one of the United Kingdom’s great institutions. My favourite comment on the topic was one that suggested that “now they can have a punch up without someone inadvertently being strangled”. I note that here in New Zealand, our Parliamentarians are still very much bound by traditional dress standards and in the debating chamber at least, it’s normal to see men in ties.
So, are ties still in or are they simply a purposeless piece of uncomfortable fabric? I think for the moment, the jury is out. M
Jackie O’Fee is the owner of personal style consultancy Signature Style. She works with both individuals and organisations, is a popular speaker and television presenter.