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What NOT to Wear

3rd October 2018

I started my business career the day after the earth cooled down. Aged 21 I joined Adecco and spent five very happy years there. Adecco, being the world’s largest recruitment business brought a number of excellent policies, processes, procedures and expectations. I loved every minute.

In writing this blog, I think there has been a lot of change in work practices and standards since I joined Adecco, it has become quite nuanced. I wanted to focus on one area that still seems to cause a lot of confusion and debate and that is the knotty problem of dress code. When I started work and certainly the generation before, I dressed like my Dad and my Dad dressed like his Dad at work.

The workplace dress code

When I joined Adecco in 1988, the standard was dark suit, black shoes, white shirt (with a stiff collar) and tie. In addition hair had to be above the collar, the term ‘well-groomed’ was used a lot by my management team. For women it was suits with a skirt above the knee (not trouser or trouser suits), white blouse and dark shoes. It appears laughable now but it was 100% the norm for Adecco and pretty much all firms and organisations.

If I fast-forward a few years, I was working for a large European recruiter and maybe the influence of the US, led our firm to launch ‘dress-down Fridays’. This caused a lot of debate… what to wear. One day the MD wrote an email to all employees to say that if you had client meetings you would still need to wear a suit but dress down Friday meant you could wear ‘weekend’ clothes, chinos (not jeans) casual shoes but not trainers and a sports jacket. I scratched my head, I’d have to buy a new wardrobe for one day a week, buy lots of clothes that I wouldn’t wear any other time and it still felt like a suit but in a different name. BUT !! What the heck was a Sports Jacket ??!?!

Needless to say it ended up with some people (me) still wearing business attire and others making the shift to more of an Ivy League/Preppy look. I remember going to a meeting in London with one of our Consultants and on the way back to the office, he said he was jumping off the train to go home, get out of his suit, change back into his sports jacket and return to the office. It seemed a bit odd and possibly silly. That period was a little bit of an odd blend but the start of a shift in dress code. I remember when I bought a checked shirt, this was a stand-out moment for me. I waited for a tap on the shoulder asking whether I had lost my mind but it never arrived. Get me, checks!

The modern dress code

Let’s move forward again to the last few years… ties have become dispensable and suits more relaxed, less pinstripe, less structure. Woman are able to dress smart but with personality and individuality.

I had a conversation with an MD who works in our building in London early this year but the chat stayed with me. He asked what our dress code policy was as he was a bit conflicted (I will share this with you later) I told him how we approach it. He told me he hated it and said he wished he hadn’t put in a dress down Friday as it makes people lazy on a Friday and avoid customer meetings before adding that people are in weekend mode before the weekend starts. He continued;

“I am losing 20% productivity each week”

I asked whether he is getting back in goodwill, he had no idea.I wondered whether the issue was dress down Friday or something more fundamental. He finished by saying that he would drop dress-down when they move to their new office in 2019. I bet that will be popular, how would you pitch it to the team? It is tough to take stuff away, a few months ago our fruit delivery suddenly stopped arriving and for a couple of weeks we had no fruit in the office. It was carnage, had we cancelled the order? What were we thinking? Our office manager got an email round quickly explaining it was temporary.

I like the dress code we have. It’s really simple and I think it (hopefully) plays to the fact that we hire intelligent adults into the workplace. It goes something like this….Come appropriately dressed to work and dress appropriately for client meetings. That’s it.. Our rationale is that people outside of work seem to muddle through their daily lives wearing the right stuff at the right time and they can work it out without us. If someone gets it wrong, which will happen, someone will explain. The great thing is that people take their cues from others around them and learn. I like it a lot and wish I’d come up with it but I borrowed it from another firm.

Lastly, if anyone can tell me what a ‘Work Jacket’ is I would appreciate it. I have a meeting coming up in Hoxton in London and my wife says I would do well to wear one…..

Let me know your thoughts on this and anything I have raised