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Clothes maketh the man?

THE choices of clothes for for women to wear to work seem to be endless: skirt and blouse, dress, trousers and shirt, dress suit, dress with jacket, blouse or shirt, stockings or socks, earrings, hair up or down, muted, power or sexy look.

For men the options are limited to: combing the hair (short with maybe a touch of gel), donning a shirt (white), tie (preferably with a ‘wacky’ motif to show what a rebel he is) suit and shoes (dark).

That’s it – the definitive, dull male uniform for all of the 20th century.

But unless they are really well made, by say Armani or Paul Smith, suits all look pretty much the same and most companies dictate sober colours and traditional styles.

Corporatus clonus exemplified.

But, why do almost all companies and professions insist on this dull, standard male uniform?

Companies will argue that suits “create uniformity” (there’s that word again), “our clients expect it”, “the public expects it” and “other companies expect it”.

Really?

Has anyone actually bothered to ask any of these groups, which include you and me, if it really concerns us what managers and professionals wear – as long as it is clean and presentable?

My last GP in the UK, for example, sported two earrings and a pony-tail.

I never saw him in anything other than jeans and T-shirts in seven years.

He did not alarm the older people at his surgery and he was an exceptional doctor.

It’s also worth recalling what extravagant and varied clothes men used to wear, particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries!

Managing director of BP Manufacturing Australasia, Peter West, commented in a talk to my MBA students that he rarely wore a suit and tie to work.

When asked why, he said, “The suit alienates me from the engineering staff. All a tie does is separate my neck from my head. It serves no other useful function”.

When I first met him he was in jeans, T-shirt and a leather waistcoat.

You forgot about this fact one, or maybe two, nanoseconds after meeting him.

In the growth companies of the moment, no one bothers with the old suit and tie format.

Staffed by predominantly young people who are obsessed with ideas, innovation and growth, this is the last thing on their minds.

So, let’s at least loosen the reins and allow men to experiment a bit with their working clothes. They have nothing to fear but their bad dress sense.

Now, where’s that bright purple retro’ suit with the lapels modeled on the wings of a jumbo jet?

* Associate Professor Nick Forster of the Graduate School of Management, UWA, email: nforster@ecel.uwa.edu.au

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