The Casualization of Business Dress

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Two articles in this weekend’s British newspapers caught my eye. Camilla Tominey – ‘Britain is slouching into mediocrity – and nobody cares’, in the Daily Telegraph, and Robert Shrimsley – ‘What not to wear’, in the Financial Times. They both sought to draw comparisons between the decline in the UKs productivity and service levels, and the casualisation of the business wardrobe. I couldn’t agree more.

It is not hard, as a CEO, to see where this trend took off. Although a more casual approach to working dress has been with us for some time, it has been more along the lines of less formality, than overly casual. However, the work from home craze, resulting from the covid pandemic, accelerated this into what Camilla calls the UK becoming the ‘Land of Leisurewear’. I must confess to rolling my eyes when I hear the defence of this kind of clothing “but it is so comfortable” – I see it as a continued surrender of any form of dignity and elegance to the almighty God of ‘comfort’.

I, as a constant student of leadership and performance, am intrigued by this comparison. Over the many years of my working life I have come to firmly believe that the way we dress affects the way we think. By definition, the way we think impacts (whether we like it or not) the quality of our output.

Whilst individuality is important to me, for as long as I can remember I have worn a ‘uniform’, initially in the military for 16 years, and then when I transitioned back to the civilian world a suit became my uniform. I developed a love for navy blue or grey colours. A suit, shirt and tie, is now my day-to-day uniform. Moreover, the glory of this combination is that it contains infinite variety and subtleties (our ancestors got this!), and is extremely comfortable. I would suggest we have forgotten the power of a ‘uniform’ to help differentiate in our minds our public (working) persona and our private (non-working) persona, and how such boundaries between work and non-work aspects of our lives ultimately helps our mental state.

It is therefore hardly surprising to me that a work-from-home mindset (where there are significant blurred boundaries between work and non-work) has led to our attitudes towards business dress following.

The zenith of the UKs productivity arguably came in the late Victorian and Edwardian era. Look around you at the many amazing and beautiful buildings, infrastructures, museums, and technological advances from those times. As perhaps an extreme example of my point is to consider the rigid formality of dress in those days. Now look around us? Endless infrastructure projects taking forever to build, most public services at the low end of mediocrity, and the ‘can’t do’ culture ever present in our society. For me, a culture of warmth, discretion, charm, authenticity, personalisation, and quality should underpin modern life. It is a declaration of self-respect that I don’t slob around every day in sportswear. I find this disrespectful when on the street, or particularly when on aeroplanes staffed by extremely smartly dressed flight attendants.

From a leadership perspective it is time to re-think ‘I don’t need to make an effort’, to get out of our leisurewear, be respectful to others, and rather than viewing getting dressed in the morning to go to work to be a chore, make it a joy. The sense of being perfectly well-dressed gives me a feeling of individual tranquillity. It is a wonderful way to start the day in a positive mind-set. 

Remember, the way we dress affects the way we think and behave. Try it. You may be surprised by the results!

4 thoughts on “The Casualization of Business Dress

Add yours

  1. Good afternoon Mark,

    It is hard to disagree with any of your points. I would add another:-

    As a young journalist, often knocking on someone’s door at some unearthly hour looking for comment on distressing news, I quickly learned that a judgement of whether to trust you or not would be made before you had the chance to say a word. Image counts and that is projected by what you are wearing. I took that ethos into my business life and always try to dress with style, panache and individualism – even on- screen through the pandemic. This works in that environment too. Dressing well gives confidence to the wearer and sends signals of professionalism and respect to the audience you are addressing.

    Oh, and it’s a source of private pleasure too. I sometimes think this aspect has been forgotten.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Mark,
    Dress doesn’t define my work output but it does define how others see me. Unless you are a celebrity dress sets the tone for where you are in the order of things.

    I work from home in casual dress BUT as soon as my camera is on, I am in the office or client facing the suit is on. It defines who and where I am.

    Generally I no longer put on a tie but that’s a reaction to conformity, And yes Mark for once I am trying to conform!

    Liked by 1 person

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