A few years ago, this column speculated on the demise of the tie in the world accountancy and found very few respondents to support that historical measure of sartorial elegance.
At that time, the general view seemed to be that male accountants would typically wear suits with open neck shirts. Depending on your view of smart casual, this was either way smarter than that or, if you’re a member of the RAC Club, hit the nail on the head.
For women, some kind of suit was likely to be de rigueur but so too were a blouse and skirt, a blouse and trousers or various other reasonably smart alternatives.
It is amazing how much this country has changed in the last few years. In the professions, there have been several further steps, although many may feel reluctant to take the final leap.
First of all, the principle of a dress down Friday changed from being a radical departure into something close to the norm. Inevitably, having got the taste for dressing down, some accountants then extended the fashion (literally) to the other four days of the week.
Even so, there were generally strong guidelines as to the kind of clothing that was unacceptable. For example, some firms drew the line at jeans on their hallowed premises.
At this point, which was still probably only a year or two ago, most firms would have insisted that where partners or employees were meeting clients they would need to dress “properly”- ie get back to the standard costume of suit, shirt and what the Americans describe as dress shoes. This would apply regardless of gender.
Suddenly, in the last few months, smart casual has become casual and is fast moving towards standard practice at many firms. If the rumours are true, the Big Four no longer have any serious dress requirements. Those further down the feeding chain are also happy to welcome professionals in jeans on Fridays.
Recently, it has become apparent that many solicitors now longer feel an obligation to dress up when meeting clients or accountants. Although I have yet to come across a barrister who did not wear the formal dark suit, if not necessarily a wig for a lucrative conference with clients or advisers.
It will be interesting to get the views of readers, who have generally shown a tendency to be fairly conservative.
- Does it shock you to discover that partners in major accountancy practices and solicitors now turn up to work in the kind of clothing that used to be popular with media and advertising types?
- Are you happy to meet clients dressed in jeans and a t-shirt or do you feel an obligation to put on a suit?
- In the office, do you expect staff to wear any kind of formal clothing or does anything go?
- Are there limits? Distressed (ie ripped) denims or shorts might very literally drive some of us to distraction.
It was also an age-old adage that the quality of work is affected by costuming.
In the past, there was certainly a strong belief that in order to take your job seriously and be taken seriously, that suit was compulsory. Nowadays, it does seem that anything goes, which is very bad news for companies that specialise in manufacturing or importing suits, ties etc. and those that provide them with accounting services.