Accountancy ditches ties for dress-down culture

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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.

About Philip Fisher


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10th Apr 2019 12:08

It's taken me a while to adapt to my new workplace. I've always suited up for work, even when I worked from home. I am mentally at work, if I wear "work clothes". My new firm is very relaxed, matching most of our clients' style. I still wear a suit most days but if the snow threatens to be more than a few centimetres and there is a chance I might have to dig the car out, I have been known to wear jeans.
Walking boots with suit all year round though!

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10th Apr 2019 12:11

I worked at a Big 4 until recently, and during the summer months there was no dress code, so for June - August everyone wore t-shirt and jeans/shorts depending on weather.

Shirt and trousers were usually worn for client meetings.

I do think formal dress in the workplace is on the way out. It is just impractical, and pointless. Having your staff dressed in cheap polyester suits doesn't impress anyone.

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10th Apr 2019 13:08

Very odd and old thinking to even raise this it's 2019 for god's sake! In this day and age you dress appropriately for what you are doing and who you are seeing simply as that.
But I guess it's just a reflection of your corporate big firm background.

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10th Apr 2019 16:02

Well quite many of these columns are about 15 years out of date.

I haven't bought or worn a tie other than weddings and funerals for about 15 years.

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to ireallyshouldknowthisbut
11th Apr 2019 12:39

I agree.

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10th Apr 2019 13:39

Suit and tie? whats that? oh yeah that thing I have for funerals (more and more as I get older) and weddings (less and less as I get older)

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10th Apr 2019 15:44

Call me old fashioned, but I think that a suit, shirt and tie with proper shoes are a must for the office, and definitely for meeting clients. Clients judge by first appearances, and I don't think that even creatives or media folk would be too impressed with a potential advisor in jeans and a checked shirt.

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to AlgernonB
10th Apr 2019 18:33

It depends on your clients, but the only people I see who wear suits are those who are still using spot cream and want to look older, spivvy sales people, and a few old boys in a time warp.

The good news is that I think most people dont care how you look or what colour your hair or skin is, so if you want to boot and suit, you can make that your niche, but beware looking like you need to retire.

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10th Apr 2019 20:29

Wow, is this still a thing? I remember approx. 18-19 years ago when Arthur Andersen converted, literally over night, from suits to casual dress. I don’t think I’ve worn a suit since then.

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11th Apr 2019 09:29

I remember, maybe 20 years ago, going to see a new client in a suit and tie. After I'd left I got a phone call from them asking me not to wear a suit next time as it frightened the staff.

I learnt then that I should dress according to my clients' expectations. So these days I rarely wear a suit and have been known to meet some clients in jeans, trainers and a hoodie.

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to TheBudge
11th Apr 2019 11:23

Absolutely. This is very similar to conversations I used to have with accounts staff whilst out on small company audits. Quite a few confided with me that the sight of the suited and booted audit team descending on their office was really intimidating.

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By gbms
11th Apr 2019 12:11

Open neck shirts, chinos and brogues seem to be the norm these days. I guess that's smart casual. It's a generational thing as many young clients are comfortable with this. Older clients might expect a suit and tie, so it would be appropriate to wear this when meeting them.

I personally dress quite colourfully and with a waistcoat, but save the tie for the weekend when I tend to dress up more than I do in the office.

Maybe the UK is adopting the Italian Sprezzatura - "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it" (Baldassare Castiglione's 1528 The Book of the Courtier).

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By Jdopus
11th Apr 2019 13:05

In Northern Ireland at least nearly every professional I meet still wears a suit and tie. I'm fairly indifferent to it as I don't mind wearing a suit, but I wonder if it varies strongly by region.

Every time I think of casual dress though, it puts me in mind of the Casual Friday joke from Curb Your Enthusiasm:

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12th Apr 2019 10:05

Good point Philip...
A polyester suit from Asda for 50 quid did the job but I dressed down 10 years ago as the majority of our clients dress down also.

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12th Apr 2019 11:50

I recently had a meeting with the FD of a quoted company. I didn't wear a suit but I did wear a tie. The [email protected] had an open neck shirt. Damn!

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By tedbuck
12th Apr 2019 16:32

All very interesting. The tieless syndrome was started by that Blair man who seemed to lower standards wherever he went. Adopted then by Cameron. Enough said?
I remember having a conversation with a teacher who maintained that grammar and spelling were unimportant.
I asked her how she would feel if she got a letter from a professional adviser which was ungrammatical and badly spelled and she went very quiet.
In truth there is a happy medium in all things but I find clients appreciate me being reasonably well dressed. I always wear a tie (brightens things up) and a suit in the winter months but often not in the summer months.
Each to his own but maintaining a standard is never a bad thing and it does affect how you look at the job you do.
Jeans are certainly out - whatever next - gardening clothes?
I think one should show respect to clients.
Perhaps the auditors in their suits who intimidated the staff might have noticed the black holes which their modern compatriots seem to overlook.

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23rd Apr 2019 15:58

I am looking forward to suits making a comeback but I do need circa 2 years notice so I can diet to get back into some of the decent quality ones still hanging in my wardrobe.

I have amongst them a really nice lightweight, quasi made to measure , Aitken & Niven suit that cost a small fortune when purchased circa fifteen years ago but now needs a good 4 inch reduction from my waist.

Of recent years I have bought cheaper suits as a temp fix until I can get back into the good ones but that day never comes.

I also still have over thirty ties loitering on a tie rack in the wardrobe-they never seem to get thrown out but nor do they get worn.

Suits are these days weddings, funerals and university graduations and at the last two of the latter I have looked like " Our Main in Havana" without the hat but with the cigars.

Maybe I should get the fez and start resembling "Ferrari" in "Casablanca"

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