Smart or casual - who cares?

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Attending a business seminar earlier today, I was struck at the range of attire among the accountants there.

There were a good number, like me, in our dark suits, white shirts and smart ties. There were others in jackets with no tie. And there were others in polo shirts and sweatshirts, denim and leather jackets. And before you ask, dress style was not relative to qualification or size of firm!

So the question is - does it matter? Does anyone care how we dress these days? It is very rare that I see a client wearing a business suit and tie these days, and even fellow professionals such as solicitors only seem to dress up formally when they absolutely have to.

What do you think? Does a suit make you look or feel more professional? Do you think it has any effect on the way your clients perceive you? Or are they more comfortable when you dress a little more like them?

There's no doubt that times have changed, and of course our profession is well known for taking its time to catch up with the rest of the world. From what I saw today, there were either a few trend setters among us, or the profession is getting very scruffy!

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05th Feb 2013 22:38

The replies will probably crystallise

along two clear lines.  Those who think that a suit is essential, and not wearing one is a sign of moral or professional decay.  And those who think that wearing one, even without a tie, is a sign of old fashioned thinking and attitudes.

Each to his own, for the topic only ever relates to male attire.  Women are not hamstrung by any such perceived convention.

I haven't worn a suit or tie to work for years - probably approaching ten.  I had one comment - from a client not wearing a tie himself and who saw the irony.

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06th Feb 2013 07:48

Each to their own

I used to be in the "a suit makes you stuffy" brigade and that philosophy was one of the reasons I set up on my own many moons ago but having transitioned from sole trader working in his dressing gown until lunchtime, I returned to working with other people and learned that it isn't so simple.  

The thing is, people are different and for some people putting on a suit, tie or even just smart clothing affects their mental approach in a positive way - it makes them feel more business-like and you get better end-product from them.  But to then impose that thought and philosophy on all is as equally wrong as I was 30 years ago.  

The right answer is to let people determine this sort of thing for themselves.  The only caveat is that people should dress with an understanding of the tastes/whims of the clients to whom they are talking.  That means not turning up unshaven in scruffy shorts and a creased T-shirt when you're talking to some small business owner with pompous tastes.  But it also means not turning up in an identikit suit and tie when going to chat to a heavy metal band about the difference between a partnership and a limited company.

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06th Feb 2013 08:47

Projecting an image

A part of my work involves giving evidence in the criminal courts in front of a jury.  When I go to court I am very careful in how I dress.  I want to look like (what I imagine) the jury would expect a chartered accountant expert witness to look like.

So, business suit (probably pin-stripe but not garishly so - don't want to look a total 'stuffed shirt' plonker), black shoes (and dark socks), shirt basically white with (probably) vertical stripes, plain tie (possibly blue) or possibly muted stripes or pattern.  Clean shaven, glasses, balding with grey hair (so projecting age / experience / knowledge / wisdom).  Simple wedding ring but no other jewellery.

When giving evidence speak clearly (don't gabble).  Stand up and don't shift from one foot to another or sway from side to side.  Look at counsel when he / she asks a question, face the jury when replying.  (Keep an eye on the judge too.)

All this matters (and has nothing to do with the words I actually am speaking as my evidence!).

Does it matter?  Yes, in certain situations it does.


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06th Feb 2013 10:48

Logo polo shirts

Up until recently I've always worn a suit or similar for initial meetings and then something relatively smart for subsequent meetings.

In September we exhibited at a local business fair and I decided to invest in polo shirts with our business logo. I was surprised by the positive comments I got about how nice/unusual it was to see accountants NOT wearing suits. It has forced me to rethink what we wear although, personally, I don't feel comfortable doing business dressed too casually.

Sadly I also get comments about how nice/unusual it is to meet an accountant who smiles

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By Luke
06th Feb 2013 15:14

I gave up suits a few years ago
When I first started my practice I wore suits to meet every new prospect and each client.

In the last few years though I now stick to smart casual and don't even wear a suit for networking any more. It is nice not to have to after years of a suit every day.

When working in my home office I wear jeans unless I am expecting a client meeting. I couldn't meet a client in jeans though, that would be pushing it!

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06th Feb 2013 15:30

Smart casual for us

It depends upon your clients, and their 'comfort' factor.

If a client didn't like our casual attire, then the chances are they wouldn't like our informal and friendly approach anyway.

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07th Feb 2013 10:34

Wearing a suit for the first meeting?

At one time I'd wear a suit when meeting a new client for the first time, but it soon occurred to me that it was wrong to do so.

If the client was going to be "impressed" or influenced because I wore a suit, would that mean an adverse reaction next time I turned up not wearing one?  I'd probably misled the prospect by turning up in something that I'd never wear again.

I don't do it any more.  If the prospect wants a suit, there are others about to fill that role

I do take David's point about appearing in court - even the hoodies put a suit on!

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By Old Greying Accountant
07th Feb 2013 11:59

It all depends ...

... today i am in casuals, the dog is here, we are just off to the bank and the park (via the pet shop).

Soem clients I wear a suit for, out of respect for them, as many are old fashioned and expect it. Some times I wear one any way, but often I wont.

If i have lots of work to plough through, like january, I want to be comfortable.

Sometimes I will be smart casual, more often my natural tramp look is achieved.

The good thing with suits is it usually at least doubles, if not trebles, the amount of pocket space available!

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14th Feb 2013 14:05

@David Winch

do you really think that juries would not attach as much weight to your evidence if you rolled up slightly less formally - personally i cant stand pin stripe suits but they would be prefereable to turning up with green hair one supposes - keep up the good work - NICHE IS NICE

PS what about a pin stripe onesie , very becoming im sure

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14th Feb 2013 14:14


Yes, I think I need to look like the jury's perception of a chartered accountant.

If I rolled up in a French Connection Tee shirt, jeans and trainers I don't think the jury would give my supposedly 'expert' evidence as much weight.

Logically it perhaps should make no difference, but . . .


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14th Feb 2013 14:23

fair enough

wasnt going quite that far dress wise!  nevertheless i have great faith in the jury system

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26th Feb 2013 13:02

Interesting, I attended a clients premises a couple of weeks ago to perform their annual audit.

They have had a dress down policy for years but, when I turned up without a tie on for the first time it still provoked a comment!

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26th Feb 2013 13:19

Are getting used to my dressing gown its de rigeur before 10, that's a.m. !

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