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Formal wear is a relic of the past

6th Apr 2022
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I see that one in every nine employers conducting interviews for a desk job would think less of a candidate if they turned up wearing a suit.  The news came as the traditional men’s suit was removed from the basket of goods used to calculate the annual inflation rate, so it was certainly timely.

Victoria Short, the chief executive of Randstad UK, the recruiter who commissioned the survey, explained the uniform that has served professionals for a century was falling out of favour.  “While most of us instinctively feel that wearing a full suit for work feels a little too formal now, we were expecting it to last a little longer in the interview setting.  In some industries, the suit is already becoming a relic of a bygone era.  Overly smart is now considered fusty.  Stuffy.  A little too Prince Charles…”  

Well, yes.  Interviews reflect reality.  Sales of the suit have fallen from 5 million to fewer than two million a year over the last decade, according to Kantar. 

Personally, I’m torn on the slow demise of formal business attire.  On the one hand, during lockdown, I went full Gillian Anderson and dispensed with a bra.  On the other, I will admit, though, to wearing high heels in the office simply because I feel more powerful in them.  Looking taller, in my experience, is useful.  I think I come across as more assertive, ambitious, and independent when I wear heels (my preferred height is a bit over three inches).  A study by the University of Liverpool found both men and women judge tall women to be more intelligent.  I believe it.

But I think there’s a talent attraction element to formal wear, too, and I fear it trumps my love of heels.  We should be looking at dresscode from a candidate’s point of view.  

A 2019 survey from the US found a third of American employees would turn down a job offer if they were required to wear formal business clothing. We’re not far off.  Research from online clothing retailer Very found 28 per cent of Britons would not accept a job if they had to dress formally for work - with the figure rising to 40 per cent in London.  The Very survey found that 48 per cent of workers agree with the statement that suits are a relic of the past - while 30 per cent of office workers said that being able to dress casually is a key factor in whether they accept a job offer.  And yet 15 per cent of Britain's office workers still have to dress in formal clothes for work. 

In a job market where all the power lies with candidates, you’d better be offering mega-bucks pay or have an employer brand capable of doing some really heavy lifting if you want to maintain a formal dress code.  Either way, any right-thinking employer must know a formal dress code is counting against them.

The pandemic hasn’t killed off formal clothes completely.  But I do like my chances of never having to scaffold up again.

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