Is it me?

By Anita Jaynes on 31 March, 2021

Over the years, John Davies’ Is it me? has become a favourite of The Business Exchange for its wit and camaraderie. Last time out, John set the record straight – and this time he’s debating what’s straight-laced in the world of workplace fashion.

As we come out of the current lockdown and look forward to resuming some kind of normal life, my thoughts have turned to what the return to work might look like – literally.

When I started out on my legal career the office environment was a fairly straight-laced place to be in terms of what you wore into work. There was a sort of unwritten code, a certain standard that was expected of everyone. 

I remember very clearly managing to bag a “two suits for the price of one” deal in Debenhams in preparation for interviews. Up until that point I didn’t own a suit. I’d been a student and the closest thing I had to posh clothes were my ‘number ones’ for rugby (a blazer, a white shirt and a polyester club tie). All well and good for post-match sausage and beans but not so good for the world of work. 

I can still picture the two suits. They were exactly the same in cut, but one was navy and one was charcoal. Both were double breasted. Both had turn-ups (thank you, 1990s). Both were itchy. And both were hated by me.

In today’s fashion terms, I’d probably describe myself as shabby chic…without the chic. If any of you have seen me out and about and away from work you’ll have spotted a pair of old shorts, a very grizzly t-shirt and a beanie, even when it’s warm. Those are my comfort clothes. On more than one occasion my long-suffering wife has sent me back upstairs to get changed before going out. Paul Smith I ain’t!

Time moves on, of course. Rules change and things inevitably become more relaxed. For many businesses the office environment has changed: ties are fine if you want to wear one but you don’t have to; and smart casual has moved in and diluted the ‘formal attire’ rules (I’ve certainly taken advantage of that). Knowing your audience remains as important as ever: for some, suited and booted is a must, while others would laugh if I turned up in a suit. I tend to go for smart and comfy these days, coupled with a bit of old-fashioned common sense.

Many of us, particularly those who are normally office-based, have been working from home for more than a year, and we’ve all laughed and joked about what we’re wearing – or not wearing – under the desk during Zoom calls (any fellow jogging bottoms wearers out there?) 

So I’m wondering if this new, home-based attire will carry itself forward into the office environment. Shorts? Trainers? Flip flops?
T shirts? Skinny jeans? The possibilities are endless, aren’t they?

I think many employers will show a little more flexibility going forward – just as they will over where people work. But I’m curious to know the thoughts of the world at large on this subject. What do you folks think is acceptable? Your individual working environments may dictate what you wear – I wouldn’t opt for flip flops if I was a welder – but I’d love to know where you stand.

As for me, I’m currently sitting at home. In shorts and a fleece. And wearing a beanie. And very happy not to be wearing an itchy suit.

John Davies, Senior Corporate Partner, Thrings


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