Although (or perhaps, now that I think about it, because) I am rather particular about my appearance, I have never been a fan of ‘business attire’. For customer facing positions I can understand the draw of having a dress code – the employees are standing there on show in your exquisitely designed space all day, after all, so it stands to reason that you don’t want them messing up the look of the place – but it’s always struck me as very odd that it extends to offices. The BBC has an article (admittedly something of a fluff piece) discussing the issue; even as part of this less-than-groundbreaking journalism, though, the inanity and utter baselessness of the arguments used is rather grating.
The central theme seems to be variations on the well-worn aphorism:
If you look professional, you act professional.
Always stated as fact, yet never bolstered with evidence, it seems to be one of those pieces of ‘conventional wisdom’ which so often turn out to be at best unfounded and at worst downright misleading. The fact that the vast majority of arguments in favour of ‘office dress’ boil down to this is, as far as I’m concerned, roughly equivalent to basing one’s opinion on the fact that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.
There are a few other points made – one commentator says that jeans have become as much a ‘uniform’ as the suit, and that people are scared to branch out; reasonable and logically consistent, at least, but an idea which in no way implies the conclusion that the suit is somehow the superior option.
There are also a few points along the lines of:
If you needed a lawyer, went down to chambers to find one wearing shorts, a T-shirt with a logo and battered trainers, are you going to choose him?
And, in the ‘editors picks’ of the comment section:
Jeans are fine if you work on a ranch, flip flops are appropriate if you’re a lifeguard but if you work in an office you should dress accordingly.
Both of which show some quite impressively circular logic. I accept the reality that people are somewhat conditioned to respect what they perceive to be an authoritative style of dress, but the theory that ‘lawyers should wear suits because that is appropriate’ is based on the premise that ‘suits are appropriate because they are what lawyers wear’. I’m not saying it’s a good idea to turn up in court dressed like a stereotypical surfer – people’s preconceptions do matter in the real world – I’m just suggesting that attempting to make an argument that things should remain a certain way needs a more solid foundation than that things are that way.