Suits, Jeans and the concept of ‘permanent dress down’.

I had a strange thought the other day.  I realised that if I took all the hours I’d been awake between when I started my career (at 18) up to now (at 35) I’d spent more time in a suit than any other item of clothing.  If we ignore leap years but take into account wearing casual clothes at weekends on holiday and in the evening I’ve estimated that I’ve spent around 3859 days (out of 6205) wearing a suit….but obviously not the same one!

I haven’t got much imagination when it comes to clothing.  For work wear it’s white shirts from M&S and suits from TM Lewin and for casual clothes it’s a polo shirt and jeans usually.  However a recent conversation with an accountant introducer of mine gave me an interesting idea.

This accountant, let’s call him Clive (because actually, that’s his name) is adopting a new approach in his office.  He has decided that every day is dress down day!  Although he has minimum standards him and his staff can wear whatever they want.  Whilst this is a practice many of us in professional practices adopt when not seeing clients he has decided to take it one step further….he had decided to keep a casual dress code when seeing both existing or new clients.

For Clive’s existing clients this isn’t really a problem.  They know and value the quality of his work and are not concerned about whether Clive is wearing a suit, jeans and a t shirt or a tutu (I don’t think he’d go for the last option).  However does this create the right impression when seeing new clients?

I’m undecided on the right approach.  If a new accountant or lawyer turned up for a meeting with you in jeans and a t shirt would you be more or less likely to appoint?  Would the accountant wearing jeans be automatically better or worse than the accountant wearing a suit?  When appointing professionals do you think that making a judgement on what they wear is superficial?  or alternatively do you think it’s an indication of an individual who has made an effort to look smart and therefore deserves credit?

There is an argument to say that Clive’s actions may make him stand out for the crowd and may help him continue to build his business.  Also, for many of us, it’s an ‘affordable experiment’.  I’m not sure about your existing clients but I very much doubt I’d lose any clients for turning up in a pair of jeans and a polo shirt!

For now, it’s not an experiment I’m not going to adopt within my practice but would absolutely consider for the future.  However I’m more interested in what you think?  Does it matter what you wear?  Would you ever adopt a more casual approach to clothes in your office?

As ever I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts….

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18 thoughts on “Suits, Jeans and the concept of ‘permanent dress down’.

  • Chris,

    I think that you can lose the tie and jacket permanently. However my own feeling is that if you turn up to talk to me about me in jeans and a t-shirt then as a first impression it doesn’t look good.

    Interestingly though, my accountant’s office is the same as Clive’s. The difference is I knew him socially before I was his client and they don’t really have new clients in the office. I suspect when going out to meet new clients, he suits up. I should ask him!

    Ben

    Reply
  • When I started Ovation in 1998, I decided to ditch the suit and tie, and haven’t worn one since. I’m like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, same ‘smart casual’ outfit every day!

    At that time, I went to meet some people I knew, 4 partners of a management consultancy firm, who were to become my first client. The main partner was ex FD of Walkers Crisps. After the meeting, I asked him what he thought about the lack of a tie. He said he had two responses.

    “First,” he said, “I noticed it for 30 seconds, and then didn’t think about it again. Second, in that 30 seconds, my only response was ‘Wow, Chris must be doing well’.”

    Reply
  • An interesting one Chris! My first thought is why wouldn’t you just try it, perhaps with existing clients?

    Off course, there’s a risk of being too casual/sloppy, to the point that people don’t take you seriously. So may be not jeans and a t-shirt? What about jeans and a proper shirt or trousers, a shirt and a jumper?

    I am beginning to sound like a image/style consultant, ain’t I? But then again, may be there is a market for that in the IFA community, who knows? 🙂

    Reply
  • A lot depends on who you’re talking too. Years ago I remember a direct salesman who always wore jeans, a check shirt and a flat cap. His marfket? Farmers – to whom anyone turning up in a suit was probably from the Ministry of Agriculture (as it was then).

    Nowadays, I find older people (like me) appreciate a suit at least for a first meeting – some can get past the tie thing, others can’t so I always default to a tie. City types and younger professionals seem comfortable with casual – walk the streets of EC2/3 and see how many ‘jeans and jackets’ there are.

    Knowing your market – and having a guess about your new client’s views – is important to help get the right impression across; then you have a chance of knowing that your expertise will be listened to. If there’s a dress code issue, it may not do you any favours in the credibility stakes – or is that all too black and white?

    Reply
  • I call on IFAs in the main – my first appointment is normally a suit and tie but many firms dress down if they are not seeing a client. After a while I’m turning up in flip flops, shorts and my Bermuda T-Shirt (joke), but I often replace suit jacket with a jumper and lose the tie. That’s as far as I dare go. One thing i’m enjoying is not shaving, although I do keep my stubble trimmed or the grey begins to show.

    Steve

    Reply
  • Thanks for the comments everyone! There’s some really interesting comments….

    Ben – I’d be interested if he does ‘suit up’ when he sees new clients….I bet he probably does!

    Chris – I like you’re thinking….if you take the ‘smart casual’ approach does it show that you’d like….but not need the prospective clients business. I’m not sure but it obviously worked for you.

    Saying that you did mention that you knew the clients previously….would you be tempted to ‘suit up’ if it was someone new?

    Abraham – where do your talents end….writer, paraplanner, the gok wan of financial services? 🙂

    Frank….London is an interesting place to ‘trend spot’. I’ve found you can walk from Bank station (where the trend is quite formal) and as you approach Old street / Hoxton it’s far more casual….especially on the silicon roundabout.

    Steve….mental image of t-shirt and bemuda’s now!!

    Reply
  • I never wear a suit in our office. It suggests a level of confidence, I believe, to shake off the corporate facade. However, I do wear a suit on the few occasions I meet a new client at their location. The reason here is they can’t place you in your surroundings so play safe!

    Highly scientific this I know!

    Reply
  • I use similar logic to Andrew, although I provide business to business advice. However, as couple of years back I noticed I had become known for not wearing a tie. I started wearing one for offsite meetings, even where clients didn’t, just to show I wasn’t arrogant enough to assume that I didn’t have to and that I wasn’t the important person in the relationship. I was trying to say – “You’re the client, I still understand that.” Don’t have to do it too often but it was an imprtant gesture to make I think.

    I also know people who choose which tie to wear depending on who they are visiting, not just whether to wear one at all.

    Reply
  • I love wearing a suit, not a tie as they are only there to catch kebab sauce on a Friday and I don’t do that anymore! I think suits are part of the armour we put onto go to work and what makes a clear separation between work time. Granted I’m typing this in swimming shorts beside the pool but it sounds like I might need to start a, ‘save the suit’ campaign?

    Reply
  • An interesting one Chris! My first thought is why wouldn’t you just try it, perhaps with existing clients?

    Off course, there’s a risk of being too casual/sloppy, to the point that people don’t take you seriously. So may be not jeans and a t-shirt? What about jeans and a proper shirt or trousers, a shirt and a jumper?

    I am beginning to sound like a image/style consultant, ain’t I? But then again, may be there is a market for that in the IFA community, who knows? 🙂

    Reply
  • Thanks for the comments everyone! There’s some really interesting comments….

    Ben – I’d be interested if he does ‘suit up’ when he sees new clients….I bet he probably does!

    Chris – I like you’re thinking….if you take the ‘smart casual’ approach does it show that you’d like….but not need the prospective clients business. I’m not sure but it obviously worked for you.

    Saying that you did mention that you knew the clients previously….would you be tempted to ‘suit up’ if it was someone new?

    Abraham – where do your talents end….writer, paraplanner, the gok wan of financial services? 🙂

    Frank….London is an interesting place to ‘trend spot’. I’ve found you can walk from Bank station (where the trend is quite formal) and as you approach Old street / Hoxton it’s far more casual….especially on the silicon roundabout.

    Steve….mental image of t-shirt and bemuda’s now!!

    Reply
  • I love wearing a suit, not a tie as they are only there to catch kebab sauce on a Friday and I don’t do that anymore! I think suits are part of the armour we put onto go to work and what makes a clear separation between work time. Granted I’m typing this in swimming shorts beside the pool but it sounds like I might need to start a, ‘save the suit’ campaign?

    Reply
  • I call on IFAs in the main – my first appointment is normally a suit and tie but many firms dress down if they are not seeing a client. After a while I’m turning up in flip flops, shorts and my Bermuda T-Shirt (joke), but I often replace suit jacket with a jumper and lose the tie. That’s as far as I dare go. One thing i’m enjoying is not shaving, although I do keep my stubble trimmed or the grey begins to show.

    Steve

    Reply
  • A lot depends on who you’re talking too. Years ago I remember a direct salesman who always wore jeans, a check shirt and a flat cap. His marfket? Farmers – to whom anyone turning up in a suit was probably from the Ministry of Agriculture (as it was then).

    Nowadays, I find older people (like me) appreciate a suit at least for a first meeting – some can get past the tie thing, others can’t so I always default to a tie. City types and younger professionals seem comfortable with casual – walk the streets of EC2/3 and see how many ‘jeans and jackets’ there are.

    Knowing your market – and having a guess about your new client’s views – is important to help get the right impression across; then you have a chance of knowing that your expertise will be listened to. If there’s a dress code issue, it may not do you any favours in the credibility stakes – or is that all too black and white?

    Reply
  • I never wear a suit in our office. It suggests a level of confidence, I believe, to shake off the corporate facade. However, I do wear a suit on the few occasions I meet a new client at their location. The reason here is they can’t place you in your surroundings so play safe!

    Highly scientific this I know!

    Reply
  • When I started Ovation in 1998, I decided to ditch the suit and tie, and haven’t worn one since. I’m like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, same ‘smart casual’ outfit every day!

    At that time, I went to meet some people I knew, 4 partners of a management consultancy firm, who were to become my first client. The main partner was ex FD of Walkers Crisps. After the meeting, I asked him what he thought about the lack of a tie. He said he had two responses.

    “First,” he said, “I noticed it for 30 seconds, and then didn’t think about it again. Second, in that 30 seconds, my only response was ‘Wow, Chris must be doing well’.”

    Reply
  • I use similar logic to Andrew, although I provide business to business advice. However, as couple of years back I noticed I had become known for not wearing a tie. I started wearing one for offsite meetings, even where clients didn’t, just to show I wasn’t arrogant enough to assume that I didn’t have to and that I wasn’t the important person in the relationship. I was trying to say – “You’re the client, I still understand that.” Don’t have to do it too often but it was an imprtant gesture to make I think.

    I also know people who choose which tie to wear depending on who they are visiting, not just whether to wear one at all.

    Reply
  • Chris,

    I think that you can lose the tie and jacket permanently. However my own feeling is that if you turn up to talk to me about me in jeans and a t-shirt then as a first impression it doesn’t look good.

    Interestingly though, my accountant’s office is the same as Clive’s. The difference is I knew him socially before I was his client and they don’t really have new clients in the office. I suspect when going out to meet new clients, he suits up. I should ask him!

    Ben

    Reply

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