The tumultuous events of the past couple of years have certainly had a huge impact on our working lives in a variety of ways, particularly with the huge increase in the amount of people working from home. This has seen a lot of people trading in the smart casual, for slightly more relaxed attire (pyjamas and furry slippers spring to mind). This brings up a question that has been circulating for a while, and that’s whether the days of the smart business suit are coming to an end?
When we look into the numbers behind suit sales, it’s clear to see that the popularity of business suits is waning to say the least. According to market analysts Kantar, sales of suits are down 7% year-on-year, ties are down 6% and blazers down 10%. Marks & Spencer is cutting back on its formalwear; Moss Bros, the suit specialist, has issued three recent profit warnings. These are only very recent trends – when we compare the current market to historical data, suit sales pale in comparison to decades past.
One of the key drivers behind this fall in popularity are the changing perceptions and attitudes towards smart business attire. Historically, the business suit projected authority, professionalism and elegance, but this may no longer be the case. Research suggests that in the wrong environment, a smart business suit can have quite a detrimental effect on how people are perceived with words like “stuffy” and “old-fashioned” cropping up more often than not.
If we take the example of the cutting edge tech industry, it appears that the consensus is that the business suit doesn’t go down too well, with one commentator citing, “The tech/startup culture prides itself on being independent-thinking and relaxed and is suspicious of conformity and traditional corporate culture. Wearing a suit reminds people of the more conventional and “uptight” business world, which is considered a strong negative.”
It seems like this narrative is certainly permeating through the business world. A clear example is that the renowned US investment banking firm Goldman Sachs – whose bankers were once renowned for their Armani suits and Gucci loafers – have recently announced a move to a “flexible dress code”, citing the “changing nature of workplaces generally in favour of a more casual environment”.
Although the future for the smart work attire appears gloomy, from our perspective as specialist recruiters there is still an appropriate time and place to don the business suit. From our decades of working in the recruitment sector we are acutely aware of how important first impressions can be, and whether it’s conscious or sub-conscious, what a person is wearing is a big contributing factor to how these first impressions are formed. The default advice we give to our candidates is to go for the smart clothing option for any interview regardless of the organisation or industry they are interviewing for. We give this advice due to the fact that we have never had bad feedback from a client due to candidates turning up for an interview in a suit, but there have been numerous cases of negative feedback about candidates turning up for interview in casual clothing.
This feedback includes candidates being perceived as “lazy”, “unprepared”, “scruffy”, and “unprofessional”. We at Maxwell Stephens abide by the rule that if it’s a scenario where you need to make a good first impression (interviews, client meetings, sales pitches) go for smart business attire, otherwise take it on a case-by-case basis and wear what makes you feel comfortable!
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