The Daily Telegraph
Looking smart at work helps us to better play our part
Straight-talking common sense from the front line of management
QDuring the recent heatwave, my company relaxed the dress code to allow staff to wear shorts and T-shirts, a sensible move applauded by most of us. But now the hot weather has come and gone, people keep wearing shorts and casual wear, even running gear and workout Lycra. In my book this is pushing things a bit far, even for an office that doesn’t deal directly with the public. Am I being too much of a stickler for the rules?
Forty-five years ago hardly anyone in a shoe repair shop wore a uniform. Our smartest and one of the most successful competitors was Stacey Weeks, who ran the Oxford Cobbler in the city’s covered market. Stacey dressed to impress, he had a smart shirt and tie and always had odd shoes, one black, the other brown. It was an important part of his image – he wanted to be noticed and stand out from the crowd.
I came to a similar conclusion to Stacey, when, in 1979, I introduced the Timpson shirt, tie, apron and badge to make our shops look a cut above their competition. There has always been a bit of resistance – outside work most of our colleagues would only wear a tie to go to a wedding or a funeral and many take off the apron and tie just to pop out to buy a sandwich. But we have retained the same dress code for 43 years and I believe it has played an important part in setting standards and establishing our reputation.
In the 1960s our office colleagues were required to wear a uniform, which varied in colour according to their status – blue for “office workers” white for “supervisors” and grey for “senior management”.
Sadly, not all of the executive team realised that they didn’t gain respect from the colour of their uniform, but from the way they treated their team. Thankfully this status-based system was abandoned long ago, but we still expect everybody in the office to be smart, with the exception of “dressed down Fridays”.
I’m not surprised that your dress code changed during the hot weather. In 1976, when the heatwave went on for much longer, we started work at 6am and finished at 2pm. Some parts of our business did the same this year, but the shops have to be open when customers are out shopping – which is why we have a “Tiemeter” in every shop – a thermometer in the shape of a tie (when the temperature gets too high, ties need not be worn).
Although colleagues in our offices and off-site workshops seldom meet a customer, we ask them all to wear a company badge, which shows their Christian name and a strapline of their choosing such as “City fan”, “I love weekends” or “Kiwi superstar”. The badge also says “Member of the family from ….”, showing the year they joined the company. My badge says “John – Semi-retired – member of the family since 1943”.
Throughout the lockdown our offices remained open, first with a skeleton staff, with the majority of colleagues on furlough, but as soon as possible most returned, with very few wanting to work from home. However, in companies where working from home became the norm, insisting on a reasonable standard of dress was bound to be challenging. Even formal meetings on Zoom could be done in shorts and trainers.
At least I have some good news. Our dry cleaning shops are starting to see some business suits along with the party outfits and wedding dresses, so there are signs that more people are abandoning the tracksuits and going back to the office, but few will wear formal clothes. Fashion has shifted a long way from the pinstripe suits and bowler hats businessmen bought 60 years ago.
Times haven’t just changed in the office. It can be tricky to judge what to wear when invited out for dinner. “Informal” or “smart casual” may mean a shirt with no tie, a tie with no jacket, or simply a sweater with a clean pair of trousers. It is easy to be too smart.
But there was no chance of being overdressed at the Etihad stadium on the hottest day of the year when Manchester City played Bournemouth. It was so hot the players had a drinks break in each half, but the dress code was strictly enforced in all hospitality areas. Fans arriving in shorts were denied entry and most grudgingly went to the local Asda, which did a roaring trade selling trousers. One spectator was so incensed he bought a skirt.
However, apart from heatwaves, dress codes matter. If everyone looks the part they are likely to feel good and play their part.