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Sunday, 12 August, 2001, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
The suit returns to business
Punks on the beach
Young job hunters often fail to dress to impress

By BBC News Online's Jorn Madslien

The popularity of traditional suits is set to recover as businessmen's recession fears are heightened and as ever more men have come to accept that, in truth, dressing down elegantly was never an easy thing to do.

The Fast Show, BBC
Nothing beats a suit, say traditionalists
Luxury restaurants with dress codes and exclusive gentlemen's clubs stand to benefit as their traditional clients of investment bankers, business consultants and corporate lawyers begin to return from their 'dress-down Friday' sabbaticals.

It could mark a notable change from a year ago when, at the height of the boom, I spent a Friday evening in one of London's finest clubs together with a couple of thirty-something bankers in their pinstripe suits.

Looking around the unnaturally quiet smoking room, these dapper gents predictably bemoaned the sartorial liberties that had spread across the City of London.

Not because they would ever take advantage of them - "God forbid" - but due to the declining popularity of their invites to join them for a drink at their Club.

In fact, at the time they were loath to issue such invites at all because they feared their guests might have the audacity to turn up wearing khakis and a blue button-down shirt from the Gap.

Mind the Gap

Some of London's gentlemen's clubs which previously operated long waiting lists have of late instead been discussing how to recruit young blood.

Trouble at the archetypical maker of the 'dress-down Friday' uniform, the Gap, may offer hope for the clubs.

Gap blue button down shirt
Friday uniform shirt
The company has just cut more than 1,000 jobs after suffering falling sales.

More expensive makers of blue shirts and chinos could follow suit - if old economy businessmen decide, once again, to follow the lead of the sector.

Spurred on by a market where money was tight, the most clever entrepreneurs put their suits back on about a year ago to prepare for meetings with increasingly critical venture capitalists.

It is a familiar phenomenon to most people born before the invention of the PC: When things are difficult, it is important to look serious.

The future ain't orange

Many of the surviving entrepreneurs are old enough to know this.

Punk with orange hair and a spider tattooed on his head
The web was cool about orange hair and spiders
But this is not always the case when it comes to their former staff, many of whom are finding it hard to adjust to old-economy rules in a tight labour market.

"They're used to being pursued, not being the pursuer," the president of the New York-based temping agency Hired Guns and the founder of the Pink Slip Party for former workers, Allison Hemming, told the newspaper International Herald Tribune.

"Ms Hemming said she had even had to counsel members of her Pink Slip Club on their hair for interviews, recently urging one young web designer to dye his orange hair back to brown," the newspaper wrote, reflecting, perhaps, the old-economy views of many of its readers.

Read by suits

The Tribune has a loyal readership among international heavyweights, many of whom had never appreciated the suit's descent from hegemony in the first place.

Man in suit reading The International Herald Tribune
The International Herald Tribune: Read by men in suits
These bankers, lawyers and businessmen have known the rules all along, of course.

Even those working for firms where the dress code has been abolished altogether will generally don a suit when they meet with clients.

So although the double breasted pin-stripe's status as a uniform has had to face rivals in recent years, they have generally been other suits, either blue or grey.

At HSBC's first-half profit announcement in early August, the gospel that the suit is still the business uniform of choice was hammered home to onlookers as both the bank's chief executive Keith Whitson and all his staff wore identical HSBC ties, or scarves for the ladies.

Suits me fine

The return of the suit's popularity is not expected to make today's more liberal banks reintroduce their dress codes of the past however.

If anything, the freedom to dress down is spreading further, even to Japan where the traditional Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi introduced dress-down Fridays early in August to adapt to the more flexible culture of international banking.

However, as recession fears spread globally along with the economic slowdown in the US economy, the temptation to 'power dress' becomes irresistible for nail biting workers whose jobs may be on the line.

If these people were to be given real powers to chose what to wear, then many of them would say: "Give us back our suits".

See also:

27 Aug 99 | UK Politics
Dressing for power
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