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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 14:54 GMT
Can suits outsmart your competition?
AOL's Steve Case and Time Warner's Gerald Levin announce merger plans
AOL's Steve Case favours formal wear, Time Warner's Gerry Levin dresses-down
By BBC World Business Report's Duncan Bartlett

The casual wear Friday mantra of the 1990s has begun to go out of fashion and suits and ties are back.

The investment bank Lehman Brothers recently told its male staff to ditch their chinos and polo shirts and turn up for work looking smart.

Almost one in five corporations with a formal business dress code have re-instituted their policy within the last year.

In the US, the Men's Apparel Alliance is claiming that men who wear casual clothes work less hard than those in a suit and can damage a company's image.

Judith Rasband, an Image Consultant connected with the Alliance believes clothes do affect work rates.

"Productivity has gone down and it is largely down to dress as it effects manner, mental capability."

"Wearing a collar, having the clothes pressed, will cause you to stand a little taller, you will feel a little more special, a little brighter. You will be seen as more in control, more stable, more capable, more credible," she said.

'Khakis and t-shirts'

Lauren Goldstein who has been writing about the dress down phenomenon for Time Magazine said the casual wear trend was strengthened by those working in the high-tech sector.

"Everyone on the West Coast was dressing casually anyway," she said. "So it quickly evolved into a scene where to be seen as hip and forward thinking you had to be dressed in khakis and t-shirts."

Ms Goldstein believes the problems now facing the high-tech sector affected the image of casual wear in the workplace.

"There was the dissolving essentially of the tech-boom so you didn't have to impress these kids."

Ms Goldstein gives the example of the attire of the chief executives of AOL and Time Warner at the time of their merger.

"You had Gerry Levin who was the CEO of Time Warner in khakis and a t-shirt, and Steve Case who is much younger, the CEO of AOL wearing a suit and suddenly Gerry Levin looked like he was retired," she said.

Smart casual wear

The informal style favoured by Gerry Levin and others such as Microsoft's Bill Gates was partly driven by clever marketing by companies such as Gap and Levi's, who saw it as a way to sell more clothes.

But now the formal wear industry is fighting back.

Scott Williams, general manager of Aquascutum, internationally famous for its shirts and ties, said product development was the key, both in formal collections and leisure or casual wear.

"I think there is a bridge area between the two products whereby people want almost dual purpose garments - so they will have a short raincoat that they can either wear as a leisurewear garment or they could possible wear it over the top of a suit as a more formal product," he said.

"If you keep pace with fashion and you move with the times you will just build on your business."

The BBC's Duncan Bartlett
"Work place attire is rapidly changing"
See also:

12 Aug 01 | Business
The suit returns to business
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