Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Monday, 31 January, 2000, 15:00 GMT
Do you need a suit to do business?

Staff at UK accountancy firm Arthur Andersen have been told they can ditch their suits and dress down. They say a more relaxed dress code will suit the "new economy" of e-commerce.

What do you think? Do suits affect the way you work and your attitude while there? Does wearing a suit mean that you have less authority with your colleagues?

Or does that no longer matter when there is limited client contact - such as on the internet or over the telephone? Send us your comments.


Advice to men: Quality sharp suits, fat Windsor knots, crisp shirts, neatly cropped hair and nice aftershave = Meow!
Deborah, UK
Well, I think the whole idea is about feeling and looking smart and a smartly dressed man doesn't have to be dressed in a suit. On another note man should dress in a way that gives them confidence, I think the whole world has watched, from their TV sets, how Mr. Mandela always appeared to be a darling of the crowds despite his appearance in non-formal floral shirts. I think that has sent a strong message to his presidential counterparts always clad in suits. It drags me into the thinking that some of them would go for an early morning jog in a suite.
Clever Murambwa, Zimbabwe

I have worked with a formal dresscode and now I work for an informal internet company, where we dress informally. I think it makes very little difference, it saves money to dress informally and it is often warmer in the winter. However, I think that Men look so lovely in suits, that I'd hate to see the day when my partner stopped coming through my front door in his handsome suit!
Alexandra, UK

Here in Silicon Valley California, it seems the only people who wear suits are Lawyers, Sales People and individuals going in for job interviews. In the last decade here, it has clearly been demonstrated that the suits are totally unnecessary for most job fields. There are tangible benefits for the dress down work place in such a high cost of living area, we need the money that once went to suits, to pay for our ever increasing housing rent costs!
Steve Kenney, USA

It is time for the UK to get up-to-date!
John C, UK/Germany
Having worked in various countries in Europe, I find that the dress code is no longer around as a general rule. We go to work in jeans and sweater and do exactly the same job! What's the beef? I have a suit but I only use it for interviews, marriages and funerals! I do not use it for work.
John C, UK/Germany

My company doesn't care what the employees are wearing. Since we are an Internet company it doesn't really matter what we wear as long as we are happy.
Steve Mudrets, USA

I think the suit idea is one of the traditions that should've gone out with the empire. Baseball caps are de rigeur for business in my opinion.
Blair Kemp, Scotland

The suit is a layer of utterly irrelevant bluff and sham, some people are resisting its abandonment as a "de facto" dress standard for non manual activity, because some people find that layers of irrelevant bluff and sham are helpful to them.
Paul Gate, UK

I feel nervous around people in suits. It hides their personality and that intimidates me.
Paul, Rep of Ireland
I have previously worked in the UK and was always bemused with the dress standards that are applied at British companies. I don't condone sloppy dress sense in the work place but I can never understand the British fixation about tie and collar! Especially in the middle of summer! If companies insist on their employees wearing formal wear to work then they should either pay a clothing allowance or issue a 'regulation' suit!
John McCorry, USA

Most UK companies seem to miss the fact that when an employee is dressed down they are usually happier. This also means morale is higher, and thus productivity goes up. After all, a happy employee is a good employee.
Marc Fuller, UK

In casual dress I act casually.
Elliot, UK
Having worked in both casual and formal environments, I have to say that I prefer the formal setting. I prefer to wear a suit to work for these reasons: 1) I get taken seriously by my contemporaries. 2) The simple dressing routine in the morning. 3) When I'm in a suit I naturally adopt a more professional attitude. In casual dress I act casually.

Ditch the suits! Also ties are the most ridiculous item of clothing ever invented. I hate wearing such formal clothes and I can't wait until the day when casual clothes are the order of the day and we can reminisce to our younger colleagues..."do you remember when everyone had to wear a suit and tie...".
Anne, UK

Burn the suits!!!! Go with the times.
Anil, Hong Kong
Suits are so out. More and more bosses are turning casual. Not trash but decent casual. It makes a difference in thinking and even your co-workers find you more open and reachable. That is what is in. I encourage it as I am the only one of the few in the managerial position in my company that does not wear a suit and I get more work done. Burn the suits!!!! Go with the times.
Anil, Hong Kong

I personally do not like to wear suits to work, but I definitely would endorse the idea of having a dress code for an organisation. It instils discipline and gives identity to workplace.
Srimal, US

"Business casual" should not be confused with purely casual clothes. Staff are not allowed to wear what they like but must choose clothes which are appropriate for working in a highly successful professional services firm including following the client's own dress code when working with them.
The relaxed atmosphere that this policy brings to the office does not, as some might think, mean that people tend to treat work less seriously. On the contrary, by being given the choice and treated as responsible adults people feel more valued and motivated to work hard.
Tim Brown, Arthur Andersen

I work at home, as a freelance writer, so it doesn't matter what I wear. But I miss dressing up and relish the rare opportunities I have to do so.
Laura Marcus, UK

This is the 21st Century. How you look is irrelevant. It is how you do what you do and who you are that matters. Death to the suit and other pointless business 'traditions'!
Andy, UK

Anyone attending a job interview casually dressed, gives the obvious impression that he (or she) just does not care.
Ronald Banks, UK
This trend of dressing down diminishes the respect given to the wearer and at the same time reduces the personal standing of the individual. Anyone attending a job interview casually dressed, gives the obvious impression that he (or she) just does not care. I am referring to a non-physical job. Outside of business dressing down for an evening at the theatre say, also diminishes both the enjoyment and the sense of occasion.
Ronald Banks, UK

If you need to wear a suit to gain "authority" over your colleagues and that is the cornerstone of how you contribute value to your organisation, seems to me that your CV might be a little thin. What excellent companies want are great people who can create value for them. The prospect of discriminating against people because they aren't wearing a suit seems to me to be arcane.
John Kerr, Scotland

It's a well-known fact that women fancy you more in a good suit. Smart casual - sounds like the way Alan Partridge likes to dress to me!
Nick, England

It shouldn't matter what you wear - it's how good you are at the job that counts!
Anna Patullo, Wales

I always keep a suit for interviews, just in case the interviewer has a prejudice. I wonder whether the 'enlightened' Andersens would employ someone who came to interview in causal gear?
Jay, UK

Of course appearance matters. The problem lies in the fact that some people's idea of casual is a pair of old jogging bottoms and a t-shirt that they got free from a pub lager promotion.
Steve, UK

Dress codes were designed to show others what the wearer is -- crowns for kings, overalls for workmen, skirts for women. This is to help those who otherwise couldn't tell the difference.
Sadly, the "suit means reputable business person" bit just doesn't work. Somehow or other the suit shops just didn't get the checking mechanisms in place and so they'll sell suits even to conmen.
Anne B, UK

I can picture the image of hundreds of chino clad accountants getting off the tube and to be honest I feel sorry for them.
Mike Thomas, UK
Arthur Anderson have replaced one uniform for another. I can picture the image of hundreds of chino clad accountants getting off the tube and to be honest I feel sorry for them. They are still tied into rules as to what you can and cannot wear. The problem is the norms of business wear have been diluted by the hideous 'smart casual' phrase. I find smart clothes are never casual.
What is the point of worrying about it. Wear your suit but get a more up-to-date coloured shirt and tie. At least you know where you stand. Leave your casual clothes for home and for weekends. After all isn't that is what we all live for.
Mike Thomas, UK

I thought the British public were far too intelligent to be fooled or intimidated by appearances. When I am in smart, uncomfortable clothes I can't wait to go home and slip into something more comfortable. If I am already wearing something comfortable there is no need to rush; I can work longer.
A Attiki, UK

I think that an organisation's dress code should reflect that of the clients/customers its employees come into daily contact with. As an IT consultant at a Scottish University, I dress smart-casual. Anything more formal would possibly deter students from seeking my assistance!
Michael, Glasgow, Scotland

The loss of the stiff collar was the beginning of the end (Beau Brummell's last message: "Starch is the man"). Can anyone tell me how to do home starching?
Hamish Halls, England

Isn't the suit a hot bed of debate!? It certainly has stuffy connotations and it doesn't come cheap...but it does provide a mental barrier between work and home. No one can deny the importance of clothing and how they allow you to express yourself and how they make you feel. A suit can limit that, but can make you feel more professional.
Though I think that there is something to be said for moving with the times; suits have a traditional image of stuffy old white city boys. Hopefully that is going to change because it has to!

As an employee of Arthur Andersen I have noticed over the first few days of the new policy that not everyone has "dressed down".
Ben, UK
As an employee of Arthur Andersen I have noticed over the first few days of the new policy that not everyone has "dressed down" and in fact at a rough guess there are about 50% wearing suits. Which shows that it's not a "dress-down" policy, it's a "use your own brain" policy.
Suits were originally about taking pride in, and being thoughtful about, appearance - thus acting as a mirror of the person's professional approach. The new policy is encouraging exactly the same original idea. Be professionally thoughtful about your appearance. The quoted organisational psychologist seems to think that this may be a bit too hard for us and will bring us down with stress-related illnesses. Thanks for the vote of confidence!
Ben, UK

I hate wearing a tie let alone a suit, but all my contact with the public is by the phone or e-mail, as I am more relaxed in casual clothes than when I am squirming around in a constricting suit. My female counterparts seem to be able to wear anything and get away with it.
Garry Hendy, UK

Dressing in suits is for people who haven't got any imagination and need to be told what to where. A suit is a totally impractical garment for 21st century jobs.
It's either too cold or too hot, needs dry-cleaning, has loads of pockets that you can't use or it looks tatty, is uncomfortable, wears out quickly... In a dress down culture you can still wear a suit if you want.
John, England

Suits make you look more professional. Casual wear just would not be good for business.
Allison, UK

The sad thing is, even when you give people a 'non uniform' day, they invariably turn up in the chinos/polo shirt/loafers uniform known only as 'sports casual'. Any deviation from this norm leads to snide comments and eventually dismissal!
Dan, UK

It's about the impression you create in the mind's eye of people you meet and deal with.
Adam B. Cooke, UK
It's about the impression you create in the mind's eye of people you meet and deal with. If wearing a suit creates an impression of competence wear one. If a boiler suit creates a favourable impression wear that, if jeans and sneakers create the right impression in their mind's eye wear them.
For me it is a lot easier to wear a suit. I don't have to decide what to wear - I pick the next shirt in line and the next tie in line and regular suit and shoes. Easy and not uncomfortable if chosen and sized correctly.
Adam B. Cooke, UK

Anyone can buy a suit, but not everyone can do a good job. If you are professional at whatever it is you are doing, then it shouldn't matter!
Cameron Braidwood, UK

The true rebel and nonconformist will obviously now have to wear a very formal suit at all times. But of course nobody like that would stand much chance of getting a job with Arthur Andersens in the first place!
Peter, UK

I work for a professional accountancy firm and currently have the option to dress down on a Friday. On a recent assignment in the US my client had chosen "business casual" dress every day.
I have never felt that dressing down deters me from performing my work to the best of my abilities. In fact it serves to improve it by creating a more relaxing work environment. As long as the individual knows when to "suit" up for client contact and when to go casual, there should not be a problem.
Kevin Duthie, Scotland

Suits are only for insecure personalities. What else do you need this armour for but to protect yourself from others etc. I do not want to protect myself, I want to interact with people around me.
We may all wear what we feel comfortable in. It is also a question of style: it is very much possible to be dressed extremely expensively in rather casual clothes if you buy right quality and/or brands. But nevertheless, it is very surprising how many people around here adhere to suits during the working day and dress in cheapest casual clothes afterwards...I wonder why?
Aleks, Netherlands

I am capable of producing the same good work, smart, casual or naked.
Andy, UK
I am capable of producing the same good work, smart, casual or naked. The whole "suit" culture is nothing but a dogma and a sign of inability to think outside the box.
Andy, UK

Dress like you mean business. If you are there to serve your customers dress like a butler...
J Davies, UK

I used to work in a leading IT research lab. The saying then was "If it's got a tie round its neck, it's got no blood going to its head".
Richard, UK

'Dressing up' changes my thinking and behaviour.
Jenni, UK
When I put on a suit or smart clothes, make up my face and do my hair, I become a business person. When I go home and take all these off and let my hair down, I become a social person. I could not more attend my office in jeans than I would wear a suit around the house.
My professional appearance aids my professional mind and attitude - I do a lot of things at home that I would not do in the office so 'dressing up' changes my thinking and behaviour. I'm not trying to be something I'm not, but even my language and diction improve in a suit!
Jenni, UK

Surely the Tie is just a phallic symbol used to enforce male dominance in the work place.
Aiden Greene, UK

I don't think lack of formal dress has affected the likes of Branson, Dyson and co...
Jamie, UK

I manage a building which is used for lectures and conferences, I need to deal and help many people dressed in suits, if I wear a shirt and tie for work I get far more respect from visitors than if I wore jeans and a T shirt.
Paul Phillips, England

I know if I look like a 'suit', I've lost my class for a week.
Howard Rogers, Australia
I see the comment 'The way you dress reflects the way you think. ' What a load of old TOSH!
I train groups of people each week at (their) enormous expense. I wear the most outrageous ties I can find... I have to wear a tie, but I know if I look like a 'suit', I've lost my class for a week. A duff tie, and an irreverent attitude mean they DON'T think I'm a guru, and I stand a chance of actually teaching them something.
So much for working out what I think from what I wear! It's total nonsense of course: most clients I work with don't expect to wear a suit in class, and find it odd that I even make a half-hearted effort! It all depends who your audience is, I suspect.
Howard Rogers, Australia

People in suits usually want something.
Simon Berry, Canada

The only time I would recommend wearing a suit is when meeting people who can give you money!
John Kanefsky, UK

I think "smart casual" covers most eventualities; a outfit can quickly be smartened up by adding a jacket as and when required. Cleanliness is far more important - I would have far more time for someone in T shirt and jeans with clean shoes, hair and nails than someone in a scruffy suit.
Sarah, Ireland

The moment you let people wear "casual" dress, they turn up in filthy jeans and T-shirts.
Ian, UK
Nice in theory but unfortunately we British are so awful at dressing "casually". The moment you let people wear "casual" dress, they turn up in filthy jeans and T-shirts. There seems to be no minimum level. You wait and see.
Ian, UK

I have never worn a suit to work. Your clothes reflect your personality and we should not have to confirm to a corporate identity for people to think we are performing well. Relaxed and happy staff are more productive and stress levels are lower. Letting individuality shine through means that staff are more likely to bring ideas and creativity to their work.
Lucy Allen, UK

As long as you are not in a client facing role, why not "dress down"? After all is there anyone who really enjoys going to the Dry cleaners once a week and paying hand over fist for the cleaning of your suits that have already cost you hundreds of pounds?
Mark, UK

Was it Lord King (ex boss of BA) who said he would have taken Richard Branson more seriously had he been clean shaven and worn a suit?
I'm a chartered accountant working in the media sector. Very few of my colleagues wear suits, however my suit divides my professional working life from my social life.
Dharmendra Bhatia, UK

Facing the chairman of an investment bank with a Hawaiian shirt, hockey shorts and a pair of sandals can be a liberating experience.
Ben Slater, UK
I work for a Web consultancy whose clientele is extremely varied. I don't understand what the concern is - I simply wear what will put my client at ease. Or not. The key is that I have the choice. Facing the chairman of an investment bank with a Hawaiian shirt, hockey shorts and a pair of sandals can be a liberating experience. Not only that but they seem to listen all the harder - probably to take their mind off laughing! Saying that I do like suits simply because they make me feel nice. And that is good.
Ben Slater, UK

Bring back the bowler and brolly I say.
Peter, USA
Oh dear, even the British are extolling the appalling Americanism of "dressing down" or is that also "dumbing down". Clothes may not make the man but professional attire means you take your work, your customers and your fellow workers seriously. Ah for the days of The City "rig" when everyone made an effort to look smart. Bring back the bowler and brolly I say; keep your trainers and jumpers for home!
Peter, USA

I am a middle-aged woman. In a suit I look like an accountant, which is what I am. In anything else I look like a middle-aged housewife. A suit it is then.
Sharon Horswill, UK

At last! Men allowed to wear skirts if they want to... David Beckham might just become a 9 to 5 guy!
Simon Martinez, UK

"I have reached the age where, if someone tells me to wear socks, I don't have to."
- Albert Einstein
Mark Hurst, UK

If the position doesn't involve meeting the public, your clothing, etc., is of no consequence. However, I'd be as unlikely to trust an accountant in a boiler suit as a plumber in a three-piece suit.
Melody Forrest, England

I have a friend who runs a start-up in the UK. He wears casual (but not tatty) clothes at all times and attends business meetings in these clothes as a weeding out exercise. Anyone upset about him not wearing a suit is immediately rejected as someone to do business with, either as a supplier or a customer.
Paul Hill, United Kingdom

The best thing is to have a suit, white shirt and expensive tie + a decent pair of shoes at the ready in the office just in case you need to make some kind of statement. Otherwise I dress strictly for comfort. My all-time favourite is to wear a pair of black Marks and Sparks slippers, oh what comfort!
David Renton, USA

Casual wear, casual attitude. It's true! As a seller I win every time over the casually dressed rep. And as a buyer I have more bad service more often from casually dressed staff.
Bob, UK

I like the ease that dressing in a suit and tie brings to my daily routine. I just stumble out of the bathroom and pick a shirt/tie/suit, then off I go. If I had to choose casual clothes to wear everyday, I'd never get to work on time.
Robin, UK

I was once in the Restaurant Car of a GNER Train, when an older gentleman asked me what I did for a living. When I said I owned a Software Company he exclaimed "I thought you were a plasterer!" Oh well, I'll be damned if I'm binning my Fat Face collection!
Charles Farley, UK

Dressing down performs a useful training function - a suit is definitely not required in the dole queue.
Joe, UK

Management don't believe in Santa Claus, they don't believe in the tooth fairy. How come they believe that making male members of staff tie pieces of coloured cloth around their necks is good for the business? Except on Fridays of course.
John Warburton, England

I believe it all depends on the culture and environment that you are working in. In my job I tend to deal with students and other younger people who are I believe intimidated by people in suits. I feel it projects a stuffy, backward-looking image.
Jamie Nicholl, United Arab Emirates

I mistrust anyone wearing a suit.
Robert Cran, South Africa

In midtown Manhattan, I'm sad to say that suits are still the trend. Dry cleaning is expensive and time wasting. Suits are expensive and reduce productivity on the computer. Creativity is stifled as humans attempt to copy each other rather than be themselves. No real power is actually given to suit wearers. Thankfully, the old 'corporate elite' is watching their relative fortunes dwindle as they grasp onto this useless fad of the fifties.
Adam J. Haller, USA

People over here disregard appearance - if you can "walk the talk" then they don't care what you wear.
Andy, California, USA / UK
I am on a temporary secondment, working in the Silicon Valley. When I first came over here, I bought suits and ties etc., but boy did I get a massive wake-up call. Hardly anyone out here bothers with that appearance rubbish. One day I went to work in a t-shirt, jeans and a pair of trainers, and the MD of the company invited me out for a meal with all the managers of the company. He took us to a very exclusive restaurant and I was treated just like everyone else. If I had been in the same situation in a UK restaurant I probably wouldn't have even been allowed into eat. People over here disregard appearance, if you can "walk the talk" then they don't care what you wear. We have to abandon the British class system and start weeding out the bluffers.
Andy, Brit working in California

The way you dress reflects the way you think. But that doesn't mean you can judge the way someone thinks by the way they dress! Nevertheless, people DO still think they CAN judge, so in business you sometimes have to dress in order to compensate for someone else's "weakness" - their bias. Sad but true.
Steve Hunt-Anschütz, UK

I work for a successful company. We have no dress code. The staff are happy and motivated - they work hard and do a great job. I do have to question managers who get uptight about how people dress in the office- especially in non client facing roles - it seems to be a control thing that insecure people rely on to gain them some power over other individuals - hardly healthy. And I'm guessing the staff at BBC News Online dress casually too boot.
Gareth, UK

For almost 24 years I worked as an employee in Global company, always wearing a suit. Now, since Jan 10th I'm running my own .com consultancy business and haven't worn a suit for work yet! Ironically, as owner/director I earn almost twice as much, so the suit as status symbol is 100% dead - for me.
Steve Morton, UK

As the Director of a small company, I actively encourage my staff not to wear suits. This is for a few simple reasons...
1) Whether you wear a suit, jeans and a T-Shirt, or come to work nude, you still have the same knowledge and abilities. Wearing a suit doesn't make you any better at you job or any more personable.
2) If you feel relaxed, you work better.
3) When you crawl around on the floor following network cables, you don't want to be wearing an expensive suit!
Steve Thompson, England

When I ring the bank or the telephone company or my insurance firm I couldn't care less whether the agent on the end of the line is wearing an Armani or Hugo Boss. As long as my enquiry is dealt with efficiently and accurately staff can wear their pyjamas as far as I'm concerned. By the way, I'm employed in a University and am currently wearing...well what do you think?
Tony Williams, Britain

I always liked the Marty Feldman "tuxedo-jump suit" where the bow tie was connected to the zipper. That's the way to go.
Collin, Canada

Suits at work is simply a method for managers to keep staff under their thumb.
David A. Mair, USA
Of course a suit is necessary to conduct business. However, it has nothing to do with customers. A common dress style allows senior staff to maintain a superior air as a result of their ability to afford better suits. Were the dress rules relaxed these people would be unable to compete due to a typical lack of style. Thus, suits at work is simply a method for managers to keep staff under their thumb.
David A. Mair, USA

Academics have been dressing down for years!
John Kirkwood, UK

Fantastic. At last, someone sees sense. I have to wear a shirt and tie in my current engagement, even though I never meet external representatives or even my internal customers. Are there any jobs going at Arthur Andersen?
Bernard Blundell, England

Yes, a suit does matter for personal contact meetings. But now lot of business is done over internet and telephone and clothes don't matter. Authority / instructions from knowledgeable person is always obeyed whether he is in suit or not.
Madhu, India/USA

I've always felt uncomfortable in a suit. I'm in the same business as Andersen so I am relieved to find that this well respected consultancy firm has made the first move to reform such antiquated attitudes. I believe that a business suit is a facade that can be abused by unskilled individuals to make them appear respectable. I know I can fulfil my role as a technical consultant equally well in more casual clothes. Hopefully businesses will realise that clothes do not make a person, but technical ability and interpersonal skills certainly do.
Jeremy Fry, UK

Sure, suits really do look smart after suffering eight hours of perspiration, trouser-creasing and a shirt hanging out all over the place...
Vish, England

I was told years ago: "Wear whatever you like; just remember you're dressing for your next position."
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

I work for a large telecommunications company. Our dress code is casual but smart. I dress as smart as possible. I wish the dress code was more formal. I think getting smartly dressed for work is more pleasant to look at than jeans and a T-shirt. We are asked to smarten up if clients come into the building but would prefer people to look smart at all times.
Marina, Scotland

Send us your comments:

Your E-mail Address:



Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

See also:
25 Oct 99 |  UK
Is it curtains for the suit?
14 Jul 98 |  UK
Dedicated follower of fashion?

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

More Talking Point debates
Haider in power: A danger to Europe?
What next for Tyson?
Big business: The new superpowers?
Are you a mummy's boy?
Should we pay VAT on fat?
Has Birt been good for the BBC?
Labour's 1,000 days: Has the government delivered?
Is Pakistan moving towards dictatorship?
How does the internet affect you?

Links to other Talking Point stories