Magazine article Management Today

A Serious Dressing Down

Magazine article Management Today

A Serious Dressing Down

Article excerpt

They used to stage Foreign Office weekends. Groups of young hopefuls went to a country house to 'get to know each other'. And learn things. And discuss Great Issues. But they knew perfectly well that what really counted in the race for preferment was 'which fork'.

How would a man (there were fewer women in the golden age of the Foreign Office weekends) conduct himself? Would he know what to do? Or what to wear? All these things, so they said, were monitored by seasoned FO men who knew the form. They were looking for what are now called social skills. Does this person know how to mix with the world's upper middle-classes with confidence? And instinctively know when something is right? As we know now, that approach favoured Southern public schoolboys over Northern chemists from grammar schools - which is not PC, so they've changed it.

Life has moved on, but not as much as you think. The 'social' side of business has actually increased for senior managers because of the new baronies of modern organisations, Human Resources and Corporate Affairs. HR puts on internal events for management development; Corporate Affairs puts on external events for corporate reputation. It can be a real strain on a wardrobe.

Then, too, (American) HR thinking - 'Let's make this place flatter, more co-operative and thoroughly empowered' - led to dress-down Friday, one of the greatest wardrobe tests of all time. The response to dress-down Friday has been to invent a new uniform, a complete No Surprises, Regular Guy combination of the following fail-safe components: chinos or khakis, polo or button-down shirts, and deck shoes

Chinos and khakis are sort of Home Counties preppie, Anglo-American East Coast off-duty OK. They're cut loose, so they don't look sharp or sexy. And they're 'trad' - so, no combats (too fashion-conscious and clubby); no jeans (too much of a mine field); and certainly no leathers or anything like that. Ralph Lauren Polo shirts are everywhere on dress-down Fridays, but unbranded is best. Most cautious souls wear pretty conservative colours: navy, grey, brick. Brooks Bros-type button-downs are safer still. Deck shoes imply that you mess about in boats, know where the Hamble is, and understand manly co-operation. Again, the look is safe Anglo-American. …

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