Monday, 11 March 2013

Sartorial Conventions

I do not look like this.
We sat around a table, the meeting in progress, laptops in front of us (a modern habit I deplore, akin to reading at the table). Everyone wore suits and ties. I like my suit. I had it made to measure and it is damn sharp, or so reactions to it would indicate. But often, suits are dreadful, ill-fitting compromises, shapeless and attempting to encompass a belly grown opulent on too much business travel, too many working dinner and too little exercise.
The absurdity struck me, as it sometimes does: We have all dressed up in clothes that are deemed to be a "uniform" for the corporate world. And yet we know who we are and what we represent. Why do we have to conform to this ridiculous convention and wear impractical clothing (it is not cool in Summer and does not keep one warm in Winter!) in order to be taken seriously in our business endeavours? Surely, our capabilities and intellect are apparent in what we do in the course of our jobs. What we wear to accomplish this should not be relevant.

And yet here we are, all similarly attired and with stupid strips of cloth round our necks allowing for a tiny hint of self-expression beyond the conventional. And would we perform any less effectively were we in clothing that more suited our surroundings and personalities? Should I decide to turn up in a a dressing gown, silk pyjamas and a fez, I can imagine my judgement on other matters might be called into question. Though frankly, I feel this would be a spectacularly cool thing to do one day.
But, though I detest the lazy choice of jeans and a t-shirt, would attending meetings dressed thus really indicate anything of our capabilities or professional attitude? In fact, often, I do meet people who have wandered distractedly in to the meeting room in what would be deemed "scruffy clothes". And it has not been in any way an indication of how sharp they were or how well they performed their allotted tasks. Indeed, some of them have been wily and sharp and extracted far more from the deal than was their due. So should I regard them less for their relaxed approach to matters sartorial?

And yet, here we all are, sat around a table, collars chafing as we tackle the agenda. And I have things to sell, and they have requirements to fill. Does it really matter what we are all wearing?

I propose a new approach: Fancy dress business meetings. We should all be allowed, nay, encouraged, to participate in meetings having thought as hard as we can about a creative costume. Arguing pricing with a purchasing manager dressed as Robin Hood or Tinkerbell, or possibly a dalek (though this might be problematic for body language purposes) would be so much more fun and, I feel, productive. One could advertise one's position on a certain negotiation by what one chose to wear. Perhaps a particularly intransigent buyer could dress as Genghis Khan or maybe don a suit of  Black Prince armour, or a conciliatory sales engineer might appear as a Dickensian underling in the nature of Uriah Heep. A feeling that one's negotiating position was particularly strong could perhaps show their confidence  by donning an ostentatious codpiece. All manner of possibilities exists. And I am sure they would not detract from the process of business. In fact, I think it would improve things immensely, allowing a little more shared humanity into proceedings.
A local viking bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the author.

I have a meeting in Oslo later in Spring.They are a lovely bunch of chaps and very open-minded. I think, in deference to their culture, and my probable ancestors (if certain genetic traits are to be believed) I might dress as a viking for my presentations. I am sure this will go down a storm. respect for heritage is always appreciated.

Business worldwide has been grinding to a halt for the last five years. Perhaps a little eccentricity and individuality might be just what the world economy needs. And then perhaps we can rediscover our shared experience of the Human Condition allowing us all to treat each other as human beings again and not merely numbers on a spreadsheet or roles on an organisational chart.


Librarian said...

Thinking of what costume I'd choose for such a meeting, I am torn between something like a princess or queen with a tiara or crown on my head, holding myself very upright to signal that I won't take no nonsense from anyone, or a gypsy-lady with flaring skirts and wild hair (something I can't do in real life for my hair simply not lending itself to being wild), or a 70s disco glam star, or... the list is getting longer, the more I think about it!
But as long as it remains so cold (fresh layer of snow here overnight), I guess I'll stick to what is warm, practical and business-like at the same time. Tiaras are not.

Rachel Cotterill said...

As a woman, I have a bit more choice - but I do often wear jeans to formal occasions. I wore trainers (under a floor-length dress, mind you) to my own wedding.

Fancy dress meetings would be fun, but I think it would be important to have a theme to guide the less-imaginative. Historical characters would be good for a business meeting - see who comes as Machiavelli :-)

PerlNumquist said...

Yes, I often envy the flexibility of ladies sartorial choices. In general, the ladies I have had the pleasure of working with tended to exercise that choice with style and creativity. So much less convergent than male styles. I don't think trainers have been in evidence, and some of the shoes make me grateful for being a man as they look decidedly painful.
I wonder how we could identify someone as Machiavelli. Did he have visually distinctive characteristics that we could identify him by? We wouldn't want, for instance, to mistake him in our ignorance for Blackadder or Shakespeare.