Have you ever been on the tube in the morning and looked at people, wondering what they do based on what they are wearing? I do it all the time, especially since I started noordinarysuit.com. The person in distressed denim, Dr Martens and an AC/DC t-shirt getting off at Bank – does she do something unlikely like accountancy? What about the woman in the insanely smart suit? Is she a CEO or is she front of house?
Rather than listing the levels of dress codes and try to explain them, I’ve broken it down into job roles/industries. This way I find may be more useful as it teaches us to recognise people and what they do and possibly be inspired. Note: these are my own observations as well as how I understand some others to see it. You may disagree and it may be wildly incorrect. Just saying.
Bankers, lawyers, estate agents
Usually in business attire. For me, the most dreaded dress code as it makes me feel a bit like an idiot (you can also replace idiot with fraud, freak or imposter). I believe it’s also the most ridiculed because it traditionally represents being a bit of a knob. At least for dudes. Unfair, sure, but true that people judge this one harshly. Business attire means suits, tie and fancy shoes for men. For women, it also means a suit but there’s more room for being individual. Suit like dresses, wrap dresses, skirts with blazers also work well. Anyway, this level of dressing is for me reserved for senior management, bankers, lawyers and in some cases sales people like estate agents and recruitment people. In other words, people who make wads of cash wear business attire. With the exception of some support staff who are sometimes also made to look like this.
Marketeers, HR people, advertisers, techies, insurance people, consultants and so on
It’s called “smart casual” and I’ve translated it into “put on whatever you want as long as you look presentable”. Or “Use your own judgement and risk being very, very wrong”. It’s quite open though, jeans work, chinos or slacks for guys, whatever trousers and skirts for women. Guys seem to favour wearing jeans, shirts and blazers and women tend to like jersey dresses or jeans and nice tops. I see this as by far the broadest level as, technically, you can pretty much get away with anything – you won’t be over or under dressed. But it certainly leaves a lot of room for confusion! Is jeans ok? If so, can they be of any colour/fit/style? To be on the safe side, ask. Or if you’re really “lucky” your company has a big old staff handbook where you can read up about it.
Creatives, fashion, a lot of start ups
Casual: There’s only one way to describe this and it’s “whatever you want, just don’t get suited up”. I should add “as long as you don’t look inappropriate”. You never feel more out of place than wearing a suit to a meeting with a start up or a trendy fashion company. There are exceptions I’m sure but in my time, this has always been the case. Just don’t overdo it on the trendy stuff if you’re not confident you can pull it off, it will make you feel rubbish. What I love about this dress code is that it’s the best one to wear your regular stuff. The ripped jeans, the off the shoulder top and the oversized shirt dress.
The pit falls
We all know there are some clashes between the suits and the creatives. That’s why we try to avoid each other at all costs. What if you’re an advertiser, meeting a banker client? Should you dress like your client or should you show off your trendy side. Tricky business that. As far as I understand, you are supposed to represent the company you work for to illustrate their ethos. How creative, trendy, corporate or serious your company is. So if you’re a bit of a funky company, you shouldn’t dress like the CEO of some big scary financial institution, dress like the cool cats that you are. I think the same goes the other way even though it’s definitely more acceptable.
As for other pit falls, you can sometimes get into a false sense of security and go rogue with something really out there so my advice would be, when in doubt – don’t! Find some great workwear on noordinarysuit.com!