Is A Suit And Tie Still Necessary In Business?

Your image plays a big part in your personal brand.

Think of it as the packaging on the outside (how you look, sound and act) of the person on the inside (your values, drivers, behaviours, etc). For that packaging to do its job, the former needs to provide accurate clues to the latter. And one of the quickest ways to deliver those clues is through your choice of clothes.

I recently spoke about this very thing as a guest on the Upfront podcast, hosted by Emmanuel Asuquo, kicking off with a question about whether a suit and tie is still necessary in business.

It’s not just us talking about it

It’s a discussion that crops up again and again in my workshops and webinars, usually resulting in a variety of opinions:

  • “Definitely if you’re going for an interview.”
  • “It’s expected if you work in financial services.”
  • “Only when you’re going out to see clients.”
  • “Only for the first time you meet someone.”
  • “Yes, it’s part of being professional.”

They’re all valid views, based in a large part on each individual’s circumstances, preferences and even what they’ve been told were ‘the rules’ by someone else.

Wanna know what I think?

My own answer is less black and white – not because I don’t have a view (you know me, I’m rarely stuck for something to say), but because the answer lies with whatever your personal brand is. To explain, I’ll use an example I mentioned in the podcast, that was put to me by a young, smartly-dressed solicitor at an event I’d spoken at.

He started by telling me he hates wearing a tie – absolutely detests it – likening it to a noose around his neck. He said, “When I go to see a potential client for the first time though, I wear one, because you have to, don’t you?”

He then explained that, once he’d won the business and he knew the client a bit better he’d never wear his tie with them again. So here’s what I told him…

If you dislike wearing a tie that much, don’t wear one. Full stop. Case closed.

He looked a little puzzled, so I explained:

When you meet your potential client for the first time, they’ll be picking up clues about you from all manner of things – including whether you’re wearing a tie (and indeed, what that tie is like). That clue will then be interpreted so they can start building a picture of who are and what you’re all about and, with that, decide if you’re the solicitor for them.

Our views are all different

How that clue is interpreted will vary, depending on the other person’s particular view of the world.

To some people, they’ll see the tie around your neck and think, “Ah…that’s what I like to see – someone with traditional values who hasn’t let his standards slip. Not like those chaps who just turn up with their collar open – that’s much too casual for my liking.”

The tie might be the exact thing that clinches that person’s decision to give you their business.

That may seem like a good thing, but what happens when you’re on your second or third meeting and you turn up without a tie? You’ve misrepresented your personal brand and the client is now realising you sold them a pup and you’re just like all those other Johnny-come-latelys. Even if they’re only thinking it at a subconscious level, it will likely dent their trust.

Alternatively, the potential client might take a look at the tie and think, “Oh, he’s one of those stuffy, straight-laced solicitors who’s a stickler for old ways of doing things. I don’t think he’ll be a very good match – I want a much younger outlook.” The tie might be the exact thing that persuades that person to look elsewhere for their legal advice.

That would be a big shame, because this person would actually have been bang on your wavelength (if you’d represented your brand authentically) and could have been a dream client for you to work with.

The all-important interview

The same goes for when you go for an interview. If you, like this guy, abhor ties, why go for a job at a company where wearing a tie is ‘the done thing’? Instead, you could go for a job at a company where, when you turn up for the interview with a bare neck, they see that as a positive for you being a good fit. You get the job, you never wear a tie again…happy days!

It’s more important to give people clues from the outset that accurately represent the person they’re going to get a week, a month or even a year down the line, than it is to wear a tie because “you have to”.

Just to clarify though…If you’re someone for whom wearing a tie is no big deal and it fits your personal brand either way, then do whatever you think is appropriate for the occasion.

What do you think about wearing a suit and/or tie for work? Is it still required if you want to come over as professional? What’s the alternative? Or have dress rules for business gone the way of the dinosaurs? Let me know what you think with a comment below!

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4 responses to “Is A Suit And Tie Still Necessary In Business?”

  1. Jeff Clarke says:

    Hi Jen,
    Suits and ties are becoming obsolescent. A bloke running a scuba diving operation from Torbay assured me that in his work he has never worn and never required any of his assistants to wear a suit and tie.

  2. Paul Gittins says:

    I’ve got to admit to being old-fashioned on this one. I wore a suit and tie for the vast majority of my career; towards the end, as casual dress became more prevalent, I never really felt comfortable. Certainly for “professional” roles, it gives a clear distinction between business and personal.

    Mind you, I’m not sure I ever saw my father leave the house – for whatever reason – without a collar and tie on …..

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      Thanks Paul. It’s as much about how being smart makes you feel as it is about what others glean from it.

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