Obviously a quiet afternoon at BBC News’ Online magazine http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine/ last week, hence the full page enquiry as to whether it matters that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had worn a black hooded top for his presentations about his company’s flotation, rather than a suit. Similarly, was Apple’s Steve Jobs also breaching the unwritten laws of business dress by his traditional black roll-neck and tired tennis shoes? The Times editorial today reports that a number of Wall Street executive noses were put out of joint by Zuckerberg’s attire, on the basis that he had worn a suit to meet the US President. Yes, and?
Supporters of both men have pointed to their enormous talent and even more enormous wealth as if that is somehow mitigation of the impression which might be given that neither could be bothered to don a suit now and again, even for such important occasions. It is a hard argument to contest in their particular cases, just by dint of their success. However, the point is not limited to them – one wonders how many would-be Jobs and Zuckerbergs have never got their brilliant ideas off the ground at all because bank managers and investors were unconvinced that trainers and shapeless tops reflected creative genius rather than indifference or idleness.
Leaving Jobs and Zuckerberg on one side, can the employer even in “young” or “creative” industries like IT, entertainment or fashion, impose a rather more traditional or conventional dress code if it wishes? Definitely yes – you are not bound by the suggestion that if a black hooded sweatshirt is OK for Mark Zuckerberg, it is also OK for Kevin from Accounts, even if he is socially-networked up to the eyeballs and terribly good at Call of Duty III. However, we have to be careful here – everybody knows that it is possible to look a dreadful mess even in a suit, and I have colleagues whose ties alone would constitute cruel and unusual punishment in a Turkish prison. You can take a horse to water, and all that, but issues of taste or any sense of sartorial self-awareness are a different question altogether.
Take as an example the vacation student I interviewed recently for his dream role as a City solicitor – call me shallow if you wish, but I could not get past the contrasting lapels on his suit or the brown shoes. This was not because he looked bad but simply for what it said about his lack of research into and understanding of the world he sought to join. You can dress down perpetually when you own the whole shop and/or could pay off the National Debt out of your lunch money, but until then your wish to shake off the fetters of tired convention and soar on the currents of sartorial indifference must sadly be subject to your employer’s reasonable requirements to dress like a professional as well as act like one. Sorry.