Noticed something on your commute to work lately?
Menswear guru, Alan Flusser, says that men opt for ties during periods of economic uncertainty – it’s the cheapest and quickest way of smartening up.
The press reported increased tie sales – especially red ties – when the financial markets hit the skids in 2008.
Fashion’s response to a freaking-out-economy was simple and smart: camel-coloured coats (I bet your mum had one) and a return to basic, conservative tailoring.
UK department store, Debenhams, reported a 50 per cent increase in the sales of formal white shirts.
Debenhams spokesman, Bryan Morel, said: “These days, people don’t want to look too flamboyant. The white classic shirt has flown off the shelves. Serious times call for serious clothing.’
And it’s not just the gents.
Department store, John Lewis, reported increased sales in top end lipsticks and eye shadows as the economy soured in 2008.
Lipstick sales remain buoyant in the US too, up 13 per cent as of August 2011, says Reuters.
TIME magazine writer, Roya Wolverson, discovered that nail varnish is the ‘new lipstick’ of previous recessions, with nail-enhancing products, like polish, up 65% since the first half of 2008. Women are generally spending more on grooming products, including hair care, lotions and moisturizers.
Lippy and nail varnish might just be the female version of the tie – cheap and cheerful ways to remake an outfit. Plus, nothing says ‘groomed’ like sleek lips and a manicure.
Clubbing or Cubicle?
Skirts tend to lengthen during economic downturns.
A flick through any current fashion mag reveals the midi-skirt is so now.
(‘Midi’, you ask? For our purposes, the midi-length is somewhere between just below the knee and above the ankle).
The Swiss have been über-prescriptive about skirt length at work. In a recent 44-page dress code, the investment bank, UBS, said work skirts should now be mid-knee to 5cm below the knee.
In my own corporate image work in London, HR departments frequently ask me to advise their female staff to wear longer skirts.
HR departments have their fingers on the pulse of the job market. If they are asking me to advise their staff on longer skirts, better grooming and a generally smarter appearance, there’s usually something to it.
A recent Daily Telegraph article reported that female trainee solicitors at Allen & Overy, were wearing too-short skirts and inappropriately high heels at work.
Clothing that looks more like clubbing-wear is not conveying a suitable message to clients. Go figure.
Employers are sending a crystal clear signal: they care what you wear. A lot.
To use Vidal Sassoon’s famous phrase, ‘If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.’
Why Image Matters Now
The economy is in meltdown.
People are unemployed or uncertain about their jobs.
Don’t we have more important things to worry about than how we look?
‘There is nothing trivial about what business people wear,’ says FT Columnist, Lucy Kellaway. ‘Unessentials are even more important at a time like this.’
Lets chew on that thought.
Employers have more hiring options than ever, and redundancies – or the continuing threat of them – mean most of us could sharpen up our image at work.
In a Newsweek special report, The Beauty Advantage, Jessica Bennett says that in today’s economy, looking good is no longer something we can dismiss as frivolous or vain.
It’s not vanity.
It’s economic survival.
It’s not only hiring, Bennett continues. Looking good spills over into your success (or non-success) with promotions, your presence, and your pay rises too.
So what’s the takeaway?
First, lets acknowledge the elephant the room.
Appearance shouldn’t matter. Outer image is the poor relation of intelligence, isn’t it?
But like it or not, studies show that we form impressions of trustworthiness and attractiveness in less than 30 seconds (a Princeton University study says 1/10th of a second).
If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, you’ll recall the concept of thin-slicing – forming lightning-fast impressions on the basis of very little information.
It’s what we humans are hard-wired to do.
So how we look could be a game-changer in troubled times.
Since financial markets nose-dived, we’ve smartened up sartorially.
We have learned to embrace dressing and grooming well, or at least better.
Clothing trends this autumn winter – dictated, in part, by the damp squib economy – are consciously conservative.
Work wear in the business world consists of simple, demure looks reflecting a return to basics, moving away from anything outlandish and outré.
Less dandy. More Don Draper.
The timing couldn’t be better for last month’s release of the Mad Men range of clothing at Banana Republic.
Proper dressing is back, love it or loathe it.
Have a look around. Your fellow commuters might just be looking that little bit sharper.
What about you?
Have you felt the need to up the ante while dressing for work?