United Kingdom: Business Dress - Part 1
Guidelines For Business Dress
Conservative dress is the norm for both men and women in British business culture where darker colours (black, dark blue, charcoal grey) and heavier fabrics (wool) predominate. No one wears a morning suit and bowler hat to work nowadays but the traditional pinstripe is still immensely popular.
In some ways, the British often appear indifferent to both style and fashion but there remains an almost snobbish awareness of ‘quality’. Thus, senior bankers, civil servants, lawyers and accountants are still likely to shop at smart outfitters in London's West End: bespoke suits from Savile Row (pure wool, double-breasted, two vents, four buttons on the cuff of which two are functional and the other two decorative), shirts from Jermyn Street (pure cotton, full-cut, double cuffs with links) with silk tie, and hand-made leather Oxford shoes.
Other occupations dress differently. For example, those in advertising or the media are prone to wearing something rather more flamboyant, though still stylish, from a leading designer. Middle management is more likely to be driven by cost than fabric or style and hence to shop in one of the High-Street chains. It will, however, still entail a subfusc suit for both men and women. Women may wear trousers (including trouser-suits). Neither sex should wear denim.
Some British firms have introduced the concept of ‘dress-down’ Friday with its code of ‘smart casual’ but it is not universal and it is better to err on the side of being over-dressed (you can always take off your jacket). IT departments dress down all week.
Do not imagine that the British businessman or businesswoman dresses as if he or she is about to go off hunting or shooting. Tweed, corduroy and comfortable brown brogues do belong in the country but they should remain there (or in the more ancient universities). Similarly, with the possible exception of lairds and gillies, the Scots do not wear kilts to work; they may be strongly associated with Scotland’s cultural heritage but they are only ever seen at Highland weddings and other social gatherings and when Scottish sports supporters travel abroad. The rest is another outdated cliché.
Nevertheless, the British still like donning the appropriate uniform for certain social functions. A day's horse racing at Royal Ascot, for example, demands morning dress and a top hat whilst an evening at Glyndebourne opera house requires a dinner jacket and black tie (preferably not a white tuxedo). The rules are becoming more relaxed but London clubs and smarter hotels and restaurants may still require gentlemen to wear jacket and tie (supplied by the concierge if need be) and ladies not to wear trousers. Weddings and some dinners may be formal (if so, the invitation will state this) but, if you have travelled half way round the world to be there, no one will mind if you did not bring your morning suit or dinner jacket. On the other hand, it is relatively easy to hire suitable attire; your efforts would be appreciated and you would also feel less out of place.
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