“I’ll teach you. I’ll teach you to cover your arms and not be such a lazy, tattooed oaf.”
Bob Walker, October 2019, Rice HQ
The above broadside was aimed at me last week by the inimitable Bob Walker. Bob’s been spending a bit of time at Rice Towers recently, working with our sister business JOYN, and this quote came out whilst discussing Bob’s sideline in training. Y’see, Bob has a slightly different view on personal presentation than I do. Bob likes to wear a nice pair of chinos, a 3 Wise Men shirt, and a rather dapper blazer. I on the other hand, appear to have the appearance of a lazy, tattooed oaf. This was demonstrated in a joint client visit that Bob and I attended, where, like a paranoid parent with very strict in-laws, Bob spent two days prior to the meeting reminding me to “wear something nice”. Bob’s pride-filled smile when I arrived in chinos and blazer made my extra effort all worthwhile…
The topic of personal attire has been covered in this blog before. However, as society evolves at an increasingly rapid pace, fuelled by them kidz and their Instagraphs, it has to be revisited from time to time. If we asked ourselves ten years ago what “appropriate business attire” was, I’d be surprised if it matched our answers of today. When I started my sales a career, I was not allowed to grow a beard unless I became a Sikh. I kid you not. And in my first recruitment job (which wasn’t client facing), there was more chance of shitting in the Queen’s handbag than going tie-less for the day. And yet here I am in 2019, wearing some faded jeans, an old t-shirt, and a very snug-fitting pair of briefs (I include this detail for the single ladies out there). How times change.
It was not only Bob’s comment that got me thinking. I noticed this article on Stuff about an unidentified tourist in Bali wearing what is, even by my European standards, a rather small bikini whilst shopping in a convenience store. According to Stuff, which to be frank, doesn’t mean much, the photo “has divided opinion”. What do you think?
Personally, those three-quarter length denims are much more offensive, however, I think most of us would be in agreement that slipping on a pair of shorts or a sun dress before entering the shop would have been more respectful of local sensibilities. There is a time and place for all attire it would seem, and what is bang-on for a Brazilian beach is a poor choice for a day’s shopping in a predominantly Muslim country.
When it comes to the workplace, my opinions on attire are contradictory. On one hand I am an idealist. I cannot think of a logical argument as to why what a colleague, candidate, supplier, or other wears makes a blind bit of difference to their ability to perform a task. Intellectually, it seems like a form of prejudice. When a supplier comes to me, I should focus on what they can deliver. And unless I’m engaging them as a personal stylist, why would I care what they’re wearing? On the other hand, I’m also a realist, tinged with a degree of old fashioned prejudice. I wouldn’t go to a wedding in jeans, and I wouldn’t expect one of my candidates to interview with a client whilst wearing trainers. I can’t quite tell you why, apart from uttering something about “respect” or “decorum” or “manners”. Without being smart enough to argue conclusively either way, I’ve had to settle on a middle-ground. Thankfully, most forms of prejudice in the workplace have been judged unfair. Even if they still cling on like shit to an Sheepdog’s arse, you cannot legitimately discriminate against someone based on age, gender, ethnicity, or sexuality. Attire-ism is one of the last “isms” that we can openly use to form an opinion without being called some kind of “ist”. Rightly or wrongly, we will be judged on what we wear. We can all spend our days arguing that it shouldn’t be that way, or we can, as American’s put it, “get with the program” and get bout the ironing board. For this reason alone, my advice is as follows:
- If you’re a candidate, you have two options. If you really want the job, play the game and dress slightly more formally than the situation would suggest. Or, if you are slightly obsessed with your own authenticity, then wear whatever the hell you want. I only ask that you don’t complain when you don’t get offered the job.
- If you’re a recruiter, again, you have two options. If want to “do things your way” regardless of revenue, slip on a t-shirt and get that tattoo booked. Some client’s will love your irreverence, whilst some will never use your services whilst never telling you why. Or, if you want to send out as many invoices as possible, listen to Bob and don’t present to clients like a lazy, tattooed oaf.
The choice is yours.