This spring, what should I be wearing to the office?

In October last year, Arthur Andersen made national newspaper headlines with the announcement that employees could ditch jackets and ties as part of the firm’s corporate makeover.

And with the huge role accountants are set to play in e-business, dressing down to fit in with clients who are more used to wearing jeans to work seems to be increasingly popular.

But the level of down-dressing at big firms appears limited. The line between what is supposedly allowed and what people are wearing is blurred and accountants seem confused about what they can get away with, as the guidelines from their bosses remain unclear.

From October, the UK adopts legislation under the Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights which contains rules on mandatory dress codes. People who don’t want to wear a suit to work could take their case to an employment tribunal.

But pressure to down dress has already seen resistance. Accountants Mazaars Neville Russell said in October letting staff dress down on a Friday was enough. ‘Due to the nature of accountancy, suits are the most suitable choice of dress and accountancy firms should retain the right to suggest what our people wear,’ the company said.

Current dress policies at large accountancy firms

Arthur Andersen, Deloitte & Touche, Pannell Kerr Forster
Smart, business casual Monday to Friday

KPMG, Ernst & Young
Dress-down Fridays when smart, business casual wear is permitted

Since October, employees have been allowed to dress down where appropriate

Grant Thornton
At present no plans to adopt a dress-down policy. However, the firm claims to be keeping an eye on the situation and could review this in the future.

But does it matter anyway?
Responding to a Big Question survey conducted by Accountancy Age with Reed Accountancy Personnel in October, over 40% of FDs said that the suit was the expected uniform of a profession such as accountancy.

In one of the more extreme reactions, Nick Rand, FD of satellite receiver vendor Link Research, said: ‘If standards fall in appearance, the standard of work will diminish in the eyes of the end user. It is treacherous for a profession such as ours and can be likened to doomsday.’

Others took a more relaxed line. ‘Accountants in suits are far too uptight, I am sure they would feel more relaxed in their casual clothes,’ said Steve Kendall, FD of hardware distributors GB International.

‘It wouldn’t matter to me at all – you employ someone for their qualifications, skills and experience, not how they dress,’ added David Truelove FD of funeral directors WA Truelove & Son.

Despite the relaxation of rules at some firms, however, the suit continues to dominate. At PwC, while the firm’s line is to dress down where appropriate, it seems that day-to-day, male employees are still expected to wear suits.

And at mid-tier firm Robson Rhodes experimented with a dress-down period last summer but many employees preferred to continue wearing more traditional attire.

So maybe accountants are just happier wearing suits.

Deloittes to follow Arthur Andersen dress-down move

Death of the suit – Office casual: a guide

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