Dressing down in the office: How to cope with ‘office casual’

So what will you be expected to wear to the office?
But does it matter anyway?
Pros and cons of wearing a suit

Most people think all accountants wear suits to work. But many trainees are finding that this is not necessarily the case.

At beginning of the 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.

Staff complained, however, that they had bought new suits in the January sales and took time to adjust to their new attire.

But with client bases rapidly expanding with the boom in the new economy, many new starters find that they don’t need a pinstriped suit. Dressing down to fit in with clients who are more used to wearing jeans to work is becoming increasingly popular.

So what will you be expected to wear to the office?

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

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

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

Grant ThorntonAt 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.

Mazaars Neville RussellSuit still most suitable choice of dress for work.

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.

Pros and cons of wearing a suit

  • Wearing a suit to work is simple. Many men especially, have no imagination when it comes to dress sense and so the suit is a defence mechanism against bad taste.
  • When employees wear a suit to work the office tends to like tidier as opposed to a mishmash of shocking colours and scruffs.
  • A suit requires little or no thought and it is difficult to get it wrong so there is less chance of anyone sticking out like a sore thumb.
  • Wearing a suit could mean getting out of bed later as there are less dressing choices to make.
  • Media reports suggest wool prices have fallen since dress down days were introduced.
  • Suit wearing means nobody wears items that can be considered as unacceptable.


  • Having to spend more money on clothing.
  • As well as money, more time has to be spent in the shops looking for suitable items.
  • Not having to wear a suit could put pay to those annoying musical and crazy cartoon-character ties.
  • Many experts believe productivity and professionalism standards are higher when workers are wearing casual clothing.
  • Wearing casual clothing tends to be more relaxing and comfortable.But office casual can go very wrong. Your typical weekend wardrobe might not be up to scratch when it comes to meeting clients and senior partners. Consider these handy hints when building up a new image for the office.

    The guide to ‘office casual’

  • Wear only genuine club, regimental or old school brass buttons on blazers
  • Keep lower shirt buttons done up at all costs
  • Avoid white socks
  • Avoid overt jewellery
  • Avoid sports casual
  • Try not to wear open toe sandals whenever possible (men)
  • Dress the way your clients generally dress
  • Keep clothing pure and simple but elegant
  • No check patterns
  • Avoid patterned t-shirts under light coloured formal shirts

    Despite the relaxation in dress regulation some are finding it a little difficult to adapt. 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.

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