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There used to be a serious economic indicator called the suit index

Some years ago now, when I was interviewing the then head of Marks &
Spencer, Lord Raynor, he said there was a clear inverse correlation between the
health of the economy and the propensity of young men to buy suits.

 When things were in decline, young executives saw the trend, became worried
about their jobs and sought to smarten themselves up, so as to give a better
impression. So they bought a new suit.

When things were going well they became more confident, more relaxed and,
interestingly, more casual in their dress – hence fewer new suits.

This always seemed to me rather more fun, and probably more reliable, than
the other often cited indicators of economic trends – the volume of job
advertising in various key publications, for example, is a favourite indicator
and, without wishing to provoke undue alarm, it is currently disturbingly low –
while another, the number of business class passengers flying from London to
Edinburgh, remains quite high.

The updated version of this during the dotcom boom years was the decision by
the then still buoyant Andersen to allow its staff to no longer wear ties –
reflecting the fact that so few of their Silicon Valley clients did.

When the boom collapsed, as well as Andersen, the ties reappeared, except for
the likes of M&S chairman Paul Myners, Carphone Warehouse’ Charles Dunstone
and Channel 4’s Luke Johnson, who are, of course, so successful they do as they
like.

The key link seems to be between confidence and casual, and interestingly it
now applies to things other than clothing. Look at retail where, as the
businesses recover, the bosses are referred to by their Christian names – Stuart
at M&S, Justin at Sainsbury, Kate at WH Smith. For how long I wonder?

Anthony Hilton is finance editor of the Evening Standard

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