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Work Style: Tie break; A recent industrial tribunal was asked to decide whether it was sexist to expect male workers at the Jobcentre Plus office in Stockport to wear ties or not. With judgment having been reserved, Caroline Foulkes asks the experts 'Ties - sexist or sexy?'.

Byline: Caroline Foulkes

There are two kinds of men in this world. Those who look good in suits and ties, and those who don't.

For some men, wearing a suit and tie is easy. They just chuck it on and look great. End of story.

But there are men who wear a suit and tie out of duty more than anything else. They'd be much happier in jeans, or combats, or just about anything. But put them in a tie at 9am and by 9.10am they'll be like a dog straining at a leash. By 9.30am, it'll be off, given half a chance, tossed into the top drawer of their desk and only pulled out again when the boss hoves into sight You can hardly blame them. Ties are not always the most comfortable things in the world. Make the knot too tight and it's like it's choking you. And they do have a nasty habit of falling into your food, or dipping themselves into mugs of tea at the most inopportune moments.

There is some in between ground, though. In a dinner jacket or a good suit and tie, almost any man can look good. But that's only almost - not all.

According to Mark Henderson, chief executive of tailors Gieves and Hawkes, a suit is the most flattering garment there is for a man, simply because it can hide a multitude of sins.

'Suits evolved from court wear and riding suits, and for a time they were seen as very practical garments. And with a suit you don't have to worry about colour co-ordinating your trousers and jacket. They also help to hide rounded stomachs - they're very flattering. ' Ties, meanwhile, have been part of men's formal attire since the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

'They used to wear a very broad form of tie, a kind of silk scarf, back then. The tie as we know it became more of an office wear staple in the 20th century and was an integral part of office wear until the 1960s. Since then the rules have changed quite a lot.'

They certainly have. For a start, back in the 60s we didn't have the horror that is the comedy tie. These were the days when a man didn't need to use his clothing to advertise the fact that, as far as he was concerned, he had 'a good sense of humour' and 'a great personality'. Yeah, right you are.

The thing that had most impact on tie wearing was the rise of the information technology industry and the boom in dot com businesses during the 1990s. Oh, and the arrival on the business scene of a man called Richard Branson.

'The whole dressing down thing was really pioneered by Richard Branson in the 70s, and then it really broke through in the US with the computing industry and the whole dot com thing. But while some people were quite comfortable with this, you'd see others, merchant bankers, struggling to get to grips with it.'

'Dress down Fridays' were introduced. It was thought it would help ease people into the weekend even though they were still at work. But there's a fine line between dressing downand dressing downright scruffy. Done right, dressing down, even dressing scruffy, can look great. Done badly . . . don't even go there. This confusion has caused problems for many companies where some people have turned up for a meeting dressed 'smart casual' and others have turned up in jeans and t-shirts. People didn't know if they were coming or going. So in the end, dress down Fridays started to be phased out. Dressing down began to be frowned on. If you wanted to get on, then you had to put a tie on.

This has been relflected in sales of suits and ties, according to Mark Henderson.

'At the moment our tie sales are climbing, for the first time in six or seven years.

People are starting to dress up again. It may be because we are living in uncertain times, people may be worried about their jobs.'

Yet despite working for one of the country's leading gents outfitters, Mark himself feels that wearing a tie is not always necessary if you want to look smart.

'I personally feel that it's totally unecessary to insist that someone should wear a tie, unless it happens to be part of the company's ethos. We certainly don't have any requirement here that our office staff have to wear a tie - I'm not wearing one at the moment. In the shops it's a bit different, but if I went down to the shop floor now, I know I'd be likely to find some members of staff who weren't wearing ties, and that's not a problem. It's not de rigeur.'

There is one thing, though, that he can't stand when it comes to ties. The fact that some men, who come in in the morning with their tie all straight and nicely done up then undo the top button and loosen them off.

'As far as I'm concerned, they should be on or off. If they're undone like that it just looks careless. But I guess that's just a matter of style and taste.'

Looking around our office, I guess it is.


Smart... or casual?; Clothes by Gieves & Hawkes
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 12, 2003
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