There’s a large minority of people – probably the majority of intelligent people – who think that the casual turn is really what’s wrong with the world. There’s something about ‘looking the part’, a lesson I learnt when I was about four years old, that instils purpose. Uniforms serve a purpose, and not only in schools. I would expect a bank manager to look like a bank manager, for example, and would think twice about entrusting my money, or my conversation about a loan, to a man in khakis and open collar. When I have to deal with a call-centre monkey, pace call-centre monkeys everywhere, I really think I can tell whether s/he has turned up to work smartly dressed or not. It’s something in the tone of voice. You just can’t be confident and professional if you show up to work in a t-shirt. Television engineers, gas men, electricity meter readers, plumbers: under your overalls I should like to see a collar and tie. It shows you care. It shows you’re professional. If you come to install my Sky box or fix my boiler wearing jeans that would be illegal in certain Southern counties in the US I should be loathe to let you into my house.
Worst of all is the general trend in offices everywhere to observe ‘casual Fridays’. Whose idea was this? It can’t be good for business, and it can’t be good for people’s self-esteem. The Victorians believed in the maxim of ‘healthy body, healthy mind’, and bless them if they didn’t rule the bloody world. I can only think that the twenty-first century motto will be remembered as ‘casual attire, casual attitude’, or ‘slack pants, slack off’, while civilisation crumbles around our under-used ankles. What’s more, being casual at work actually takes more effort than professional wear. People worry lest they are judged for their ill taste, and compete for the best individual appearance. Work wear makes no such demand. It simply is what it is. The style-savvy professional might know how to make it his own, but nobody is going to mind if he doesn’t.
Some rather natty Americans have formally rejected the casual turn, and announced that Fridays be especially formal. I’ve long thought that dressing well sets an example, and that, whatever the policy, if a respected individual dresses like a professional then others will emulate him. I exhort you to join the ranks of these fine people and don your best for Fridays in an outward show of contempt for the broad societal acceptance of slovenliness.