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Career Planning

Management: No, it isn't smart to be casual

Last week's "dress-down day" in aid of the charity Comic Relief was - in many ways - demonstrative of the general attitude towards "casual dressing", the management craze that has swept the United States but has so far had little impact on this side of the Atlantic. Many see it as little more than a meaningless gimmick.

US corporations' embracing of the concept as a way of encouraging greater workplace democracy may well have done wonders for Levi's Dockers range of clothing. But - maybe because Brits are not comfortable out of their various uniforms - it has, with a few exceptions, not caught on within their UK counterparts.

Fresh support for this view came in the same week as the Comic Relief day, with a survey suggesting that most managers have unfavourable views of casual dressing, with women particularly hostile to the idea.

The study by the management consultancy the Aziz Corporation asked more than 200 managers in medium-sized British companies for their views on a range of subjects relating to casual dressing, and found reactions particularly negative in connection with "dress-down" days. Against the idea were 64 per cent of those asked, with 45 per cent viewing the days as "an irrelevant gimmick". A further fifth said they were embarrassing, and "encouraged sloppiness" or "diminished professionalism". Women were more sceptical than men, with 78 per cent of them against such days compared with 52 per cent of men.

Most business people still wear a suit or smart business clothing to work. But women managers appear to dress more smartly than their male counterparts. According to the survey, 82 per cent of women and only 52 per cent of men wear a suit.

But it is not just that managers wear smart clothes themselves. They also feel that others should conform. Only 6 per cent of them would regard a colleague who turned up for a meeting in casual dress as "modern" and "uninhibited"; 76 per cent of women and 53 per cent of men considered someone wearing casual dress to be "unprofessional and unreliable" or "lacking in respect for business protocol".

Though Khalid Aziz, chairman of Aziz Corporation, finds it surprising that women have such strong views about formal dress, this could have more to do with the fact that those who have reached management positions wish to demonstrate their status by the way they dress, to make it clear that they are not mere members of the support team.

The survey also found a clear generation gap in attitudes to casual dressing. Business people aged over 40 were more hostile to the idea, while nearly half of those below 40 considered dress-down days helpful, in that they broke down barriers and helped bosses to be seen as friends rather than tyrantsn