The world was an easier place to navigate when everyone wore a suit and tie

Today the T-shirt is king. But it was a simpler life when everyone had a clearer idea of what to wear to work

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The Independent Online

The recently installed editor of The Sun, a man of distinction and erudition, has introduced an innovation in his newsroom that may be seen as seditiously counter-intuitive. He has asked all his journalists to wear a suit and tie. That’s right, in an age when only television newsreaders, politicians and business leaders of a certain age wear a tie, Sun reporters will be allowed in public only if they are formally attired. 

I can see what Tony Gallagher, the editor, is getting at. It’s about standards. And discipline. If his staff take care over their appearance, and offer a presentable face to the public, they are more likely to inspire confidence and trust. I would merely question the premise. Is it true any longer that the wearing of a tie in particular is regarded as symbolic of respect, stature, virtue, and class? 

Robert Peston, the BBC’s economics editor, was recently criticised for wearing an open-necked shirt while interviewing the Chancellor. “I did not wear a tie out of disrespect for the Chancellor,” he told a festival audience last weekend. “I just didn’t wear a tie because I don’t really like wearing a tie. The notion that what makes you a serious journalist is wearing a tie is bonkers.”

That’s true, but I can’t help feeling that, as far as social conventions are concerned, the world was an easier place to navigate when everyone wore a suit and tie. You knew where you were. About five years ago, I went open-necked when it seemed everyone did. The rules had changed. Thinking that was it for the tie, I turned up to a memorial service in a suit but no tie. I looked around and discovered, to the disapproval of my fellow attendees, that I was the only person in the church who wasn’t wearing a tie.

These days, there seems to be some sort of reverse logic in operation, primarily connected to wealth. The richer you are, the scruffier you can look. Mark Zuckerberg (pictured) only wears T-shirts and jeans, and Facebook employees are banned from wearing suits and ties, as if they somehow stifle their creative impulses. Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea FC, turns up to matches in jeans, even though everyone else in his executive suite is expected to wear a suit and tie. 

The thing about dress codes is that they have to be clear. Who hasn’t been irritated by an invitation which, on the question of dress, simply says “smart”? What does that mean? Suit? Tie? It’s possible to look smart in jeans, isn’t it? All in all, I think Mr Gallagher of The Sun should be applauded for his courageous stand in bucking fashion, exhuming a tradition whose passing some of us lamented, and giving clear leadership on what to wear. Suits you, sir.

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