When The Speaker says ties need not be worn by male MPs asking questions in Parliament it is seductive to think in this hipster age that anything goes. Convention kicks in less and less, and formal events like the Mansion House dinner are beyond satire. Tiaras may be worn- traditionally by married women only – along with any other sparkly bling. Long evening gloves are optional and removed for eating. I have no idea why one would eat long evening gloves.
As an illustration of shifting sartorial sands this year, due to the Grenfell Tower disaster, even the Freemen, Liverymen and Guests eschewed White Tie and Tiaras for standard City clobber in front of the grey, suited, Chancellor.
But it is naïve to think dress is unimportant. If you don’t judge others by appearance that is just dandy, but remember the rest of the world does.
Jeremy Corbyn’s recent success has many fathers but his choice to suit and boot and shirt and tie up like a proper adult mattered: he morphed from Frazzled Frank The Photocopier Repair Man into Political Messiah via a crisp white shirt, red well-Windsored tie and snazzy off-the-peg navy. Sturgeon and May power dress for fun – look at those shoes – where they were historically agnostic and Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has a mercurial couture high-wire act his acolytes love.
None of these leaders dress like their followers, which is smart, right and respectful.
“Gentlemen, if you need to wear brown shoes look out the window and see if you are in Barcelona” speaks to the “no brown in town” trope that in the City used to imply casualness.
I own brown shoes – dark, lace-up, immaculate. But scuffed tan slip-ons with the worn heel convince me only that you are selling a seven-year-old high mileage Ford Fiesta in maroon. To make the right impression, we should all be reflecting on how well we’re shod.
The good news is the world does not really care how you dress, it barely even notices; until it needs to notice. Then it judges.
We can be bolder and badder than ever in our business dress, but if you are smart you will be smart when being smart. You will be a little more conservative than you would like and a little more expensive than you can afford. You will be immaculate and wear clothes that fit your body shape. And you will know you won’t be taken seriously in poor-quality shoes.
Russell Wardrop is CEO of Kissing With Confidence, coaches business leaders in presentational skills.