As Canberra debates attire, the corporate world moves on

A parliamentary spat over dress standards has drawn attention to changing expectations for work attire, particularly the need for a neck tie — and whether it still has a place in the white-collar workplace.

Shortly after delivering his maiden speech in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, fresh-faced Greens MP Max Chandler-Mather was scolded by Nationals MP Pat Conaghan not for the contents of his speech, but for his decision to go without a neck tie.

Claiming a point of order, Conaghan said Chandler-Mather’s sartorial decisions were inappropriate in the Lower House.

“This is not a barbecue,” Conaghan said. “This is question time in the Australian Parliament. What next, board shorts and thongs? Maybe a onesie in winter?”

The point of order was eventually shot down by Speaker Milton Dick, who chose not to spend the opening days of the 47th Parliament bickering over unbuttoned collars.

While he was allowed to go tie-less, Chandler-Mather later told the Nine newspapers: “It’s completely bizarre that I need to dress up like a businessman when this place is supposed to represent all Australians.”

Neck ties on “life support”

But even businessmen aren’t wearing ties as part-and-parcel of the corporate uniform these days, according to custom-tailored clothing brand InStitchu.

The neck tie isn’t dead, but it is on “life support,” the firm’s marketing head Rob O’Reilly told SmartCompany.

“I think it was already on the way out even before the pandemic, except for a few kind of niche groups within the corporate world: lawyers, real estate agents, some of the financial industries,” he says.

In addition to dozens of suiting options, InStitchu offers a range of ties, pocket squares, and other formal accessories.

But those items are “much more likely” to be bought alongside wedding suits, O’Reilly says, with the brand observing less interest overall for business-minded buyers.

That doesn’t mean the suit itself is on the way out.

While COVID-19 restrictions and work-from-home rules may have accelerated the tie’s demise as a workplace essential, O’Reilly says InStitchu has done strong business through the reopening phase.

A consumer preference for tailored, quality garments has risen in recent months, O’Reilly adds, which is resulting in an “incredibly busy” period for upmarket options.

This “counter-intuitive” spree has seen buyers focus on versatile options — like the ‘spread collar’ shirt, an option which favors both ties and empty-necked looks.

O’Reilly says the overall relaxing of corporate dress codes means employees have more options to personalize and dress-down their suits, without ditching the outfit entirely — and experiment with fabric varieties.

The same principles apply for business attire for women, O’Reilly says, describing customizable feminine tailoring as an “increasingly popular part of our offering”.

While traditionalists like Nationals MP Pat Conaghan might be calling for politicians to dress appropriately for government business, it appears not even business people look like business people anymore.

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