Faced with the prospect of working from home for another six months, something is troubling me — quite apart from the plummeting share prices of companies who build office space.
Formal workwear is out and I have a stack of redundant Hermès ties in my cupboard — what should I do with them all?
Don’t get me wrong. I love an Hermès tie. They are a thing of beauty. I love the designs, the look, the feel and the packaging. And yes, they make a statement too. But the style stakes of the City are once again shifting.
When I was growing up, my dad wore a tailored suit, shirt with a detachable stiff collar, a silk tie and sported a bowler hat. When I started my career as a chartered surveyor in the 1990s, hats were out, but suits and ties were compulsory. You could tell which department someone worked in by their choice of attire. An off-the-peg shiny suit, button cuff shirt and rubber-soled shoes meant you worked in property management, dealing with bogs and boilers. Or you were a quantity surveyor and counted bricks.
City office agents (“leasing clerks” as I called them) and other highly specialised paper pushers with delusions of grandeur wore pinstriped suits. Surveyors flogging investment properties were the glamour end, doing the big deals and earning the big fees. Their garb comprised an Oxford shirt with a semi cutaway collar, striped or plain, with an end-on-end or poplin cotton weave. Double cuffs, of course, and a bright tie. Shoes were always black and had laces, unless you were a bit louche and had a buckle (I had a buckle). If you were working with the firm’s best clients, you needed an outfit to match.
There was no point going to Savile Row, a semi-tailored suit was fine. Hurried walks to the departure gate (remember those?) and long plane flights rapidly wore out the seat of a trouser. Trouser collapse mid-trip is a terrible thing. No one needs to see your brightly coloured boxer shorts. That happened to me once and I ended up purchasing an emergency Brooks Brothers ready made pair. They were hideous. You mustn’t forget that trousers should have a waist-tie rather than a belt. This allows you to have a delicious lunch and loosen the emergency expansion tags should the chateaubriand become overwhelming.
When I switched to investment banking, I soon found that I’d have to up my clothing game. Bring on the Hermès tie. At Morgan Stanley in the late 90s, your personal presentation and formal dress was important. An “H” tie with a white shirt and blue or grey plain suit was the uniform. Not forgetting the black penny loafer, if you were British. The Americans ruined the look with a button-down collar and invariably a pair of brown shoes (shudder) often with a tassel (retch).
Every time I went abroad, I’d whisk through Duty Free and pick up another “H” tie. Substantially cheaper in the airport, but always wrapped in rustling tracing paper, and framed in a smart orange oblong cardboard box with brown livery. From sunflowers to buckles, rings, seals, flying carpets and Labradors; these playful ties can be spotted from afar. Worn with a crisp white shirt and semi-tailored suit, the outfit exuded success. Just right for an Aston Martin car showroom visit on your way back to the office. With the spare jacket slung over the back of your chair no one would miss you. You were, after all, “in a meeting”. And what you drove was almost as important as what you wore.
Twenty years ago, the cracks began to appear. New dotcom and private equity houses based in the West End, not the City or Canary Wharf, began picking off the best employees. Ties were optional. Suits were just worn for investor meetings — even tech entrepreneurs with their jeans and T-shirts still smartened up if they wanted money.
To stem the tide, the US banks relaxed the dress code somewhat — first with dress-down Fridays, which later spread to five days a week. Chinos, Ralph Lauren shirts and brown suede loafers became de rigueur. It has taken a long time for formal workwear to become the exception and not the rule, but lockdown and zoom meetings have cemented this descent into casual attire. Who wants to see someone in their home wearing a shirt, tie and suit? It’s just weird. Since you only see their top half you’ll wonder if they have trackie bottoms and Ugg boots out of vision.
Today, suits and ties are now the preserve of the subservient — think lawyers, accountants and estate agents. The only reason I’ll need one is to pop into my St James’s club, for funerals and to receive my gong for services to rich people. Yet something curious is going on. Has limited demand and reduced supply pushed the price up? If you want a new ‘H’ tie that will set you back £170.
I have boxes of the things, and I want to flog them to do something more interesting with the cash. The obvious route to sale is to put them on eBay, or one of the growing array of apps for “preloved” designer clothing. They’ll go for between £50 and £100 each, depending upon condition.
But I can’t be bothered. It’s such a faff photographing and then sending each individual item off. The last time I had a clear-out, I took a carload of excess kit to a professional online eBay seller called Stuff-U-Sell. Yes, they’ll take one-third of the hammer price as commission, but the prices they get and the hassle they’ll save you makes it all worthwhile. Let them do the hard work and the money just appears.
So who might want to buy my preloved ties? According to How to Spend It, it could be women! Designers including Prada, D&G and Alyx have been sending models sporting ties down Covid-safe autumn/winter 2020 runways.
My excess of ties is the equivalent of cash under the mattress. I have also decided to ditch my suits too. Setting aside that they may be a little tight, old suits stink. If it was raining on your way to the pub, your suit would get a little damp and you’d hum like an old dog’s bed. Life’s too short to collect these heirlooms to a worklife that’s long gone. Let the millennials and ladies snap them up for their fancy dress parties. I’m saving up to buy a newfangled automated swimming pool cleaner. But don’t worry, I’ll keep a few back just in case I get the call-up to Buck House.
James Max is a property expert and radio presenter. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax
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