La DressCode Revisited

Just two weeks since I posted on the thorny issue of how to dress for the office, a 43-page guide from UBS on what to wear has in recent days rivalled weather reports and WikiLeaks in search term popularity.

Useful advice from the Swiss bank is plentiful. Women should wear flesh-coloured underwear (not too tight), while men’s underwear should be of good quality and easily washable, but remain undetectable. Women’s shirts can be open to a few inches below the collarbone, but not so as to show any cleavage. Opaque tights are “interdit” but light make-up consisting of foundation, mascara and red discreet lipstick will enhance your personality.

Suits must be dark grey, black or blue since these colours symbolize competence, formalism and sobriety. Skirts should extend to 5cm below the knee and sunglasses should not be worn on the head. Discreet wearing of fragrance is permitted, while breath should be fresh so, it is advised, avoid garlic and onion-based dishes.

In an enigmatic sentence, men are entreated to avoid ties “non adapté à la morphologie du visage”, which means not suited to the shape of their faces. They are also advised not to die their hair as they age since the colour may grate against the colour of their skin tone. The attitude to hair dye for women is more lax, although frequent colouring is advised to avoid visible roots.

Daily shaving is required, with three-day designer stubble expressly forbidden. Unkempt beards give a disordered appearance: if in doubt, seek the advice of your superior. Cartoon socks are “interdit”. The wearing of jewellery for men is limited to three pieces. Watches are permitted providing they do not threaten safety. That rules out James Bond’s Omega Seamaster, fitted by Q with laser beams, then.

To be fair, much of the advice in La DressCode is unremarkable since it applies to retail bank staff and predictably prescriptive. The reason it’s been quite so universally lampooned is its resolute lack of humour and crazy level of detail. The code is just so … Swiss.

Does it help women develop a sense of personal professional style? No. For that you need to look at examples of real women in real jobs. Please add your nominations. Mine would include, from the world of politics, Christine Lagarde, Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni, writer Nora Ephron and, of course, Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-a-porter.

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Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

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Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

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Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

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Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.