London, Aug. 28: The bespectacled woman in a two-piece blue and white checked suit outside the Barclays Bank head office looked an unlikely anarchist.
Her hair was neatly coiffed, her make-up carefully applied. Her identity pass hung conspicuously from her waistband.
When the economy is not so strong, people dress more smartly because “they need to get more business in”.
But although she was cunningly disguised as a diligent office worker, this woman was a dangerous insurgent.
On her feet, in full view of Barclays’ customers, were bejewelled, gold flip-flops.
Did this woman not know that Barclays Bank last week had issued a stern memo to its employees that they must adhere to the “business casual” dress code' Did she not read the e-mail warning that flip-flops, sportswear, denim, logo-bearing T-shirts, trainers and strapless tops were forbidden in an office environment'
“Um, no,” the woman said, too scared to give her name. “But I think these sandals are quite smart.”
Her employers would not agree. Barclays management has decided that the “dress down” culture has gone too far. Instead of going to work in crumpled cargo pants and fleeces, employees at the bank’s offices in Churchill Way, Basingstoke, were told on Thursday that they must dress “to be seen as a professional and successful financial services environment”.
“We have extended the dress code to all our offices,” said a spokesman.
“Employees must still dress in a suit and tie for meeting clients. We’ve just moved our head office to Canary Wharf and thought it would be timely to communicate the new dress code to staff.”
Barclays, however, is just catching up in asking its workers to smarten up.
Investment banks such as Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns ditched their dress-down policies some time ago after a survey by American Corporate Trends magazine found there was a 63 per cent rise in customer complaints on days when staff wore casual clothes.
Complaints about tardiness also went up by 35 per cent.
Dressing down was introduced by young dotcom ent- repreneurs in America in the 1990s.
As Internet stocks soared, casual dress was quickly adopted by a British busin-ess establishment eager to break down the bowler-hatted hierarchies of their parents’ generation.
“We’ve seen a number of reverse cycles in dressing recently,” said Sarah Setterfield, managing director of image consultancy Impact4Success.
“Employees are brand ambassadors. They sit between the millions spent on corporate advertising and the customer,” said Setterfield.