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Clothes maketh the man

There was a time — and not so long ago — when ties were de rigueur in many offices. The British wore ties. The British, more than the Americans, had infiltrated corporate India in colonial times. They preached that ties and suits were the pucca sahib thing. Some Indian communities — more British than the British (complete with baronetcies and coats of arms) — carry on that tradition till today. Humbler folk who have to go to them for jobs often have to follow suit.

But a suit in the sort of climate that prevails in most of India is meant for mad dogs and Englishmen. Thankfully, many offices and workplaces no longer need you to sport ties — the ultimate symbol of servitude. What after all is an Old School Tie? It’s an apron string extended in time.

But if the three-piece suit (with accompanying fobs for the fops) is out of fashion, Indians haven’t yet decided on the best alternative. Women have it easy in one sense; they have variety. And, unless you are really loud, a little tweaking can convert casual-wear to office-wear. They have the additional advantage that Indian attire like the sari is perfectly acceptable.

Lungis are fine for women too, though they may not be the best thing for a crowded city commute. But most offices would look askance at a male employee who turned up in a lungi. A politician can wear a dhoti at half mast; a paediatrician cannot.

Appearance matters. People are bothered about it. According to a recent survey in Taiwan, 60 per cent of jobseekers change their appearance in the hope of striking better deals. Clothes are just one aspect; personal hygiene is equally important. Similar surveys would draw the same response in other countries; they are not conducted because “appearance bias” has joined gender bias and ageism as the new deadly sins.

In India, people recognise that it is necessary to make a good first impression at an interview or at the workplace. There are scores of books on the subject, though mainly rip-offs of western books given a little local colour. There are also coaching classes that teach you deportment.

HR professionals, however, say that most employees stop bothering once they actually get the job. In some public-facing functions such as sales, it matters a great deal. There company watchdogs are alert for sartorial indiscipline. But if you are an accountant or an actuary, you can get away with almost what you want.

“There is a tendency in India towards under-dressing,” says Mumbai-based HR consultant D. Singh. “With the arrival of the dotcoms and a younger generation, this is even more so. Everyone has read The Nudist on the Late Shift. But what do you do when he wants to carry on with his ways in more traditional industries?”

Singh says that casual Fridays and office parties have further damaged the environment. “At the end of the day, the office is a formal place with a command and control structure,” he explains. “It may not be as rigid as the armed forces. But discipline often disappears with dress sense.”

According to him, it is necessary to have a corporate uniform, however retrograde it sounds. Otherwise, the man in the Hawaiian Shorts may be working at totally cross-purposes with his colleague in the Hula Skirt.

GROOMED FOR THE JOB

Hints for deportment

Clean and polished conservative dress shoes.

Well-groomed hairstyle.

Cleaned and trimmed fingernails.

Minimal cologne or perfume.

No visible body piercing beyond conservative ear piercings for women.

Well-brushed teeth and fresh breath. No gum, candy, or other objects in your mouth.

Minimal jewellery.

No body odour.

Source: When Job-Hunting: Dress for Success by Randall Hansen