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Published 20 June 2012 21:58, Updated 21 June 2012 04:16
As one would expect of a lawyer, David Eterovic makes it his business to understand both sides of an argument. And so it is with the necktie – once an essential feature of office attire, now seemingly an optional accoutrement. “I’m in two minds about it,” he admits. “At the end of the day it’s just a strip of silk.”
Since the dotcom boom of the late 1990s, when so many rules about business, including business attire, were challenged, there are no longer any hard and fast rules about whether one should wear a tie with a suit. A corporate finance partner with law firm Minter Ellison, the stylish Eterovic could carry off either look with elan.
Whether as a dispassionate lawyer or as an arbiter of taste, he acknowledges that there are two sides to the question: tie or no tie?
“I accept the proposition that the tie is an unnecessary and expensive adornment and not particularly meaningful,” he says. “There’s some justification for that view of the world.”
Eterovic, however, is a tie man. At Minter Ellison there is no requirement for the firm’s lawyers to wear a tie, although at the Melbourne office, where he works, “it’s the done thing to wear them”. His Sydney colleagues, he notes, do not seem as attached to them.
He does not favour particular makes of ties. “I don’t pay much attention to the label; it’s more the aesthetic. Whatever catches my fancy,” he says. Most of his ties are Italian silk ties and occasionally French.
“When I look for ties, I look for a pattern that’s harmonious or which has subtle symbolisms that have meaning for me. It’s a very individual thing,” Eterovic says. He welcomes the colour and verve that a tie can bring to bear to an otherwise drab gathering.
“That subtle element of colour is attractive. It provides an aesthetic fillip to corporate man,” Eterovic says.
Despite his own preference for ties, Eterovic makes no judgment about those who prefer otherwise. Personal choice about corporate attire is now so entrenched that there can be variance within the same company, as Eterovic discovered at a meeting with a client from the information technology sector.
“The owner and chairman looked like Steve Jobs but the CEO was looking very buttoned down in a suit and tie,” he says.
The chief executive of skin care retailer The Body Shop, Mark Kindness , has elegant tastes in ties – as was clear from the Hugo Boss silk tie he wore for a BRW photo shoot recently – but he prefers to go without. At The Body Shop, informality is the order of the day.
A national manager at the company since 1996 and chief executive for the past three years, Kindness says the tie is not part of the company’s culture.
“I could count on my hand the number of times I’ve seen someone wearing a tie here,” he says.
“Ours is an informal work space. There are no barriers between people, it’s very much a collaborative culture, which makes for a more relaxed environment.”
Although Kindness favours informality, he makes a distinction between casual and professional dress, regardless of whether a tie is involved.
“Whatever your role in the business, having professional attire brings a certain level of respect to the workplace,” he says. “It’s not about suit and tie, it’s about what they [employees] contribute to the business that matters.”
Fashion designer Dom Bagnato, owner of the eponymous menswear label, says the no-tie trend has been evident for the past three seasons. Many men, he believes, simply don’t like wearing ties, so the current fashion suits them. But he has bad news for those men.
“The tie will come back into fashion,” he predicts. What will remain, he says, is the emphasis on personal choice in business dress.
Unlike the 1970s and ’80s when single fashion trends dominated, he says, today personal preferences rule.
“The beauty of this is that for guys who have got a great sense of what works and doesn’t work for them they can mix [styles] to find what for them is the epitome of sophistication and elegance,” he says. “If you’re aware of your style and what you’re about you can wear a tie that suits you. That sense of yourself is what should dictate the look.”
Bagnato says ties are “a great way to make a statement” and he believes they will return to favour as the economy softens.
“Men tend to dress up and favour a more classic look during downturns,” he says. “They want to look more like a chief executive because they want to stand out as someone who is important to the organisation.”