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Return of the Suits

3:50 PM -- There was an old theory that somehow stock market trends could be predicted by the length of women’s dresses. I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but it seems to me the days of "jeans to the business meetings" are going the way of new venture financing. Not for the engineers and technical folks -- you guys continue to dress the way that makes you more productive, comfortable, and effective -- but all of us "Suits" are suddenly getting back in suits.

In January, I went off for a trip to New York and then London. As I’ve been around for too long and was trained in the "starched shirt and shined shoes" world of business, I had my standard blue blazer and biz shirts. However, I thought -- for the first time in a long time -- maybe I'd better bring some ties, especially since I was London bound. Sure enough, in all five meetings I had in New York, everybody was wearing ties again. Off in London, ties were everywhere, although that's not as much of a surprise as the U.K. never fully caught the casual bug.

When I was back in New York again, at a different set of meetings, almost everybody was wearing ties again. Then the shocker this week: I went to a one-day tech conference in the Bay Area... and maybe five folks out of three hundred were wearing jeans and t-shirts. Over 90 percent of the people there were wearing sport or suit jackets, and Silicon Valley shock of shocks... Probably about 15 percent to 20 percent were wearing TIES! I felt like I had been transported back 15 years in the business fashion world.

I know there will folks born after 1980 who think wearing business attire is B.S., but I disagree. Business has its procedures and rituals, and part of serious business is to be serious, and part of being serious is to be professional, and part of professionalism is to dress the part. It’s interesting to see how this organic shift is happening, but I don’t think it is a bad thing.

At Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) -- which was, and remains, for the business guys a buttoned up place -- there is an old story. Qualcomm always had "casual Fridays," but about six or seven years ago, everybody started dressing more casually. Irwin Jacobs -- Qualcomm’s founder and chairman, who on so many levels is the epitome of professionalism -- would be adorned in a suit at all times, even on Fridays. Among management, there was some feeling that the dress code should be relaxed, and that the company should go "casual." Irwin, in his inimitable way, did not mandate anything, but in a management meeting, when asked the question of casual dress, simply said that in his view executives of the company should dress professionally. No mandate, no policy, no issues for folks that still wanted to dress casually. But Irwin basically let people "self-select" how they would be perceived. Something to think about.

— Jeff Belk is a principal at ICT168 Capital LLC, focused on developing and guiding global growth opportunities in the Information and Communication Technology space. He can be reached at [email protected]. Special to Unstrung

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:10:39 PM
re: Return of the Suits Jeff -- I understand totally what you're saying about presentation and perception, and I do agree with you.

That said, as a California-raised, Silicon Valley-occupying, jeans-wearing journalist who used to have to wear a tie every day, I have to say:

NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!

(possibly followed by "KHAAAAAAN!!!" just for dramatic effect.)
DavidGP 12/5/2012 | 4:04:06 PM
re: Return of the Suits

I flash on the recurrent history of nations in hard or scary times that revert from democracy to monarchy or dictatorship.


This, too, will pass!