Autumn is here, and that means a wardrobe clearout, a huge bag of castoffs to the charity shop, and a panic about not having anything to wear. As inevitable as the leaves falling off the trees.
But this year has been different. One of the rejects was a suit. My only suit.
I’m lucky that I don’t have to dress very formally for my job. Neat and tidy, yes – contrary to the stereotype of the dishevelled and absent-minded academic. But when the suit started to look a bit dated, I realised I’d only been wearing it two or three times a year and could well do without it. A couple of jackets would cover the odd formal meeting, conference or graduation, and nowadays I might even be able to get away with a cardigan.
And when else, outside work, would I wear a suit? Funerals and job interviews. Even the funeral dress code is getting more casual, so that no longer applies. I don’t intend to move jobs again before I retire but if needs must then I wouldn’t want one which rejected me for not wearing a suit to the interview.
It’s quite a culture shock, though. I haven’t been without at least one suit since the mid 1990s, when I got my first full-time job in local government and thought I’d better smarten up. Until this year it would have been unthinkable to ditch them. I clung to my formal clothing even after I’d left local government and become a PhD student and then a postdoc, when there was very little need to look smart. On the basis that you never know.
Something has changed over the past couple of years. It may be the economic times we live in, or perhaps just fashion, but dress codes have become more relaxed, especially for women. It’s become acceptable at work to replace your dark, ill-fitting and drab suit with colourful jackets and cardigans, scarves and jewellery, and still to be taken seriously. That’s a welcome development for those of us who don’t see why we should have to dress like men in order to get equality and respect at work. But equal pay to go with my red cardigan would be nice.