The Fiction: The dress-down Friday

When new MD Hugo relaxes the company’s sartorial rules, how will the most senior suit in the business react? By Sam Leith

Image: Duffy/Getty Images

“The times are changing – and we’re changing with them,” Hugo had said to the senior team not long after he took over as MD of the company. “We’re going to be the change we want to see in the world. Yeah?” Jeremy, who had been a member of the senior management team since Hugo had been in recyclable nappies, hadn’t been quite so impressed with Hugo as Hugo had been with himself. And when Hugo, showily, wrenched his tie loose, held it above his head for a pregnant moment, then cast it into the wastepaper basket, Jeremy could only look on in horror. “Yeah,” said Hugo, and clapped his hands. “Let’s go to work.” 

And Lord: if this was how the MBA-clutching little twerp got when he was announcing dress-down Friday, what would he be like when they got round to modernising the invoicing system? Still, admittedly, it was a change. The form at Lazenby’s had always been suits. Jeremy felt fairly sure the Old Man – Lazenby Jr, chairman, now 80 and rarely sighted in the office – had never dressed down in his life. He was wearing the same charcoal Savile Row three-piece suits (single-breasted, narrow stripes) as when he’d turned the family business into a global concern in the early 1970s. 

But “DDF” did seem, to Jeremy’s dismay, to catch on. In fact, over the months that followed, the extent to which you dressed down became, subtly, and then less subtly, a marker of status. First it was chinos and shirts – the usual sort of thing. But steadily, the ambitious, youngish men – Hugo’s boys – tried to outdo each other. The more daring you were – the more your outfit said, in the modish expression, “F*** business” – the brighter your star was presumed to shine. Someone showed up one week in a pair of jeans with a hole at the knee. The next week a rival sported a straw cowboy hat. The first baseball cap was sighted in early June. By August, there’d been a Ramones T-shirt, and towards the end of the summer one executive VP (marketing) had spent a whole afternoon padding ostentatiously around the 17th floor entirely barefoot. 

Jeremy, whose sole concession to dress-down Friday had been to remove his fob-watch, had been quietly mortified. Was this really the company to which he had given the best years of his life, man and boy? The company that, when he said what he did, earned satisfying chunters of approval from the chaps in his club? It had started to resemble one of those “frat houses” the Americans went in for. He’d even seen a “high five” at the end of one particularly undignified strategy meeting. 

The end of dress-down Friday came as abruptly as it did unexpectedly. It was early October when, at 11 sharp on a Friday morning, the lift door on the executive floor pinged and opened... and out of it emerged the Old Man, done up to the nines and already wearing his Remembrance Day poppy in his buttonhole. 

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His face – as he peered over his spectacles at the motley scene before him – registered very little, but there was a certain beady sharpening of his eyes. The news of his arrival spread through the building like a disturbance in a pigeon loft. Hawaiian shirts scuttled from water-cooler to cubicle. Doors closed with a little more haste than was discreet. 

Hearing the rustle and then the unexpected silence outside, Hugo emerged from his office looking nonplussed. He happened – Jeremy noted with an internal smile – to be wearing a lumberjack shirt over an R Crumb T-shirt bearing the legend: “Jesus Is Coming: Look Busy”. 

“Boss!” he said, smiling nervously and removing his hands from his pockets. “We weren’t expecting to see you.” 

Jeremy couldn’t imagine why it should have been such a surprise to him. He had pinned the notice announcing the chairman’s tour of inspection to the baize noticeboard above the umbrella stand in the cloakroom himself. Everyone would have seen it while they were polishing their shoes in the morning. 

As the Old Man turned on the well‑polished heel of his Loake shoe and stalked to the lift, he shot over his shoulder: “Hugo. I wonder if you would be a good chap and come to see me in my office. Once you’ve had the chance to put on your tie, of course.” 

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