As soon as I came to work in the UK, wearing a tie was something that was part of the office uniform. Granted that when you met customers or had discussions on a technology exchange with the Japanese, you wore a tie in Iscor, but given that temperatures in your office could be stifling and places with air conditioning hard to come by, short-sleeved shirts without tie were far more common.
I wonder if it’s something about dressing up for occasions that’s far more common amongst British people than it is in say Belgium or the Netherlands. So anyway, during my time in Allied Steel & Wire and British Steel, middle management wore the standard uniform of shirt and tie, and in the case of Tinplate R&D also a jacket. Never mind that at times you got grease on your clothes, or had to tuck your tie in your shirt because it was otherwise a safety hazard, it was the unwritten rule that management had to set themselves apart from the workforce by wearing clothes unsuitable for work in a dirty environment.
I still remember the time that Norman Leah and I had to visit Impress in Deventer and Norman found out to his horror that he had forgotten to pack his tie. We arrived on Sunday afternoon for a meeting on the Monday, and as such there was no place where you could find yourself a replacement tie. So, faute de mieux Norman took part in our meeting without a tie, and guess what ? Nearly all of the people on the other side of the table failed to wear this so-called indispensible item. Presumably the Dutch don’t have the same hang-ups about what you wear to work meetings.
Then came the time when we merged with Hoogovens and formed Corus, and although the effect was not immediate, changes in what even senior managers were wearing to meetings changed. Most people now wore the black (dark blue?) polo shirt with works trousers at all time, even when it came to fairly high level internal meetings. In my case, I continued to wear the blue shirts we had been given for our trip to Japan until they started to wear out, and then I got myself a set of Corus workwear which has served me well until my retirement – talk about hard-wearing. In my last year at Ebbw Vale, I had the temerity to just wear the shirt without a tie, which at the time was still out of step with what other middle managers wore, but I think the wind of change was already being felt, and soon, especially after I had moved to Llanwern, the tie-less condition did no longer cause any raised eyebrows.
The transition to Tata Steel did not make too much of a difference in what people wore, apart from the fact that Tata blue polo shirts started to replace the Corus attire. The senior managers of the Business Management Team may have gradually reverted to wearing shirt and tie more often than not, but for the middle management crowd we were left to our own devices, which in my case meant a Corus polo shirt and works trousers. It had the advantage that I could have a clear separation between what I wore at work and at home, and now I still have a set of clothes that I can use either in the garden or when we do some dirty jobs with the South Wales Geologists Association.