Navy-blue pin-striped suit. Shiny black shoes. Pressed white shirt.
As tech sales rep Earl Presley walked in downtown St. Petersburg on his way to a lunch meeting Wednesday, he was the portrait of a modern businessman.
Except around his neck, there hung no tie.
Presley's tie-less look, according to a recent Gallup Poll on workplace attire, has far and away become the most popular way to dress around the office. Nationwide, only 6 percent of men reported wearing a tie to work every day in 2007, down from 10 percent six years ago. Those who reported never wearing a tie to work increased from 59 percent to 67 percent over the same period.
To add injury to insult, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that after 60 years, the Men's Dress Furnishings Association, the trade group that represents American tiemakers, is expected to shut down Thursday.
More and more, the tie, the textile embodiment of the business world, is becoming passe. For many white-collar workers around St. Petersburg, the decision to tie or not to tie is more a function of personal preference and corporate culture than company policy.
"I'm not wearing a necktie because it's too hot," said Presley, who works for GHA Technologies, a computer equipment supplier. "And because I don't have to wear one."
While explanations for the decline of everyday business-formal are difficult to pinpoint, some suggest the culprit is a generation influenced by the boom of beyond-casual Silicon Valley workplace fashion.
"The tie and dark suit and the black shoes, everybody had to wear the same thing back in the '70s. It was the consummate uniform for corporate America," said Tessa Lander, a former IBM employee and the owner of a St. Petersburg franchise of GRN, a corporate recruiting company. "But in this dot-com era, the core of individuals driving the profits have different norms – they're driving the trend."
In her newly renovated office off Central Avenue, Lander has only one dress policy: no holey jeans.
Most of Lander's male employees opt for Dockers and open collars most days. Then there's Bill Ferjo, 60, who says he wouldn't feel at ease behind his desk without a thick-bodied necktie.
"When I started in the '70s as a manager at a CVS, even when you were stacking boxes, you were wearing a shirt and tie," Ferjo said. "That's what I wore; that's what they expected."
And older workers aren't the only force making sure power ties won't join fedoras and ash trays in the graveyard of office couture anytime soon.
In the world of high finance, meeting clients while dressed down simply isn't done.
"I wouldn't be surprised if we saw more formal attire coming back up," said Anthea Penrose, the public relations manager for Raymond James Financial in Tampa. "Even though we have a business-casual policy, many people wear a suit and tie every day. A lot of our people meet face to face with clients, or are just old-school and will wear them."
Dominick Tao can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8751.