Watch the crowds rushing towards the trains around 5pm in any UK city and it’s usually a sea of grey and navy. The smart suits in sober neutral colours make it hard to pick anyone out amid the thronging crowds. A suit, sometimes with a tie sometimes without, has long been the unofficial uniform for professional males. Yet this standard corporate wear – which masks any hint of individuality – is a problem, according to British fashion designer Ozwald Boateng, the former creative director of Givenchy. Known for designing close-fitting, colourful suits, Mr Boateng’s modern take on traditional tailoring has given him a strong following among celebrities with clients such as Will Smith and Mick Jagger. But he says his corporate clients are sometimes shy of standing out. “They say ‘I don’t want to look too good’,” says Mr Boateng, chuckling. It seems an extraordinary demand, even more so when you’re being fitted for a suit by a top designer. Why on earth wouldn’t they want to look their best? “I feel a lot of them just have not got awareness of it. A lot of CEOs don’t get the power image and don’t get the power of their own brand that they work for.” He believes this reticence is reflected in the person’s behaviour in the job: if they’re unadventurous about what they wear then they’re unlikely to be pushing the company forward, he says. “When you’re a leader, you need to be heard and anything that helps focus the attention of the people who work for you is key.” Of course a fashion designer – famed for making men stand out – would say this. Beyond the world of Instagram-obsessed celebrities and super-models, surely it should be the work that you do, not the way that you look, which drives your success? It’s certainly something we’d like to believe. When Swiss bank UBS’s 44-page dress code, which advised client-facing staff on everything from appropriate underwear to the importance of regular haircuts, was leaked in 2010 it was widely mocked. The guide said a well-groomed outward appearance helped to communicate the firm’s values. It prompted derision and disbelief. UBS may have gone overboard, but there’s plenty of evidence that the bank was right to think that what you wear to work matters. Research by Karen Pine, a psychology professor at Hertfordshire University, shows that people are judged on their overall head-to-toe appearance within seconds, and clothing is a big part of that first impression. She found that a man in an off-the-shelf suit is judged as less successful and less flexible than his counterpart who wears a tailor-made suit, for example. ‘Nobody’s going to listen’ It’s a finding that doesn’t surprise Serge Brunschwig, chief operating officer of French fashion house Christian Dior, who says ultimately people remember how you look, not what you say. “We always say that one image is worth 1,000 words.