SEC employees win battle to dress casual
Some of the Securities and Exchange Commission's rank-and-file employees have won a quiet battle with top officials: They no longer have to wear formal business attire when out on the job.
Under former SEC chairman Christopher Cox, members of the agency's Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations were required to wear formal business attire when they were in the field reviewing the operations of financial firms.
Almost 2,000 times a year, SEC examiners visit firm offices, examine paperwork, interview employees and analyze data to ensure that companies are complying with securities rules. Some exams are periodic and routine, while others are surprise probes.
After then-OCIE director Lori Richards imposed the requirement on staff in 2008, the union representing agency employees filed a grievance with the SEC arguing that they should not be required to wear formal attire. They wanted to wear the same attire as the employees who worked for firms they were examining, which was often more casual.
Only after months of negotiations, the arrival of SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro and the arrival of a new OCIE director did the agency agree to relax the requirement and permit examiners to wear attire matching that of people working for the firm under review.
"The business world has for many years been moving towards less rigid attire standards, and it didn't make sense for OCIE to refuse to acknowledge that reality," union attorney Ralph Talarico said in a summer newsletter. "I was gratified that we were able to reach a reasonable compromise on this issue for SEC examination staff."
Under the new attire rules, which appear to have taken effect late last year, SEC officials also can call ahead to a firm that is facing an examination and ask what people in the office wear, so that SEC examiners can dress to the same standard. (Of course, this doesn't include surprise exams where examiners simply show up on the doorstep of a firm.)
Says the SEC union newsletter:
When Charles II decreed in the 1660s that men must wear a coat, cravat and wig while at court, he probably did not know how far the "suit" concept would travel into the future. In the 1800s, Beau Brummel (pictured here) is often credited with establishing the tradition of the contemporary business suit.
Despite the longevity of Mr. Brummel's concept, business casual attire is today widely accepted as a neat, crisp look that is entirely appropriate in many contemporary business settings. Although it is a more relaxed and comfortable way to dress, it is still professional, neat and pulled together. It does not detract from the professionalism of the many individuals who dress in this fashion every day.
September 1, 2010; 1:38 PM ET
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