Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: Corporate man stays true to blue

Cast off the workday uniform, guys, and try a splash of colour - even if John Key thinks it looks 'gay'

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

If a visiting Martian happened to find himself on an 8am ferry between the North Shore and downtown Auckland, he'd probably think the local men wear a "uniform" that neither age, nor ethnicity, nor girth can alter.

That was the verdict of a friend, an out-of-towner, who recently found herself hemmed in by a throng of blue-shirted, dark-blue panted Kiwi males making their way across the harbour at the peak morning commuting hour.

She went on to experience the same thing four mornings in a row. Were Auckland men ahead of the fashion pack, she wondered, or had a consignment of cut-price blue shirts washed up at Onehunga recently and been filtered through the city's chain stores?

I had to concur, when visiting downtown myself at the same time of day.

The dark blue/shades-of-light-blue combination was infinitely preferable to the drab and dreary browns and blacks of the typical Wellington office, and a light year's worth of improvement over the cheap, shiny-arsed suits of yore.

But there was still that frightening tendency to dress alike, in a safe, cool colour denoting conservative masculinity and financial continence.

It may inspire confidence in your average investment firm client, but there was precious little else inspiring about it. It was a double tragedy when contemplating all the possibly athletic bodies hidden under this humdrum attire.

The New Zealand male's historic inability to put his head above the fashion parapet has long been bemoaned by local women and assorted fashion lovers. Now, because corporate men have moved into a slightly nicer line of pant or sheen of shirt, they think the hard part is over: frankly, they don't have to think about it anymore. But while we don't want our bank managers and insurance salesmen to spend all their time reading fashion blogs and Esquire magazine, we require a little more effort yet from the male of the species.

As New Zealand doubles down in blue, the rest of the world, as always, moves apace. The trends from London Men's Fashion Week - a separate event just for the guys - were: colours that "pop" (orange a particular favourite); checks and vintage (pop culture favourites, such as Justin Timberlake and Mad Men leading the charge) and androgyny (a perennial runway favourite, if not always practical in real life). Print ties, layered denim, pastels, piping and big hats are in. Even "meggings" (male leggings) have made their debut. Will they be seen in New Zealand anytime soon? Outside Grey Lynn, probably not.

My husband recently burnished his dandy credentials by using his work-related clothing allowance to buy two rather eye-popping suits: one cream coloured, the other electric blue.

I feared he would look like a Pakistani Colonel Sanders in one and Elton John in the other. But I needn't have worried, because a man with confidence can make almost anything work.

Admittedly, I'm yet to be sold on the frilly black shirt, the pale velvet suit, the hat worn at a jaunty angle and the Jean Paul Gaultier-inspired sailor-wear, and yet there is something arresting, fresh and vibrant about these kinds of choices.

Admittedly the portents of progress aren't great when our Prime Minister considers the wearing of plain old red to be "gay". But even he'd have to agree that, old-school notions aside, a pale pink shirt, a crimson belt, or a mint green tie give a welcome splash of colour in the sometimes dour world of high finance.

- NZ Herald

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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