When Tom Gilmour moved to Perth from Scotland in December 2010, he was far from ready for the dramatic shift in temperature. Leaving wet and freezing winter behind for the baking hot heat of Australian summer, he was stunned that the locals were suiting up in such unfeasibly gruelling conditions.
"It was torture," he recalls.
"I found myself extremely jealous of school kids with their summer uniforms on."
Old school ideas
Relocating to Melbourne the following year, Gilmour now works as an account executive for a HR/Payroll consultancy company. Though the office-based staff have a bit more leeway, as a customer-facing sales exec, he still has to suit-up for presentations, 40-degree heat outside or not. He does everything he can to work around the discomfort.
"Since most of my job means travelling from one customer to another, I always plan to get to the next office about 15 minutes early, so I can cool down in an air-conditioned reception before each meeting," he says.
Gilmour's opinion is Australia still clings to a very old-fashioned idea of what business looks like and, as he sees it, there needs to be more flexibility over suiting up, whatever time of year.
"I don't mind [suits] in the winter when you're trying to keep warm," he chuckles.
"I've presented to engineers at an oil refinery who were all in their hi viz jackets, or young, vibrant companies where it's rare they wear suits, so it makes you stand out as 'the person who has come here to sell me something but doesn't understand our culture.'."
The Woolworths effect
Born in Cuba, Luis M Garcia, a senior director at Cannings Strategic Communications who has previously held chief of staff roles in government and worked as a journalist for both the Australian Financial Review and The Sydney Morning Herald, moved to Australia 40-odd years ago.
He still believes you've got to be ready to look good particularly when his clients are in crisis mode, but wonders if the suit's days might be numbered in summer. The thought first struck him while reading the SMH over coffee one morn, gasping at a news story accompanied by picture of the CEO and Chairman of Woolworths without ties.
"Even though the approach to wearing a tie is shifting, and I can see that every day, the fact that there were board members of a company of this size, an iconic company in the top 50 like Woolworths, and they weren't wearing a tie, that was a bit of a shock, actually."
Change is choice
That seemingly unthinkable shift happened so fast, he can see suit-wearing slackening in summer too.
"I think it's inevitably moving that way," he says.
But Garcia isn't sure he will be one of those to adopt the new trend. When it's way too hot outside, Garcia still favours a light wool suit when he has to meet clients, but pairs dress trousers and a shirt several days a week.
"I think it's a great compromise, but never a short-sleeved shirt… only at the weekend and in a casual sense. Not on the job, ever. Big faux pas, I reckon."
The new standard
When Nick Deeks, managing director of quantity surveying company WT Partnerships, moved to Sydney from London in 1995, he favoured a stiff, chalk stripe suit with braces, tie and cufflinks. "The sort of Gordon Gekko look," he laughs, referring to Michael Douglas' character in the 1987 Oliver Stone movie Wall Street and its 2010 sequel Money Never Sleeps.
"If you're smartly attired, people look up to you and that sets the standard."
Several southern hemisphere summers later, however, Deeks' approach has loosened slightly, though his core tenets remain exactly the same.
"The only rule I would impose is that whatever you are wearing, you look smart."
Although it's hard to look smart when the sweat's soaking through your P Johnson suit, he concedes: "It's not just the heat, it's the humidity too, and how sticky everything gets."
Styled for the occasion
A fan of wearing odd, brightly coloured socks, he'll often lose them on really hot days, pairing shorter pants with a smart Gucci loafer, even plumping for smartly cut jeans and an ironed t-shirt when he doesn't have to attend meetings.
"I mean, I'll generally still take a suit jacket with me, but I won't always wear it, and I don't even know why I do that. It's probably just habit."
Perhaps wearing a suit in summer is a bad habit Australia needs to break, I suggest?
Still unsure, Deeks recalls falling foul of the Randwick dress code while wearing a nice suit with a pocket square and loafers but no socks or tie.
"That's not about style, that's just about an old rule book that hasn't evolved."
However, evolution is the name of the game in businesses, he notes.
"You've got to be comfortable in your own skin. You see plenty of people look (and feel) a million dollars in nice pair of trousers and a shirt, or even shorts. I'm out there trying to change people's style within the corporate environment."