Shinhan Bank president Shin Sang-hoon doesn't wear a necktie these days, either on his way to the office or in it. He even loosened his top shirt button in a weekly executive meeting on Tuesday, and staff and employees are following suit.
Corporate Korea is shedding the necktie. Many executives, reeling from high oil prices and a slowing economy, consider the necktie a "cost factor" that adds to air conditioning expenses. And Korea isn't alone -- what was once the global symbol of a dignified businessman is now seen as an energy waster.
◆ No-tie becomes global fashion code
Neckties began disappearing at the start of the new millennium and the venture capital boom, when the no-tie look became the symbol of the cool new management style. The trend ebbed when the venture bubble burst, reviving the retro management style. But in these times of soaring fuel costs, the no-tie look is back.
By taking off your necktie your body temperature is said to fall by about two degrees Celsius. Simply removing your tie and raising the room temperature by two degrees can lead to savings of more than 6 percent in air conditioning costs.
The idea of saving money by taking off the necktie originated in Japan. The Japanese government and businesses began campaigning for the no-tie look in 2005 under the term "Cool-Biz". Then chief Cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda blasted the "sloppy" dress code but now he appears tieless at official functions in fanciful, colorful shirts.
About 50 big Korean firms have adopted the no-tie code, with Korean Air joining in on Tuesday. Financial firms including Kookmin Bank, Industrial Bank of Korea, Pusan Bank, Korea Life Insurance, LIG Insurance, Good Morning Shinhan Securities and Lotte Card also began taking off the tie this month. IT firms SK Telecom, KTF and Fuji Xerox Korea and Lotte and Hyundai Department Stores are doing the same.
Even more financial firms will likely discard their neckties as the Korea Federation of Banks and the Korean Financial Industry Union last week agreed to a simple dress code of no-tie and short sleeve shirts. Shinhan Bank employees can wear short sleeve t-shirts from Monday as can employees of the Industrial Bank of Korea from next month.
◆ Saves W300 billion a year
Besides saving money untying the tie can also save the environment, thanks to reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Japan estimates the cool biz campaign (no tie, short sleeves) from June to September last year resulted in 1.4 million tons less CO₂discharged into the atmosphere, equivalent to the monthly emissions of three million households.
According to the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements, the Korea Energy Management Corp. predicts the simpler dress code will save Korea some 2.9 billion kwh of electricity (worth W300 billion), which is the amount of energy generated by two atomic power plants.
But there's at least one group that's unhappy with the loose-collar movement -- tie makers. "Many American men stopped wearing neckties years ago," the Wall Street Journal wrote in a recent report. "Now, even tie guys are giving up on them. After 60 years, the Men's Dress Furnishings Association, the trade group that represents American tie makers, is expected to shut down Thursday." Tie sales in the U.S. have fallen nearly by half, from a peak of $1.3 billion in 1995 to $677 million last year.
◆ Jazz it up
But taking off your necktie doesn't mean you have to discard your fashion sense. The fashion industry has solutions in the so-called "untied look."
Shirts become extra important in this look. You can jazz them up with embroidery, showy stitching, patterns, broad collars or button-down collars. Or try wearing "cleric-style" shirts, which sport a white hem for the collar and sleeve. A more tight-fitting dress shirt or jacket and a slim silhouette suit will also do the trick.
Fashion companies are also showcasing premium "un-con", or unconstructed, suits, made of high-tech materials and no linings. Kim Seung-hyeon, a men's apparel buyer for Hyundai Department Store, says 80 percent of such suits put out were sold last year and sales should easily top 90 percent this year as their popularity has further picked up since May.