Last month new car sales in the UK totalled 128,352 compared with 166,797 in October 2007, the fall over the past three months has run at over 2%. This is a sign of the recession biting where it hits first: cars, carpets and kitchens are the classic ‘luxury’ buys that we all stop making when we become worried about money.

Car dealers are reacting in a variety of ways, some are reducing their inventory (the number of cars they have for sale on their forecourts – you can test this for yourself, look at the spacing between the cars, many dealers are leaving yards between them instead of the feet they used to leave) and some are offering discounts on new vehicles. But some Midlands dealerships have taken a thought-provoking route – they’ve asked their staff to stop wearing suits and ties and instead suggested that the most formal wear should be shirts with the collars unbuttoned, and that non-sales staff should wear polo shirts, sweatshirts or jumpers in the winter months.

The idea is that people who are making a major financial investment like a car purchase would feel more comfortable buying from somebody who looks as if they aren’t making a lot more money than the would-be car buyer, and are, in fact, just ordinary people doing a job, not ‘Hooray Henrys’ profiteering from huge bonuses. So in the same way, briefcases are out, and soft laptop bags are in, caps can be worn on the forecourt and staff are asked not to strut their stuff with Armani logos or similar on scarves and accessories.

So do shirts and ties make us feel as if people are better than us? And are we more likely to buy from a guy in a hoodie? The answer is yes and no, and shows that the car dealers might be very astute.  When economies boom we are more likely to buy from people we consider to be better dressed than ourselves as we hope to raise ourselves through our expenditure. But when economies struggle we tend to buy from people dressed similarly to ourselves because we hope our spending will be an investment in future prosperity and we trust people on our own social level to treat our money as seriously as we do.

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