The Corruption of Casual Dress–The Rebirth of Business Attire

Here’s a short post in honor of Casual Friday and Labor Day. I have been working in and around Silicon Valley for 20 years and I have watched the dress code evolve. In the world of high tech, suits are considered evil and khaki slacks have become the common dress code. I wear khaki’s and polo shirts almost daily, but I still keep the suit and tie in reserve for business meetings because I believe in dressing for the client as a means of demonstrating respect. It’s part of knowing how to dress for success.Casual

I actually was talking to a client yesterday who makes it a point of hiring retirees and older workers, and he recently hired an energetic young woman to manage the group. She is enthusiastic, and like many of her generation, shows the marks of her tribe – hair colored a shade nature never intended, facial piercings, and a few tattoos. I asked “How is she doing?” and the response from my client was that he had a frank conversation with her about her performance, including the recommendation to “lose the hardware” as a sign of respect for those she was managing. The oldsters don’t respect the piercings. I agree.

It’s not that I am adverse to freedom of expression, or that you shouldn’t be allowed to dress as you like. However, if you want to earn respect in business, it has to start with your attire. I have worked with countless techies who show up for meetings in T-shirts, shorts, and Birkenstocks to outwardly celebrate their inner nerd. Okay, I get it, but it’s harder to accept strategic input from someone who dresses like my teenage stepson. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to dress seriously.

I want to share a graphic and video from that I spotted earlier today. The blog post, contributed by Ross McCammon, is entitled “How to Dress as an Entrepreneur,” and offers some interesting insights into the concept of dressing for success:

Because clothes represent propriety. When you present yourself, your clothes connote either thoughtfulness or thoughtlessness. When you overdress, you have a better chance of ending up on the right side of propriety. Early on at least, your clothes are your agent. If your agent is a jackass, you still might get the gig, but why give yourself so much to overcome?

Like managing up, I also believe in the concept of “dressing up.” You have to assume the attire of the role you wish to play, even if it feels like a costume. If you want to run with the chief executives, you have to assume the trappings of their tribe in order to fit in. It makes them feel more comfortable about you and your capabilities, and makes it easier to find what you have to say worth listening to.

Happy Labor Day!

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