Hello everyone,

I seek your advice on how to receive feedback about attire. I'm the 26-year-old owner/manager of a micro software development shop. I like to dress 'smart casual' to work: a shirt, jeans, a jacket and a pair of plain lace-up shoes. As far as formality is considered, this puts me well into the 90th percentile in our building, which houses some twenty businesses. Put differently, the general egalitarian cultural tendency of the region is well evident.

Why do you always dress so formally, my office neighbour asked me today. Why, do you mind? Because I like to, I replied and continued, because I'd feel uncomfortable in just a T-shirt and jeans.

The situation ended as quickly as it started, and I'm not entirely sure what he meant. But overall, I was left with the impression that he questioned my choice of attire.

I like the way I dress. That said, my neighbour is someone I look up to: he's a nice enough guy, roughly my age, a serial entrepreneur, quite experienced in B2B operations, and runs a company roughly five times the size of mine. That is to say, I'm sure he's made a few bad judgements in his life I could learn about from him.

Moreover, as I said, there's a general air of people trying very hard to dress poorly enough in this region, as someone else said.

So, trying to follow M&M's advice of not putting one's personal preference over effectiveness, I'm asking you to share your insight and experience regarding this issue. Can, in your opinion, wearing a jacket and a shirt to work be ineffective, when everyone else, including owners and managers of other companies, are dressed more casually?

stephenbooth_uk's picture

 In any workplace there will be variations in dress, in mine you would be (based on your description) in the 90th percentile for casualness but we do have people who dress more casual than that.  Levels of formality of dress for us tend to be dictated by (and therefore indicators of) level in the company (the higher you are the more formally you dress) with a modifier for gender (women tend to dress much more casually than men at the same level, our CEO is a woman and she tends to dress quite casually unless it's a formal event).

Aside from personal protective equipment and other health and safety concerns, clothing choice typically comes down to the balance between what you work best in and fitting in with the corporate standard.  Personal preference and personal effectiveness are not unrelated, what you wear can influence your effectiveness.  If you are dressed comfortably (in the sense of both physical comfort and psychic/metaphysical comfort so including liking what you're wearing as well as clothing not being restrictive, itchy or painful to wear) you are likely to work better and be more effective than if you're constantly bothered by what you're wearing.  On the other hand, you do have to fit in with your colleagues and the corporate culture.  I would love to be able to dress less formally than I do for work.  I'd be much more comfortable and probably more effective in some tasks if I could lose the tie, kick off my shoes and wear loose jeans or chinos rather than the suit, shirt and tie I currently wear.  But that would make me different from others at my level and probably reduce my effectiveness in other areas (inparticular those which involve meeting clients) so I wear the suit, shirt and tie.

In your specific case the first thing that comes to mind is that from your description it sounds like the person who raised the question isn't a client or co-worker, just someone else who happens to work in the same building.  Since you're the owner of your company you don't have a boss to worry about so your main concern should probably be your customers and potential customers.  It is how they perceive your attire that matters as it could impact their decision to contract with you and how much they are prepared to pay.  So long as your customers are happy with how you look, and how your staff look and you're content with how you and your staff look then you should be fine.



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thaGUma's picture

There will always be someone who criticises. If that's the worst you get then be happy. If you are in the top 10% then that's fine. I would be happy to leave a place where something that petty became an issue.


mdave's picture

If your attire is within the norms for your business/region (and you can always take off the jacket), my suggestion is to stay with it if it makes you feel as if you are representing yourself and your firm well. Looking back with hindsight, do you get the sense that you are making people uneasy with your dress? If you look up to him and have a decent relationship, why not ask him about his comment...