In my 15-plus-year career, I’ve worked in the following environments:
• Conservative accounting and consulting firm
• Conservative health care system.
• Small, boutique PR firm
• Mid-size media company
• Small not-for-profit
• Small, private, family-owned business
Each environment had a distinct dress code.
For instance, I frequently wore jeans with holes on non-client-facing days at the PR firm. At the accounting firm, a dress shirt and tie were standard fare. Meanwhile, khakis and a sweater were par for the course at the health care system.
As a solo consultant, my dress code depends on the day’s agenda.
On days when I’m meeting with clients, it’s usually a jacket and jeans or dress pants (or a suit on some occasions). On those days when I don’t meet with clients, it can be as casual as shorts and my Homer Simpson slippers. (Oh, you think I’m kidding?)
Recently, I’ve been thinking more about the dress code. I have an urge to dress more casually for client meetings—even the ones for which I know it’s probably not the best idea. I find myself asking that one basic question:
Does what you wear really matter?
Sure, if you’re meeting with the CEO of a conservative health care company you can’t show up in a jacket, jeans, and some Pumas. The CEO will never get past the Pumas; she’ll never take you seriously.
Then again, shouldn’t that CEO be considering my ideas, not my getup?
Social norms suggest that we need to dress and act a certain way when we’re in a meeting with the senior-level administrators of a publicly held firm. Yet, social norms also reward innovation and excellence—and neither one depends on whether I wear Pumas or Cole Haans.
What do you think? Does what you wear to work matter?
Arik C. Hanson is the principal of ACH Communications, a digital communications consultancy. He blogs at Communications Conversations, where a version of this story originally appeared.