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Wearing a suit when you're not a VP is deemed a sign of "poor culture fit" most places around here (wearing them to interviews can even be a bad thing). --ErikDeBill

(Semi-)Formal wear is very functional being descendants of armour (as in Knights in Shining). Suits are more comfortable to wear than almost any form of clothing. You can definitely get suits meant for summer wear as well, so that really isn't an issue (unless you're not rich). A long time ago, I saw an interview with the editor of Shift magazine in Toronto. A twenty-something, he always wore suits despite the ultra-trendy style of his office and colleagues. I thought that was awesome. And you know what? I still want a job where I have to (or at least could) wear suits every day. I get a lot more respect and can get a lot more (professional) work done in a shirt and tie than anything from Gap, I can tell you that. -- SunirShah

I'm quite aware of the summer weight suits. The last one I bought is quite comfortable in the winter when the highs get down in the 50s. It's even fairly comfortable while the highs are up in the 70s. That leaves the other 2/3 of the year :-) Suits ARE quite comfortable - people have been refining the cut and tailoring techniques used in good suits for hundreds of years. It shows. But they're still not what you want to wear when the temperature outside is >100. When it's that warm, walking from your car into a building can put sweat marks through your suit coat.

And where I work, if someone came to the interview in one, after being told business casual, they'd have to be incredibly good to overcome our doubts about culture fit. Different cities have different standards of dress. In Dallas "evening dress" means a tux. In Austin it means a polo and khakis (or maybe a button down shirt). Unfortunately, the very relaxed clothing styles around here don't leave a lot of room for inside pockets (with the possible exceptions of the ultra trendy leather jackets).

Not that I wouldn't like to have a closet full (or at least 4-5) hand tailored suits. There's just no way I'd wear them day to day. --ErikDeBill

I went to an interview in a two piece suit in October. My interviewer showed up in ripped jeans and a stained sweatshirt. That was rather inappropriate. I expect the same respect for me as I give to you. Also, it's the company's first impression on me, a prospective employee. Do they give this kind of disdain to clients as well? What does that show about their business acumen. Granted engineers aren't marketing, but a good programmer is expected to have at least some business awareness, especially enough to dress respectably.

At another interview I had a long time ago, the person was visibly distracted and his pager went off which he then went and answered. Then he interviewed me again recently, was much better dressed and more focused. Of course, his job had changed in a year.

Anyway, I always go to interviews well dressed. I want to show that I'm at least mildly aware of the RealWorld. -- SunirShah

That's why we always tell people "business casual" or the like. Make sure there's no mixups like your suit vs ripped jeans. Always best to ask if you're not sure. I agree that to some extent it's a display of respect, but at the same time, it's a statement of culture. In a city where calling someone a "suit" is an insult, wearing one when you don't have to says something about you. There are a lot of levels to the formality of dress, not just cutoffs and suits. Many people refuse to work somewhere that requires them to wear a tie, or ask for more money for things like that. The only businesses I've known that actually expected people to wear ties every day are banks and law firms. I'm not saying there aren't others out there, but 1970's IBM left a bad taste in the high tech industry's mouth and the impression stuck (for those of you who haven't heard, IBM used to require it's employess to wear white shirts and ties - and usually a coat. Even field service techs. They'd show up, roll up their sleeves and then get covered in filth working on hardware.) --ErikDeBill

Anderson Consulting still requires shirts and ties for good reason. At ObjectTechnologyInternational, they still have this impression that they are rebelling against IBM's shirt and tie culture, despite the fact it's long dead. And OTI is pretty starched shirt as well. (You want to sell me cookies? What?!) I think my stay at OTI taught me more management AntiPattern""s than any other experience in my life, which I dutifully avoid applying here. -- SunirShah

IBM's old-school culture was rather weird. Consider the, [IBM songs]. Today things are a lot better. I'm sure a lot depends on what site you're working at, but in Mechanicsburg, PA, khakis and polo shirts were the norm (jeans were discouraged). In Research Triangle Park, at least for developers, jeans are the norm rather than the exception, and it is not unusual to see people in shorts and a T-shirt. -- anon.

In a previous life, I interned with an environmental group in Washington DC. My standard dress was a sport coat, button-up shirt, tie, black jeans, and semi-nice shoes. I was regularly surprised about how I was treated by the general public as compared to the way I normally dressed (and dress): T-shirt, denim overshirt, jeans and Chucks. So, I know that, to some extent, clothes make the man (FormOverContent), to the extent that the BBC requires suits for radio announcers. Of course, that's a different culture, both in terms of the American/British split and the obvious difference between computing and old-school radio.

Where I worked at school, I was t-shirt and jeans, and the people I worked with ranged between t-shirt and jeans (students, lower-end sysadmins) to polo or button-up and jeans (upper-end sysadmins). At my current workplace, which is a medical clinic, I wear polos and dress shirts with khakis, wearing the suit for vendor presentations or if you are management (This is the IS part. The dress code for the evening machine room people is closer to polo and jeans). At the university, and at some places I've heard of, the clothes to wear at a vendor presentation are t-shirts from competing vendors.

My personal preference is what was presented as the one for my last web job. "Yes. You must dress." I currently don't want to wear the clothes I have to wear, but I don't have the job I want, either. I'd rather not have the interaction with the public that leads the need for the improved dress code. I would value that over a raise of less than significant levels. -- DaveJacoby

No amount of enforced formality in my clothing will make me respect a job or the people I work with more. I show respect for my coworkers by dressing and behaving in a manner which does not offend them or make them feel uncomfortable. I do not wear my "Top Ten Reasons Why Beer is Better Than Jesus" tshirt to work. I keep my audience in mind when I speak - some speech patterns are acceptable around certain individuals, some aren't. I would much prefer it if my employer respects me enough to let me dress comfortably.

It's the story of the Hungarian astronomer from Wiki:TheLittlePrince all over again. You have to ask yourself: if you get more respect wearing a suit, are they respecting your intelligence & your talent, or just a well-cut piece of cloth? I shocked my school orchestra by showing up in jeans to play in a concert -- but had the audience come to hear me play or watch me play? If an irrelevancy like my clothing prevented them from listening to me, then they needed their perceptions changing. -- UseMod:Tarquin

Are you sure that those are the same situations? On one hand, you are treated differently in daily life because you dress differently. On the other, you are in an formal situation where you are expected to dress well. Dressing well for a performance is part of the show. People like to see nice things. Plus, it shows that you had enough respect for the event to dress up, which indicates the audience should put enough respect into listening. Finally, as a social situation, dressing well has other purposes. Clothes are a CommunicationChannel after all.

If we're still talking about a concert performance, repect for the event is spending months of practice, preceded by years of learning the instrument. To say that more respect is required by sticking on a black suit and a dickie bow is insulting the performer and belittling the art.

I have always hated dress codes. Probably originated from the silly regal-ish attitude of the private elementary school i went to. But also because fancy clothes have always been uncomfortable for me. Also, I always sneeze when I'm in a room full of dressed up people, like at a church -- I don't know why; and, I used to be allergic to silk (but no more, I think). Perhaps suits are more comfy; I have never owned a suit. But, then, unless I apply for a job with a dress code, I really can't afford to. Anyhow, I associate nice clothes with discomfort and an attitude of strictness and deference to tradition that I don't like. -- BayleShanks


Can anything be done to rewrite this page as document mode? We have two fairly opposed points of view: some (eg Sunir) find a dress code empowers him; others consider it a SillyRule? and a case of FormOverContent.

Maybe, but not as NeutralPointOfView. Blowing away the personal anecdotes would be a disservice, like I realize now what I miss about the page BarnRaising: the life.


The possibly biological irrationality of certain codes aside (wearing a suit in Florida in Summer), dress codes seem to work "fine" as long as everybody follows them. When everyone wears a suit, nobody notices it; when everybody wears jeans, nobody notices it. The "ideal" solution would be for the entire world to decide on a set of "work clothes" and then there would be no question of people trying to get a leg-up by dressing up. If everything is in the same form, there is no FormOverContent problem; it's "normalized" out. But that's not going to happen. In the meantime, the best solution seems to be to adopt the dress of the community you are a participant in, and to try as much as possible to avoid using clothes to communicate opinions or facts. It's kind of hard to NameTheProblem? or whatever when it is in sartorial form.

In a situation where you have to change clothes depending on task, things get even more irrational, but it's important to ignore it in the same way one ignores, e.g., irrationalities in English syntax. Be a rebel on your own time (or join a "rebel" community with unusual dress codes.)

The DressCode problem seems far more solvable than something like the similar "tool" equivalent: what to do when everyone around you is using a particular tool that is clearly suboptimal?


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