The relaxing of some of the stiffer norms of business has been good for all of us. Many companies today aren’t all that concerned if you spend a little time during work hours surfing the web, reading the news, maybe on Amazon buying some new gadget that you want. Some places have really flexible work hours, where you can come in later or go home earlier, or work from home on a Friday. There are lots of benefits that have accrued from the casualization of the workplace.
There are also some risks in navigating these new waters. It used to be constricting and proper. Now it’s unfortunately too easy to slip and slide your way into embarrassment — and the worst of it is, you may not even realize you’ve messed up. In some workplaces, in an effort to be supportive and welcoming to the millennial worker, some managers are choosing to look the other way and not say anything. You could be bumbling along, making mistakes, and nobody is ever going to tell you.
What type of mistakes?
Well for starters, there is no business environment where flipflops and shorts are acceptable attire.
If your reaction is, “EssaySnark! That’s bogus! My company has a casual dress code! All the programmers wear shorts! You’re totally wrong on this one.”
Our reaction then is, “That’s not a business environment.”
A bunch of bros wearing their board shorts and hoodies are not conducting business. They may be AT WORK and they may be WORKING, but they are not doing business.
Do you want to be a professional?
You must DRESS LIKE ONE.
Here’s an excellent article from Stanford GSB on becoming the type of executive you want to be, by assuming an executive presence.
This is an attitude that must be nurtured (the professor who’s quoted gives a story about how, when she was early in her career, a mentor of hers found her crying, and cautioned her on how that would make others perceive her).
It comes out in how you carry yourself — do you stand up straight, and not slouch in your chair during meetings, no matter how boring?
It definitely comes out in how you present yourself through your dress. Do you put care and attention into your decisions in the morning before you leave the house? Are you sending signals of respect for your colleagues by paying attention to the basics of grooming (and hygiene)?
We’re not suggesting you need to go back to the ultra conservative norms of a three-piece suit for the guys or a skirt and heels for the ladies, or no open-toed shoes allowed, or you have to cover your tattoos. However, if the clothes you have chosen to wear to work today would be equally appropriate for a stroll on the boardwalk, then it’s not likely that they are truly professional.
Your attire matters. A **lot**.
There’s this advice that’s sometimes given to first-time home buyers: Neighborhood matters. It’s better to have the least desirable house on the block of the most desirable neighborhood, than to have the nicest house in a neighborhood that’s seen better days. We’re going to go for the opposite advice when it comes to dressing for work:
A bare-minimum level to aim for is to be the best dressed of your peers.
(In some companies, that standard is very low! If all your peers are wearing hoodies, then you need to go at least one notch higher.)
A better objective is to be dressed on par with your manager and those at his or her level of the organization.
If all of your peers are wearing jeans, then you should be in khakis on most days.
If your peers are wearing khakis, then you can go for dress pants.
In some smaller companies or startups, the CEO is the worst dressed of all. You should NOT emulate that person’s fashion. The leader of the company should be setting an example but if he or she is not attentive to such things, that does not mean you should make the same mistake. Don’t follow in the footsteps of the Slob in Chief.
All of this is especially critical when it’s time for your MBA interview. We know none of you would show up to an interview wearing shorts and a t-shirt.
However, your day-to-day appearance matters too. Even if nobody has said anything to you about it, it’s really not appropriate to be wearing flipflops or Tevas to the office. You will carry yourself better — and earn the respect of those you encounter — if you opt for more traditionally business-appropriate outfits. Even if your workplace is lax.