IT Dress Code: 10 Cardinal Sins - InformationWeek

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9/24/2014
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Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey
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IT Dress Code: 10 Cardinal Sins

You don't need to be a runway model to succeed in IT, but please stop making these office fashion faux pas. Remember, you work for an enterprise, not on the Enterprise.
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(Image: Simon Zirkunow)

Hey, you over there. Yes, you -- in the short-sleeve plaid button-down shirt and khakis. Straighten out that pocket protector and step into the conference room. We need to have a few words with you. We're the fashion police.

If only there was, in fact, a set of statutes -- and a corresponding law enforcement agency -- to save us all from ourselves when dressing for work in the morning. So many felonies of fashion and misdemeanors of mode could be prevented each and every year. Careers protected, reputations saved, unsavory gossip mills shut down for good. Alas, we're mostly left to our own devices when it comes to our appearance, and while we'd like to think we're adults who can reasonably dress ourselves, somehow bad decisions continue making their way into cubicles and conferences rooms with alarming regularity.

So if you put the casual in "business casual," have food stains on your sweatpants, or treat the office like your own personal gym locker room, by all means, keep reading. This is for you. Trust us.

We're not here to give you a makeover, mind you. Doing so would be allowing the inmates to run the asylum, to be honest. There are far better sources for fashion advice. And there's nothing wrong, per se, with sticking to the conventional and subdued when it comes to workplace attire. In fact, some of the questionable choices we're going to harp on here are probably the result of trying too hard to be too fashionable, cool, trendy, or whatever other word you want to substitute.

Rather, we're after the "oh, no" clothing and appearance decisions, the kind that tend to generate raised eyebrows and the "Did you see what [X] was wearing?" conversations behind your back. These are the fashion choices that might have a perfect context elsewhere in your life -- but work isn't that context.

Just as we might sometimes try a little too hard for our own fashion good, there are those among us who grossly misinterpret the meaning of the word "casual." It's a lasting artifact of the first dot-com boom, the offices where soccer sandals and flip-flops are de riguer. Maybe we don't need to dud up in suits every day, but a decent pair of shoes might still behoove everyone.

Then there are variables of common sense -- and common decency -- to consider. No, we don't want to talk about the sprawling ERP upgrade with you while you're sporting super-snug bike shorts and an equally form-fitting tour jersey. That's just awkward, your upcoming triathlon notwithstanding.

Look, you can keep the pocket protector and the short-sleeved button-down shirts. They've earned their rightful place in the chronicles of IT. But let's all commit to avoiding the graver fashion choices.

Read on for our list of fashion sins. Dare to defend these? By all means, chime in. Better still, tell us the weirdest, wackiest, or flat-out worst thing you've ever seen someone wear into the office. We'd love to hear about your coworkers' fashion disasters. We're sure there are some doozies -- share your nominations for the Fashion Hall of Shame in the comments.

Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses. View Full Bio

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Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
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10/2/2014 | 3:34:17 PM
Re: Hats: The odd one out
jgherbert, 

I lost my post to an error of the system. I will not write all again. Sorry for that. Just two things: 

"With that said, I had a meeting with my COO last week, and after reading your post I did give my shoes a quick shine. See how shallow _I_ am? ;-)"

How nice. :D I am glad you did. He was probably impressed. ;) 

I had written a little crude observation about appearances and how appearances even matter in what people say, but not really think. Too bad I lost the post. :( 

I'll come back later to tell you about an experience I had about how appearance matter, later when I am less upset for having lost the post. 

-Susan

 

 
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
9/30/2014 | 11:23:26 PM
Re: But what about...
I know a few people who can truly rock a bow-tie. I'm not one of those people, but I'd allow for bow-tie exceptions, even if inspired by Dr. Who.
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
9/30/2014 | 11:05:34 PM
Re: IT and academia have many of the same clothing issues

kstaron- Just curious did the unusual footwear choices make you question the individuals professional choices?

impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
9/29/2014 | 1:21:56 PM
Style without distraction

An overriding point many people are making is that our work attire should not distract from our competency, I think that's most important. If someone's clothing detracts from their capabilities it's a problem. While everyone wants to express their sense of style being careful in the office is probably your best option.

impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
9/26/2014 | 12:26:43 PM
Personal style and business style
 

I think part of the challenge  is that work attire is no longer standard. It was easier when people knew exactly what was expected from them in the office from a clothing perspective. Business casual has multiple meaning depending on the company and not everyone is good at pulling their clothing together. Whether we want to admit it or not people judge others by their overall appearance, research supports this over and over again. While some may think it's unnecessary I still think it's important to dress in a professional manner in business meetings and wear clothing that says I am doing business not going to the gym or the beach. From there everyone can express their own personal style.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
9/26/2014 | 3:54:50 AM
Re: Hats: The odd one out
vnewman, 

What I said and explained more about it in the comment below this one was not about an assumption. There was psychology and years of observation behind. And of course, anything is absolute. 

"What ends up happening is often people don't have enough hours in the day to sleep, eat, workout, groom themselves properly, plus get all their work done."

How long do you think it takes you groom yourself properly? What does this mean, by the way? Does it mean taking a shower, putting a dress on, a pair of stocking and shoes and go to the office? It takes you less than putting on pants, a t-shirt, socks, and sneakers to go to the gym, also taking a shower, of course. 

Thinking that wearing a well-pressed outfit takes too much time is an assumption people make. 

So, do you think it's Okay to go to work wearing the outfits Kevin posted because it's too much work to wear something else?  

-Susan 
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
9/26/2014 | 3:15:28 AM
Re: Hats: The odd one out
jgherbert, 

I don't think the little I wrote actually gives the real idea of what she meant and what she looked at when looking at your shoes. It was not appearance what she was looking at. It was deeper. She didn't judge people by their shoes but something else behind. 

She was not looking for designer shoes, or exquisite shoes. They could be old shoes. It was how you had cared for them, how clean they were, if you had actually bothered to pay attention to your shoes, which is something that is not immediately visible unless someone looks down. 

If you think about it, it really tells a lot about how the person deals with his work.

If you put that into work perspective, how many people overlook details in their job just because they know no one is going to be looking at that little thing but at what is most visible. 

In fact, I learned a lot about the way she observed little details. She was always right in her judgement. She was a very kind person who showed you you always can do better, you always can improve yourself. She knew something was wrong with you before you could say something. She showed interest and asked you if there was something happening, something that worried you. 

"Doubly so for many men for whom, and by golly I hate to be clichéd here, shoes are just lumps of leather and rubber that they stick their feet into to make walking more comfortable. " <- As I said, if those lumps of leather and rubber were clean and showed you had taken care of them, pay some attention to them, and your skills and personality matched the job, that was fine. 

As for the desk, I have noticed that when my desk is a mess with piles of papers, things I can't find underneath those papers, and everything surrounding my laptop I find it hard to focus. I work better when I have an empty desk with just a few things there and in order, which is not always the case. But I am just telling you that the difference can influence the effectiveness of how I use time, for example. I'll stop here, or this will be a book instead of a comment. :) I hope I clarified the shoes thing a bit. 

-Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
9/25/2014 | 8:10:25 AM
Re: Kilts
Gene, 

I don't think you have a point there. If you are in Scotland, or even if you a Scot living and working abroad there is absolutely anything bad in wearing your Kilt. It's perfectly acceptable.

The fact that it doesn't belong to your culture doesn't mean it's wrong. 

-Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
9/25/2014 | 8:01:57 AM
Hats: The odd one out
Kevin, 

I find it quite hard to believe that anyone in his/her right mind can actually go to the office wearing any of the things mentioned. I don't even consider jeans and T-shirts appropriate for the office. All of them are just "things" that I don't consider part of a decent work-related wardrobe.

I would never hire anyone who dares to go to the office wearing pijamas, no matter how great software engineer they could be. Did they actually take a shower before going to work, or jumped straight from their bed to the car and to the office? But ...  

"Nothing looks more stupid than a hat." Ladies and gentlemen alike ... " <- Stupid?

Hats? I centainly believe you are wrong in that bit. There is absolutely anything wrong with wearing hats when you are matching them with the appropriate clothing. They are classic, elegant, which is something that seems to be missing from the rest of the "things" in the slideshow. Maybe the view of a hat is different in Europe than in the US. 

I know the CEO of a successful startup who always wears a hat. The hat has become part of his personality, almost a signature item that you associate with him and his company. He is always impecable and sends an image of classic elegance to the startup world, which sometimes seems to be in need of such example.

And he is not the only one wearing hats. Others in this part of the world wear hats, too. Even I was wearing a navy blue hat yesterday to complement a navy blue dress and shoes.

What you wear and how you wear it makes a startement about your personality. What you wear mirrors such things as laziness, poor hygene, it tells if the person is careless, or goes into detail; etc.

Once, during an interview, the person interviewing me didn't miss opportunity to look at my shoes. Some years after that, I asked her about this. She said that a few things tell so much about the person as the shoes they are wearing. She paid special attention to the detail and would never tolerate anyone badly dressed at work. 

In terms of what some people wear in their home-office, well, it's an office and the place where you work after all. You shouldn't be wearing your pijamas in your home-office either during your working hours. 

-Susan
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
9/24/2014 | 3:05:35 PM
Telecommuter attire
Those of us who work at home face hazards that go beyond Casual Friday. I once sat down to a morning web conference (well, it might have been 11 am ... noon) still in my bathrobe and was surprised to see the video camera turn on. I turned it off quickly, but still ...
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