First job in an office, not even a real job yet but it's paid and I have a very good chance at becoming full time in a few months - super small web based company right now with only 3 of us in house and another dozen or so being contract remote.

Dress code is "casual". Boss is normally in a tshirt and jeans, other boss is normally in a professionally nice dress - about what you'd expect to see someone working in a bank to wear, nice but not crazy nice.

I generally wear a blazer (partly because I like it and partly because it's 6am when I leave home and 8pm when I get home - it's chilly out), dress shirt, and slacks of some kind.

I feel kind of weird even thinking about going to work in a tshirt, granted I'm in California and things are fairly casual here to start with even in most offices - but I have a 2 hour commute each way and in my experience looking the part of a office professional tends to help make things smoother especially when I'm going through a couple of not great areas.

I'm not showing up in a suit and tie but I know I am over dressing a bit. Do I need to bring it down or am I okay? If I do need to bring it down, how do I do so without going quite full tshirt and cargos?


  • "screwing up" what exactly? not caring about clothes goes both ways, not just down.
    – dandavis
    Feb 6, 2018 at 4:47
  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Feb 7, 2018 at 22:03
  • Maybe keep in mind that one day you will likely work in another company and your look now might influence people who want to hire you. I am one of those jeans and t-shirt guys and I get away with it because I am pretty good in my job. But I am pretty sure I would have received better job offers if I would walk around in the style you prefer. I think for the future it's probably good for you.
    – Edgar
    Feb 17, 2018 at 8:00

7 Answers 7


Any company with a dress code of business attire generally wants to signal professionalism, conscientiousness, high standards, even conformity. Some people will fit in with this corporate culture and some people won't. But there are two kinds of companies that have a casual dress code.

The first kind wants to signal that what you wear is literally unimportant. That is, say, much less important than how well you do your job. In theory, you will be judged by your work and not by your outward appearance.

The second kind of company wants to signal that they are the opposite of the stuffy companies that require business attire. Ostensibly they value free thinking but they are also seeking to root out stuffiness and conservative thinking (in at least the apolitical meaning of that term). The corporate culture is countercultural; some people will fit in with this culture and some people won't.

Figure out which type of company this is and dress accordingly.

  • You only made half the rep as you'd have otherwise. Damn you, rep cap!
    – cst1992
    Feb 6, 2018 at 13:23
  • 23
    There is a third kind of company: what you wear depends on your work environment. Usually marketing and sales are wearing nice business attire. People working in labs who don't meet with VIPs are dressed casually. People who work in clean rooms may dress in shorts under their "uniforms". Some people dress to impress when making presentations. Feb 6, 2018 at 20:43
  • I started wearing a hat all day and literally no one cared or even joked about it. I also came into work two hours early to fix the foosball table so it wouldn't keep dropping on the floor. #startuplife
    – corsiKa
    Feb 7, 2018 at 15:42
  • 1
    The deciding question in my experience in "type 2" companies is your people skills - you have to be more proactive about making sure you don't come off as the type of mind that they stereotype as wearing suits, have a ready-to-go explanation for your clothing preferences that are unconventional enough so that people think you went so far out of the box you've looped back around to dressing as if you're in it. If that's sincerely true for you (as it is for me), you'll probably do fine if you can get past the first impression.
    – mtraceur
    Feb 7, 2018 at 18:06

Don't worry about it.

In a small company like this, there is a lot of room for dress variations. Nobody is ever going to grumble at you for looking a bit dressed-up. Worst case, take the blazer off in the office, and you're in shirt and slacks. No big deal.


I am an embedded software developer and always wear a suit (through choice). For "dress down Friday", I eschew a tie and tell everyone that I feel as if I am walking around naked. People accept that it's just "my thing".

My boss's "thing" is sci-fi T-shirts. The guy at the next desk collects tattoos and piercings.

You are going to be "different" in some way, no matter what you do, so "you do your thing, and I'll do mine", and neither of us will be "screwing up"

  • 3
    Also, add in a dose of good humor, and/or irony. People quickly look past first impressions, but then eventually judge by consistency. In other words, be prepared to take heat for dressing down --once you establish a pattern, people will notice if you break it.
    – MarkHu
    Feb 7, 2018 at 22:59
  • Exactly this, I was always the brogrammer, t-shirt and button down.
    – Joe Smentz
    Feb 9, 2018 at 2:35

You are probably just fine.

A lot of companies that apply this kind of dress code (or lack thereof) just want employees to feel comfortable, relaxed, and free. Some employees find wearing a t-shirt to work comfortable and enjoyable. Others do not. And that is perfectly fine, you are not a runway model, I would conclude you are a developer. The only thing you should worry about screwing up is your code.

But I think you are also trying to ask how can I tell if I am screwing up in the future?

If this company really wanted you to dress casually, someone would have approached you and said something about it, "Hey do you think you can tone it down a bit?" or they may just hint at it, "Wow, you dress better than [insert name of colleague here]". You don't need to take the hint seriously the first time, especially if it is said only in jest. But if you hear this everyday, you might want to consider finding a fun way to conform, if that is what you want to do.

I have worked in both relaxed dress environments (sandals are a-okay), and very corporate (I was told that my short sleeve button up was too casual -- my project manager saw it when I removed my suit for a few minutes, the suit was part of the dress code). Have no fear. If and when you screw up (dress-wise) at a company, you will know it. Accept it, correct it, and move forward.

Be brave ;)

  • I have a hard time believing there are companies that are bothered if you dress too nice. Dress codes are almost always a minimum, not a maximum.
    – Barmar
    Feb 8, 2018 at 23:05
  • @Barmar, I agree with you one hundred percent. The norm is that a company will enforce a stricter dress code, rather than a looser one. Personally though, I feel that if a company wants to push a certain image to the public, they have the right to do so. It does feel a little silly when you're told to be more casual though :)
    – typekev
    Feb 9, 2018 at 10:14
  • If we're talking about office workers, how they dress isn't usually even visible to the public. I could imagine Apple having a "casual dress" code for Apple Stores, though (but I think they make them wear Apple logo shirts).
    – Barmar
    Feb 9, 2018 at 17:23

I agree with the "you'll be fine" tenor of the other answers here. I want to add one additional suggestion:

If you feel that your dress is uncomfortably different from the others and want to change it, one option is go more formal. For example, wear a vest (UK: waistcoat) and bow-tie. For some groups, the point of tee-shirt and jeans is to identify how unconventional they are (compared to "normal business" - the fact that it is very, very, conventional for a small web startup is not the point); wearing ultra-formal clothes is also unconventional and as such, more acceptable than normal business attire.

The other point to make is: ask. If this is your first (or early) job, people will be fine about you asking if your clothing is OK.

  • Sorry, but I can't disagree more with this. Casual clothes are just that - and the fact that it's pretty standard in your average web startup is mostly the point, your clothes aren't meant to be a statement. Turning up in Black Tie or something is going to make you look ridiculous and you'll stand out for all the wrong reasons. You shouldn't be a walking gimmick.
    – Dan
    Feb 8, 2018 at 10:04

It not only depends on whether you "overdress" or not - it mainly depends on your attitude.

I have been overdressing in the past as well. My colleagues and bosses thought that I look great in a suit (which they typically told me when I turned up dressed casually).

However, I have heard stories about employees who overdressed to show their superiority. They wore the suit not to look nice, but to rub into your nose that they are far superior to the casual style employees.

Basically, dress like you see fit. Just be a good colleague.

Note that overdressing can give you leverage. This may not always be a good thing! For example, when your company received some important visitors, make sure that no one will accidentally mistake you for the boss and cause embarrassment all over the place.


In my experience, the normal "professional" attire in a small IT setting is khakis and a polo shirt. It's casual enough to be comfortable for most people, but professional enough that any clients met in person probably won't feel like they're dealing with some guy working out of a garage.

If boss is a t-shirt and jeans kind of guy, but you're a business attire kind of guy, the traditional IT polo shirt look would be a good way to meet in the middle.

If you're too cold in short sleeves and your boss just wants you to wear whatever is comfortable for you, so be it. You will stick out, though. Some people may get a "does he think he's better than me dressing like that?" vibe from you. Others may find you quirky and weird. Some may just think that you're a sharp dresser. Some won't care at all. It really depends on who you're working with. Whatever the answer happens to be, you probably want to try to fit in, especially as the "new guy".

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .