We all know that not wearing clothes considered appropriate for the dress code can be a bad thing. Your typical business-casual dress code probably frowns upon wearing jeans, tank tops, black bra with a white shirt, etc...

What is the general attitude towards someone who dresses above the standards laid forth by the dress code on a ritual basis?

I worked at a place years ago that was great, typical cost-center IT but we had a good budget, appropriate sized and skilled staff, appreciation and respect. We had a business casual dress code but were allowed to wear jeans on Friday if we didn't have to go to a hospital that day.

Changing of the guard occurred and suddenly a new CIO came in. He brought in a number of colleagues into the organization from a previous failed company he had run, but there was no secret in anybodies mind that these guys were to be treated differently, despite the fact that many of them had equal or lesser titles than myself.

Visually they were different too, IT personnel, analysts, developers, all of the new guys wore a suit and tie, and I am not talking an off the shelf Macy's suit, but perfectly sized tailored suits, some of them prominent labels. I can't see how this violated the dress code, but it certainly made myself and others nervous and gave us an ominous feeling of exclusion and lack of importance.

A group of people asked their new director if the dress code had changed or if they prefer we all wear business formal to work, to which they were told no and no we will not change the dress code.

Is this a common thing to see in the workplace and should it have even been something that I worried over?

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    @Ramhound The concern is that if you do this regularly that it may convey to others that this person is more important and more is expected of that person regardless of their role and the work they perform. Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 16:16
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    I think your question title is the inverse of your question body. The title asks "is it bad to overdress" and the contents is "other people overdress and it makes me nervous".
    – Konerak
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 16:38
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    @Konerak I tend to agree. "Is people overdressing a warning sign for future problems"? Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 17:13
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    One person I worked with used to tell the story that if you're in jeans, you're there to work. If you're in a suit, you're there to ask for money. He could operate both ways. Unfortunately, most people who only wear suits wouldn't understand the sarcasm. When he told this to customers, they always got the joke. (And they know we sometimes have to play the role of asking for money.)
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 22:48
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    "There is a term for somebody who does what they want without regard for how it affects others, sociopaths." -- Not always. There are plenty of things I do without regard for how it affects others, because they don't affect others, and/or they're nobody else's business. (I'm not necessarily saying that dressing formally falls into that category.) Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 21:16

5 Answers 5


Funnily enough, I've recently been in a very similar situation to the one you describe and yes, it worried me enough that I took the first exit route available to me. The last I heard from inside that company, I'm positive I made the right decision.

While there was no formal change in the dress-code and people were free to keep wearing whatever they like, there was a rapidly-growing delineation between the new guard and the old and it was very clear that the new guard was "preferred".

But I'm not sure it was entirely about the clothes, although that was a very visible distinction.

I had previously seen people smarten up at that company, in an attempt to ingratiate themselves, and that didn't create the same nervous reaction in everyone else. And I'm pretty sure that, after the changing of the guard, it would be impossible for an individual to become one of the new, preferred crew just by changing their clothes.

The new people could just as easily have come in with arcane tattoos on their foreheads and I think most of us would have reacted the same way.

It's not about the dress versus the dress-code, it's about the visible demarcation of a new and unexpected political segregation.

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    Are you me? This sounds exactly like what happened to me, except that for some reason the new CIO took a shine to me and wanted to include me (or exploit me, still not sure to this day). The bottom line is that my intuition was screaming warnings at me that I could not rationalize. Every fiber of my being told me that this man was pure EVIL and that I should run away as quickly as possible. Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 12:45
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    Arcane tattoos the term is Siren and I'll thank you not to discriminate!
    – Zelda
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 13:32
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    @maple_shaft: Was it the faint smell of sulfur or the eerie red glow coming from under his closed door that made you think this? Or something else? ;) Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 15:44
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    @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner: Mine had orcs guarding the gate (and we didn't even have a gate before!) and a giant eye watching over the office. I thought it slightly suspicious.
    – pdr
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 15:49
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    I was going to say more like Al Pacino from The Devil's Advocate Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 16:05

They say you should dress for the job you want and not the job you have. Your collegues may frown upon over-dressing and make it more difficult for you to get along, but the people doing the promoting/hiring may like it. I hate to see a company have two "sides", but if they do, you probably have to pick one.


In general, how you dress does reflect how you are treated. It can be bad, it can be good. Going higher than the minimimum can cut both ways, in my experience.

Here's a few cases:

To Be a Boss, Dress like the Boss

It even comes up on career sites. At a certain level, dressing to impresss does work. If you want to be a boss, look like a boss. Chances are, management hasn't sat down with HR to figure out a "Middle Manager Dress Code", but look around and see if even in a "business casual" office, the managers don't dress up a bit. It's probably not just that they needed a place to spend that extra dough - it's a type of branding.

Several times I've seen collegues get somewhere with this strategy. They had done the other hard work - training, experience, attention to people skills, etc. - the dressing up was just icing. But it made the boss go "hey, that guy looks spiffy today... hm... and he's been really on his game, I wonder if he'd be a good fit for the new X opportunity".

Are you interviewing?

Thank you to FrustratedWithFormsDesigner for the reminder! In a casual environment where the business situation is in rough shape, random dressing up is usually taken to mean that the employee is going on interviews. Most people (at least in the US) like to keep this information somewhat private, so my trick has always been to have a jacket and anything else that ups my game at the interview stashed in my bag or my car and I glam up before getting to the interview.

Ah! You're Dressed up, You Must be in Marketing!!

Seriously, this happened to me, but I bet it's happened to many engineers. Early in my career (ie, I was a very junior, independant contributor), I dressed up quite nicely because I am a girly girl and I had previously worked in a demo lab where uptight business casual was the norm (khakis, polo shirts, jackets on hand at all times), but in the new lab, it was low-end business casual (jeans w/out holes or fading, nice T-shirts, no jackets). Every day for months I came in dressed the old way, complete with up-do hair and makeup and no one spoke to me.

They all figured I was from the marketing group in the next cube block (who I sat near) and not the new engineering associate.

I had a bad dressing day (late night) - no makeup, no hair, no jacket - and suddently everyone was asking "hi! Are you new? Need a hand with the custom XYZ system?"

I learned my lesson. The jackets hung in my closet for another 5 years.

Group Codes

Working in the defense industry, I've seen a certain type of "group branding" that is not a status thing as much as a "I'm of this sub-culture thing". I've seen in many offices that groups of similar background or skill set seem to dress alike - there's a certain look to:

  • Those who were in the military
  • Those who lean towards long-haired hippie
  • New age feminists and old-school feminists

And many others.

When I read the question, I tend to think that this is what you describe. Your new group that seems to have odd status use an intuitive dress code that says the "we're from the old company". It works for them, because they fit what the boss is used to, and it lets them self-identify.

You have the option of changing your own dress, to see if you can join the pack. Or you can try to just get to know them and see if you even want "in". Can't say that it'll make a difference. In one old company, there was a certain "cred" from having followed a certain career path, as a group had known each other for a long time, and had a lot of trust and respect for others who had shared their history. We didn't dress differently (that I noticed) so the faith came from knowing the other person or their history... it wouldn't have been an easy pack to join, but then being good at your job would earn you the same respect either way.

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    In the office I work in "Ah! You're Dressed up" is more likely to hint "Ah! you've got a job interview at lunch/after work!". Anything much above the office casual look (or lower than jeans + t-shirt) raises eyebrows and questions. The only exceptions are the few people who have been dressing more formally since the day they started here. Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 17:05

As I heard somewhere once, "If you aren't sure of the dress code, overdress. It'll make everyone else feel underdressed". You will rarely, if ever, end up in situtations where you're in a suit and everyone else is in a t-shirt and cargo shorts. Ok, maybe in some IT situations, you might.

As your mother may have told you, it's never bad to be perceived as well-dressed. In the case of the dudes with the tailored suits, they may not be able to afford new clothes after spending so much on said suits, so they are wearing what they have, and what they are used to. As someone who left one "business casual" environment and now works in a place where suits are required, it doesn't take much to get used to wearing the dressier clothing, once you have some. Sometimes people even behave more civilly when they are dressed up.

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    "If I am occasionally a little overdressed, I make up for it by always being immensely overeducated."
    – TRiG
    Commented Mar 5, 2013 at 20:51
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    "As your mother may have told you, it's never bad to be perceived as well-dressed" - This is not true. If you work in a software firm and come in dressed like a suit, other engineers may well treat you like a suit (which means "with suspicion"). In general, there is a penalty for dressing too far from the group norms. Note: coming in with a bow-tie and three-piece suite would get you treated as "eccentric" - which is fine. Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 10:19

Can it be harmful to dress more formally than what the dress code allows?

No, if you are ussually dressed formally and it comes to your routine.If you are dressed formally in a daily routine and a day comes when you get little more formally dressed than the usual ones, it is not not gonna affect your personality, because your colleagues had a mind setup to see you in a formal manner. Instead of harming your personality, i thing it would benefit you if the management have an eye on you.

Can it be harmful to dress more formally than what the dress code allows?

Yes, if you are not meant to be a person who is not meant to be dressed formally in a daily routine. I you use to dress cassually or not so formally in your daily routine, the getting dressed over formally might harm your personality.

So, its all upon you, how you are dressed in your daily routine. But being formally dressed is not a big issue. But the thing that speeks out is your potential and your working ability. You have to be as formal at work as you are concerned with your dress.

  • How can dressing well harm your personality? I have noticed a great deal of people in my field, have literally a problem, with dressing in a suit and tie and the ( business suit for the women ). There is nothing wrong with wearing a suit and tie to work people.
    – Donald
    Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 11:51
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    I havnt said that dressing well harm your personality . Instead i am saying that dressing more formally than what the dress code allows . There is a difference in both the points. Dressing matters according the environment. If someone is dressed more than just formal in an office, where most of the employees are dressed casually, it might looks like a show off or the over possesiveness of the employee. Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 11:56
  • You said the following "the getting dressed over formally might harm your personality." how else should I take that statement? I am sorry if you feel dressing in a suit and tie when everyone else is in jeans and a t-shirt makes somebody possesiveness but some people just like looking nice. I like wearing a suit and tie, makes me feel good about myself and I am able to display my sense of style to the rest of the world, has nothing to do with trying to control the situation or dominate other people.
    – Donald
    Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 12:03
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    It might be okay in your case, but i was just mentioning my scenario, this is what that usually happens to our workplace. Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 12:12
  • "There is nothing wrong with wearing a suit and tie to work people", yes there is, read the other answers. If everyone else is dressed casually and you dress up people will either think you have an interview, are uptight or trying to "show off". Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 22:38

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