43

I started working 2 months ago and my company doesn't have a dress code. Most of my colleagues come to work dressed in a very casual way. Just jeans and t-shirts, in some cases t-shirts with funny messages or images.

I have tried to dress in more professional way. But eventually I stopped as it is now cooler and I just don't have elegant clothes for this time of year. Also my colleagues openly discussed dress code and how they dressed in more serious way at the start and then switched to casual as it is what most of the workers do any way. All that in front of me so I guess I must take it like a advice.

So, should I come to job wearing regular clothes like my colleagues or dress more formally (like higher ranking workers do)?

  • 10
    "Also my colleges openly discussed [...] All that in front of me" this sounds a bit like you are not yet part of the team in certain ways, maybe they wanted you to join that discussion? They seem to be willing to discuss that topic, so go for it and talk about it, who else can tell you more about what is going on around (clothes wise) as those who have been around for much longer? – PlasmaHH Nov 30 '15 at 10:42
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    I feel another, the real, question struggling to get out... for some reason you seem to feel uncomfortable with that suggestion and going after what you see around you, so that you felt to ask the question here. Is there anything you are afraid of? Like your boss saying "but that is not what we meant" when you appear without shoes? – PlasmaHH Nov 30 '15 at 10:50
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    I just was always told(family/friends) that I should dress more formally at work. ALWAYS. But at work I fond that people dress in a casual way. Also yes I totally feel like not part of the team in some ways. But it is not job related. – kifli Nov 30 '15 at 11:00
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    I usually don't wear shoes while at work, only on the way to it and home. Everyone in my family and friends would say that this is unacceptable where they work and in their field. But they do not work in my field and they do not work where I do. You might want to remember that (if it is indeed the case) they do not work where you do. Feeling like you blend in with the team, clothes wise, can be a big point of starting to feel being part of the team. – PlasmaHH Nov 30 '15 at 11:04
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    When in doubt, aim to be the second-best dressed person in the room. – Marcks Thomas Nov 30 '15 at 13:44
77

In the absence of a formal dress code, you look to what your colleagues are wearing to determine what the informal dress code is. In this case, you seems to be in a workplace with a mixed dress code: fully casual for the rank and file and presumably business casual or even formal business wear for (upper) management.

While I can throw out all sorts of trite phrases like "dress to impress" and "dress for the job you want, not the job you have", they do hold a kernel of truth and there are a few key guidelines to keep in mind:

  • dressing in the same style as your colleagues is always acceptable
  • overdressing is almost never an issue, but
  • you can come across as tone-deaf when you dress too formally, so no suits when your colleagues are wearing t-shirts
  • when in doubt, err on the formal side of the range: a polo instead of a T-shirt, slacks instead of jeans, "smart business casual" instead of business casual, a tie when suits are the norm
  • all this changes if you are in a customer-facing role: in that case, you should generally meet and preferably exceed the client's dress code. As an example IT consultants are often advised to go business casual even if everyone at the client office is in T-shirts and flip-flops.

Most of the time, even in very casual cultures, overdressing slightly is a good idea as it is linked to a certain degree of professionalism. However, you want to avoid standing out.

Overdressing might also not have a positive effect on the impression you make with management if they follow the same dress code as your colleagues. This is common in startups for instance which often have a very informal culture.

  • 15
    Overdressing slightly is safe, and generally a good idea IMO, but try not to overdress a lot. It is still preferable to underdressing, but you risk looking either like you are trying to be comical about it or like you are setting yourself up to look more important than the others around you, both of which are probably not impressions you generally wish to give. – David Spillett Nov 30 '15 at 10:53
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    @DavidSpillett That's why I added the "but" and another bullet on the danger of overdressing, along with a link to the question that deals with that topic: Can it be harmful to dress more formally than what the dress code allows? – Lilienthal Nov 30 '15 at 10:56
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    I'd very much agree with err on the formal side of the range - I tend to aim for the top end of whatever my colleagues are wearing, or a little more smart/formal but without over-doing it. "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have" was always a phrase I liked. – Jon Story Nov 30 '15 at 11:19
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    And if you do overdress compared to others, keep in mind that as long as you routinely work with the same people, it just takes a little time for them to get used to it. You might get comments the first couple times, but eventually it'll become routine and they'll see more as your style, not as you sticking out. – Cascabel Dec 1 '15 at 2:08
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    @Lilienthal : when it's coming from someone in their 60s who's a foot shorter than you, I guess it's funny. And I had specifically asked about dress codes when I interviewed. (and was told that although my team lead had worn a bathrobe in once, that might be a little too casual). Of course, I was trying to show off my funny tie collection that I had gotten because of a past job that kept changing their 'interpretation of the dress code'. (when it says 'shirt with a collar', they do not appreciate it if you take the sleeves off of dress shirts, even if you wear a tie with it) – Joe Dec 1 '15 at 16:56
11

I think it also depends on the type of business your organisation does, and the culture among the employees.

For example, lets say you work with a lot of nerdy software developers who love wearing jeans, Star Wars hoodies, and geeky slogan t-shirts. If you show up looking all corporate in your smart trousers, shirt and tie, among these colleagues you might give off too much of a 'businessman' vibe. Where I work, this means people will assume you have a business mind and are not a 'techie', that you're not down to earth and won't understand technical terminology.

On the other hand you might appear more senior and they might respect you more... again, depending on your company culture.

If you're a woman, wearing a smart outfit when everyone else dresses casual can either give people the impression that you're a receptionist, executive assistant, or possibly a senior leader, also depending on your age.

It's unfortunate but true that the way you dress can have a big impact on the way people perceive you.

  • "If rock up looking all corporate in your smart trousers, shirt and tie, ..." - What does this mean? Maybe I don't get it because I'm not a native speaker. Please clarify/simplify the sentence. – Jens Bannmann May 30 '18 at 22:11
  • I work with nerdy software developers and always wear suit & tie (with Doctor Marten shoes); as do many of the others (bit not the Doctor MAtern shoes). Otherwise, casual shorts are the norm and T-shirts the exception, except for "Dress down Friday", when T-shirt are more common - and I don't wear cufflinks ;-) – Mawg says reinstate Monica Nov 26 '18 at 8:07
7

If there are no dress code policies in place, you can wear what's comfortable for you. But do ensure that you do not offend anyone with clothes that carry graffiti/phrases that are discriminatory in nature.

Just imagine, if some clients come on a surprise visit or potential customers drop by your cubicle on their way to the conference room! You don't want to be wearing t-shirts with offensive memes or derogatory racial slurs.

Your outfit tells a lot about you, so it is better to stick to clothing that is deemed appropriate by your organization and the people who you work with.


Edit: Since the definition of business formals or business casuals seems to vary from person-person, place-place, company-company, i have updated my answer

  • "surprise visit" that would be extremely unlikely as my client are in other country and also like to plan every thing way ahead. Plus you can`t just walk in and say hi as he are working whit some important data. – kifli Nov 30 '15 at 9:32
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    @kifli -Good for you if that's the case. I answered in a more general context so that it is helpful for whoever finds it appropriate in their workplace – BiscuitBoy Nov 30 '15 at 9:52
  • +1, my office has a policy that 'within reason' you wear what you feel comfortable in. If you feel happier when dressed more formally than your colleagues don't feel the need to blend in. – Dustybin80 Nov 30 '15 at 9:55
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    Given that the OP has an explicitly casual (informal) dress code, a black-and-white suggestion that he stick to business casual isn't always great advice. – Lilienthal Nov 30 '15 at 10:13
  • I would go as far and say showing "offensive memes or derogatory racial slurs" (on shirts or in general) is never appropriate, not just in the workplace. Be a decent human being. – Reinstate Monica - dirkk Dec 1 '15 at 13:04
4

If you're confident that your company culture truly doesn't have a dress code, then I suggest the following:

Wear whatever you wear when you're not working.

I'm not really a T-shirt and old jeans guy. On the weekends I actually do wear a comfortable polo and no-wrinkle slacks, so I wear stuff like that to work. I think any awkwardness with your T-shirt/jeans colleagues comes if they detect you're deliberately "dressing up" for work; they otherwise won't mind if you have different tastes/styles.

3

Dress casual, comfortable, but smart and neutral.
So feel free to wear jeans, but no faded old jeans with holes in them.
Wear a t-shirt, but a black or blue one without big prints (and certainly no t-shirts with advertising for competing companies, yes, I've seen it).
Rather than those nice neon green sneakers you love, wear the dark blue loafers that are just as comfortable.

And depending on your job you may want to hang a semi-casual business jacket and tie on the wall just in case, and have a pair of more formal shoes in a bag under your desk.

3

If the place explicitly states "no dress code" then, in my opinion, you are working at a company that hasn't made clothing a priority and likely values things like employee productivity more than silly HR regulations and trusts that you, as a working adult, know how to dress yourself as you see fit.

Given how casual your place appears to be, I'd say: wear whatever you feel comfortable in without going to ridiculous levels (ie, PJ bottoms and a stained undershirt).

1

Aim to wear whatever makes you feel good, relaxed and confident. Dressing like a higher ranking worker can help you become one sooner.

There is a Czech saying which goes man is what he wears which I think sums it up nicely. You signal your attitude with what you wear, like it or not.

My so far very successful tactic (shared by some of my friends as well) for interviews as well as for the normal working day is to wear whatever makes me feel energized and confident. That, in turn, has had a very positive effect on my productivity and success. If you don't feel well in a tie dress, it's okay, wear a nice shirt and you can still look like Warren Buffett, Satya Nadella or whoever you happen to like.

Just like your coworkers, mine too wear very casually (jeans, hoodies and so on) whereas I wear more formally - crisply ironed and nicely fitting shirts, double cuffs, no jeans. Not only have I had no problems with that whatsoever, it actually has had many benefits - I've had very many opportunities to represent my company at many venues, have been given leadership roles very early and so on. None of this seem to come that quickly and easily to my coworkers, who do not want any of these and dress accordingly - which is totally okay. You just have to signal what you aim at, and you can do that subtly and easily with your dressing attitude.

Note: I don't have any scientifically proven data, it's jut what I've observed on me and a small number of my friends.

1

The whole point of dress code is to look like other workers.

It doesn't really change the situation on who and how set this code up. We are used to thinking about "dress code" as something declared by the boss and given in printed form to every new worker. But in situations where there is no code set by higher authority, the team itself works out something to fill the void (just as your coworkers described).

So your company indeed does have a dress code: jeans and t-shirts. And yes, you should follow it.

-1

Don't dress too casually, dress smartly, make an effort with your appearance, and never mind what others are doing. Good grooming is never bad for you, it makes you look professional and keen. Shirt and trousers can never be wrong is my personal choice. This is just a basic piece of advice.

  • Kilts are right out : ) – user37746 Nov 30 '15 at 14:40
  • I agree. wearing heavy metal shirt or "ironic" cereal shirts, usually make you come off looking like a high school kid. Or someone with bad judgement. Same category as a forehead tattoo. Might be cool, but very bad decision. – Dan Shaffer Nov 30 '15 at 18:01
  • Context is everything. Tech startup? You may actually look out of place if you're not wearing a hoodie and growing a beard. Sales assistant in a retail electronics shop? You may come across as not trustworthy to the customer wearing a $2000 suit. While it's true that 'good grooming' is never bad, that doesn't mean you can't be well groomed and still be wearing a hoodie. – DA. Nov 30 '15 at 22:02

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