During the course of my 15-plus year career, I’ve worked in the following environments:
* Conservative accounting and consulting firm
* Conservative health care system.
* Small, boutique PR firm
* Mid-sized media company
* Small not-for-profit
* Small, private, family-owned business
Each environment required its own distinct dress code. At the PR firm, I frequently wore jeans with holes on non-client-facing days. At the accounting firm, a dress shirt and tie was standard fare. At the health care system, khakis and a sweater were par for the course.
But each employer had their own distinct dress code. And, I figured that out pretty quickly.
As a solo consultant, my dress code depends on the day. On days when I’m meeting with clients, it’s usually a jacket and jeans or dress pants (or a suit on some occasions). On those days when I don’t meet with clients, it can be as casual as shorts and my Homer Simpson slippers (oh, you think I’m kidding?).
But recently, I’ve found myself thinking more about the dress code. I’ve found myself wanting to dress more casually for client meetings–even the ones where I know it’s probably not the best idea. I find myself asking that one basic question:
Does what you were really matter?
On one side, I get it. If you’re meeting with the CEO of a conservative health care company you can’t show up in a jacket, jeans and some PUMAs. The CEO will never get past the PUMAs. She’ll never take you seriously.
On the other hand, shouldn’t that CEO be considering my ideas–not my get up?
On one side, social norms say we need to dress and act a certain way when we’re in a meeting with senior-level administrators of a publicly-held firm.
On the other hand, social norms also reward innovation and excellence–and neither is dependent on whether I wear PUMAs (I’m sticking with the reference) or Cole Haans.
On one side, suits make us appear authoritative. Respected. And successful.
On the other hand, it’s really what’s underneath the suit that matters, isn’t it?
So, that’s where my heads been at lately. What about you? What do you think?
Does what you were to work really matter?
Note: Photo courtesy of Paul Goyette via FlickR Creative Commons.