Twenty years ago, IT professionals "had to wear a clean white shirt" and, when it was necessary, a sports jacket was pulled on, according to Ray Costello, CIO at the Gingiss Group.
But a few years ago IT professionals decided it was time to relax the workplace dress code, and Dockers and short sleeve knit shirts with animal logos became the normal daily work attire for techs everywhere.
"IT professionals are the leaders who broke that whole corporate dress code, and they did it by daring the administrators to fire them as they wore Bermuda shorts and loud Hawaiian shirts," claims Costello. "The [tech] community wasn't crazy; it was empowered by the need for their talents and they stretched the limits of the dress code and saved us all."
But while casual dress may be more comfortable and practical for many IT managers, there are some who still believe that a more formal approach is best and that a suit and tie is necessary for business tasks—such as meeting customers, visiting clients, and working side-by-side with corporate leaders. The consensus from TechRepublic members surveyed about today's dress code is that IT managers need to dress appropriately for the day's event.
Today's tech uniform
While the dress code is "business casual" Monday through Thursday in Peter Gant's IS department, the manager likes to wear suits regularly.
"If I'm not in a suit, I still wear a shirt and tie. You never know when you'll get asked to attend a meeting with the executives, and I prefer to look as professional as possible," said Gant, who works for the British Columbia Security Commission. While he's OK with Fridays being "jeans day," he believes the casual attire can go too far.
"Some managers seem to think Hawaiian shirts are acceptable. I'm not quite sold on that. [The Friday jean day] is a good connection to staff, and it's a break. I do my best not to schedule interviews or external meetings on Fridays," Gant said.
Tom Trunda, regional IT director for 3Com Corp., doesn't believe a suit is ever necessary.
"Most days the dress is jeans and a golf shirt or a long sleeve, collared sport shirt," said Trunda, who manages a staff that supports a 130-user site. On Fridays, shorts with a golf shirt is acceptable. When it comes to meetings, he said, casual slacks are the order of the day.
"During the summer, my desktop staff is allowed to wear shorts and T-shirts. Most of the staff are holdovers from the old U.S. Robotics days where casual dress was accepted. I see no reason to change," said Trunda.
Dusty Miller, president of Network Design & Management, wears suits 50 percent of the time when attending meetings, and always a tie for appointments.
"The best tech garb is a pressed white shirt, tie, dress slacks, and black dress shoes," said Miller, who asks staff to wear "their Sunday best" the majority of the week during the fall/winter/spring season. In warmer months, the dress code is business casual, but never blue jeans. "We are a sales organization, and everybody should look sharp," explained Miller.
TechRepublic member RAlbritton's staff always wears a suit and tie when they meet with clients.
"We have a business casual dress code for the IT staff. That means nice slacks and a collar shirt. We always keep a full suit, tie, shirt, socks, etc. in the closet for impromptu client meetings," said RAlbritton, who added that his personal policy is to try and dress "a half-step up from my peers, whatever the code is." While he doesn't believe a suit and tie makes people more or less efficient or motivated, "it makes me feel better about myself when I wear them."
TechRepublic member Ralph Berger said that today's dress code should align with the workday's event.
"Our entire workplace (not just IT) has a "business casual" dress code Monday to Thursday, with Friday designated as jeans and sneakers day. That means sport shirts or golf shirts without a tie, slacks, and regular shoes or dress boots, not athletic footwear. For the women, the code means dresses or blouses and skirts or pants," explained Berger, who said he appreciates the business casual approach.
"Not only is it easier on the wallet, [business casual] is far more comfortable to work in than a suit and tie. In my mind, this is a significant employee benefit," he said, adding that his staff does dress more formally when required.
"The key is to dress in a manner that is responsive to the other party's expectations."
According to Terence Shelton, if meetings are few and far between in your organization, then it should be a casual approach all the way.
"I haven't worn a suit or tie to work in four years! I do have some nice sport jackets for important meetings, but that is as "dressed up" as anyone expects from us "geeks,'" said Shelton, the IS manager at NDM Consulting Engineers, Inc.