IT Employment optimize

Dress code: When is casual too casual?

Sometimes the casual clothing preference of IT pros can go too far.

A few years ago, TechRepublic blogger Justin James wrote a piece called "10 Things I Love about IT." One of the reasons, he pointed out, was that IT had a looser dress code than most other occupations. Depending, of course, on the company you work for, that's still the case.

In fact, that is an allure to many people who decide to go into IT: They can work in T-shirts and jeans. And start-ups and companies that are engineering-heavy can get even more casual it seems. A friend told me that it's not uncommon at her company to see some of the IT folks walking around in their bare feet. She said it's more prevalent with the younger workers and wondered if it's a trend that here's to stay?

A fact that raises the question: How casual is too casual? I think that if you want to move ahead in a company, you do have to look the part, or at least give the impression that, if you become a manager, you won't embarrass the CIO at a company meeting by wearing pajama pants and crocs.

But what about the coder who doesn't want to get ahead? Who is perfectly happy being comfortably ensconced in his or her cubicle wearing bunny slippers? Does this kind of casual ever cross the line into other employees' comfort zones, and, if so, does it matter?

I'd like to hear your opinions on the topic in the discussion area below.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

325 comments
brendanspaar
brendanspaar

I am an IT Professional and have seen all shapes and sizes of dress in my many jobs. There are a few people who will only wear jeans and polo. One guy I work with wore his black jeans when the executives toured our building. Then there was a guy who would ALWAYS wear a suit. This guy ran network cables, racked servers, and worked with old dusty equipment dressed to the 9s. I always wear khakis and a polo with the occassional jeans day thrown in there. While I have seen my coworkers come in to work wearing shorts, I think you should dress like you are a manager if you indeed are one. You never know when the VP is in town and drops by unexpectedly. That actually happened to me once and I was dressed nicer than my boss. - Brendan Spaar, IT Professional from Alpharetta, GA

umar_rana
umar_rana

in my opinion and experience (currently a manager in large Telecom), it all depends on organizational culture and function you are looking after, yes IT/Engg tend to be more casually dressed because in there case company is not looking for presentation skills as main skill. But to climb the corporate ladder one has to align somewhat to culture. IBM and Apple can be seen as two opposite cultures in same industry.

DT2
DT2

I believe the key thing is to be comfortable. I don't see any issue at all with blue jeans and plain t-shirt as long as the jeans are clean and without holes. I never could understand concerns about what type of fabric one's pants are made of. Or, is it just the color blue? Would brown jeans be OK? Doesn't make any sense. Would probably allow printed t-shirts on casual fridays as long as the printing is in acceptable taste - some can be pretty unacceptable.

chdchan
chdchan

Even the best clothes are artificial and foreign to our bodies.

Philogos
Philogos

Some years ago we had loosened the dress code in our main IT centre to allow jeans and, when a new director took over, he signalled an intention to up the level of professionalism by going back to a suit and tie rule. A couple of weeks before this was to be announced, we had a visit from the chairman of the company and everyone was told that suit and tie was the dress code for the day. The chairman had a good day and he said he was impressed bu the work being done but in the wrap up afterwards he mentioned one disappointment. "Very old fashioned!" he said. "On my visits to Silicon Valley everyone was dressed casually. Why don't I see any pony tails here?" Needless to say, we're still allowed to wear jeans."

tadeg07
tadeg07

I Sincerely believe in phrase "the way you dress is the way you will be addressed". Regardless of where you work, IT dept or Human resources, decorum should at least be observed, whether in a jean and t-shirt or 3 piece suit. Who knows if coming across a manager could get you a recommendation you didn't even expect.

garroj
garroj

I would definitely agree that walking around bare foot in the office is too casual. I would also have to add that when any man comes to the office with no socks on (i.e. wearing sandals) that's crossing the line of too casual. Save it for the beach dude!

opcom
opcom

People dress as they wish. Big bosses wear coat and ties, most others wear slacks and polo or button shirts, engineers wear what they want from t-shirt jeans and sneakers to business casual, but in the engineering lab of course there is no room for sandals etc, minimum is sneakers. There is one coder who wears sandals. one male out of 280 people. Wears socks with them and slacks and a button up shirt, go figure, but he is doing his freedom, so no problem. The females wear all kinds of crazy sandals and shoes!! (but not in the labs, it would be foolish). And it is not for men to judge what women wear, it is their own business. One lady got her stilletto heel caught in the gap in the fright elevator and landed on the floor. Did not stop her wearing them or using that elevator. So we get along with no policy. I wear a 4X-long shirt, if they want me to go to polo or button shirts every day they better increase my pay because those are 3x expensive than a T shirt and do not last longer, and will immediately be ruined in the lab from any snag or stain. Best for me to keep a stack of new black T shirts and wear them only till they don't look new, then get new one. The only time I ever wear dockers and a button up pinpoint shirt is to go to a customer's lab. I do lose a few dress shirts that way due to travel hazards, soldering, mechanical. I am paid to solve engineering problems in my lab or the customers' labs and doing that is where my reputation comes from. Not paid to look like the king of Spain.

downeast
downeast

My company used to have casual dress on Fridays only. Recently they issued a policy change stating that everyday would be casual. Of course they listed some specific guidelines, such as no men's shorts, no women's tank tops, men's shirts had to have a collar, no men's sandals, etc. The next morning, even though already at work, I emailed my boss and copied our team: "Sorry, running a little late today- didn't realize how difficult it would be finding women's sandals that fit comfortably."

blackrod
blackrod

I have been working for over 30 years and watched the degradation of professional dress. I am totally opposed to it. I think there needs to be a separation between work and play. I think you feel more professional if you dress more professionally and will do a better job. Take some pride in your appearance! Especially if you're a contractor. Show them they are spending their money wisely....

n2add
n2add

Letting employees walk around in bare feet is asking for trouble.

andrew232006
andrew232006

I wear $20 jeans(I don't know where some of you are buying your jeans), and a $15-$30 polo shirt(or t shirt if it unusually warm), comfortable sneakers and I keep my beard trimmed. I don't think anyone has any right to complain as long as my clothes are clean and without holes/tears. I go to work to do work, not look like I'm doing work. If I was in a manager's position or looking to be I might dress more professional.

graytmind
graytmind

Some employees look like the came to work in their PJ's with a tie Not good enough even when you work at home you need to have standards to give you the work mood and the work ethic. And the groupies should shave and get a haircut ,, Yes and that also goes for the Guys !.

mccullough
mccullough

I used to worked at a place that was very casual on Friday, you could wear flip flop, shorts, etc. One person ruined it for everyone when she decided to come to work in a white see through top with no bra. I think the person who ruins it should be told they cannot do casual Friday and leave the rest of us who can respect the rules keep it. I work in the IT field and the only time we are aloud to wear jeans is if we are going to a warehouse to work and on Friday's.

Caladan607
Caladan607

Or it shows where some people spend all their disposable income instead of minor things like retirement account. Me? I'd rather pad that retirement account and live well while they work longer, harder and are still working at 65 to pay for all those nice threads they love so much. Give me my golf/polo shirt, chinos and comfy slip ons anytime.

nisha_aggarwal
nisha_aggarwal

My personal experience in near to 1.5 decade of IT industry had been that the dress code has to go with the atmosphere and feel of the environment. In office it can be semi formal where others are not distracted or are uncomfortable due to smelly cothing or show-off. Dress code should be that suits your comfort and merges with the atmosphere you are. How you dress at work, home, market, small gathering, marriage party & business party does differ. and dressing diffrently in each give you the flavour of life too and diffrent persona it creates around you and in your thoughts. If you are in a very formal atmosphere with lots of business talk and you dress in a cargo it will be odd person out and also your thought allignment might be impacted. Same is you won't wear you marriage dress to market for shopping. To cut short, Dress code is what will help you allign with the atmosphere and merge into it physically and mentally is what one should follow. And coorporates relaxing dress code is just to bring that tenssion down.

nickc
nickc

Apparently my comment was offensive?

nickc
nickc

If you're too lazy to dress like a professional then stay home and play dungeons and dragons. This is business kiddies. Get with the program, or vote again for O'bama.

fashioncopj
fashioncopj

There is a such thing as too casual, especially when you are in a corporate environment (ie bank or financial) and if you are in front of people, how you dress speaks volumes. Sure there are people who prefer :'extra casual', but before we criticize them, we must consider their environment and culture. IT Pros must always be comfortable and wear clothes that are easy to take care of. I have been in both and Khakis is the way for me.

ssangren
ssangren

Some People need to look in the Mirror before they leave the House, the look like slobs and look like the just got out of Bed. I don't care for work of going out for Dinner make your slelf presentable, I just shake my Head the way a lot of you Dress (Shorts with holes or staind greasy hair, Flipies etc...) and yes some go even Cruises like that .Disgusting

mirono
mirono

In my country, Israel, which is considered a success in terms of high tech and start ups - no one cares about what you wear. We care about your head and about your personality, and you can wear whatever you want without feeling different or left out.

tofudisan
tofudisan

My client's IT staff is 90% consultants. Most of the developers work from home and dress to reflect that. But my company has us in the office building. Our building is a shared space with other companies (not just IT companies). There is a dress code FOR THE ENTIRE BUILDING as laid down by the building owner/management. So while other staff video conference in PJs I'm there with a golf shirt and khakis. But at least I have a paycheck in this economy!

InnateDev
InnateDev

Nothing actually matters other than the work that gets done by a bare foot coder. In context, if the coder has any contact with client??le, he should dress the part. This is where younger people may have objections as they are being "cool", which is more important to them than the work. In my opinion, coders would love to be locked in a small room with high speed internet, heavy metal and lots of coffee and snacks for hours on end... you don't need to see them. Other IT employees should enjoy looking good coupled with the respect that comes with their skill set - they are expected to look the part.

Sauron
Sauron

I really cant see the point of a "formalised" dress code unless you are meeting with customers, then you should give the right impression. But if you are in an office and dont often interact with the public what difference does it make what you wear. You are hired for your knowledge not your fashion sense

esilverb
esilverb

A manager once told me he wore his suit out of respect; for his position and for the responsibility his position carried. As a person who never thought the clothes make the man, his explination resonated with me.

tooblessedtofail
tooblessedtofail

"you do have to look the part, or at least give the impression that, if you become a manager, you wont embarrass the CIO at a company meeting by wearing pajama pants and crocs..." I think that was really funny! Imagine a start up or any organization where "Too Casual" Dressing is allowed, and then one day without warning a potential client walks in for a meeting that should be formal. I do not think that would augur well for anyone especially if the client is dressed to the hilt in very formal clothes.

kordoniss
kordoniss

I think most Engineering and IT people have a sense of practicality, coolness and geekiness, BUT at the same time I think they must and usually have, a full load of common sense. Most normal people know when their dressing code is embarrassing for themselves and colleagues or their boss. So, if they keep doing it, they better be indispensable.

The witch
The witch

Being underdressed usually makes the person look cheap especially when it comes to female dressing casual. Jeans and a t-shirt are not the clothes one would wear to meet the president of the country and why should one have any less respect to the people who pay your monthly pay cheque. A sensible collared open neck shirt and chino's are proper wear for daily work however, if you are meeting with clients one should reflect the values and standards of the company you are representing. Unlikely one would buy a piece of software from a stretched t-shirt, holey jeans dressed programmer for fear that the continuity of the software and the bugs found in it may not be resolved

rmunene
rmunene

The value of your work is more important than expensive attire. E.g. The late Jobs of Apple, he had a standard dress code during product launches. People didn't ridicule at him because of his dress code. Instead they were more more amazed at his business acumen and insanely great products.

meski.oz
meski.oz

- Don't wear tshirts with comments that would get you into trouble with HR - wear footwear that's ok with OH&S (no bare feet, thongs) - hygiene (don't wear stinky clothes)

DanieSch
DanieSch

You do know that the tie, jacket, etc. is a fashion thats more than 200 years old. It's a kind of dinosaur fashion. Apperently some do not realise that it not the attire but the action that actually make the different (like Smedrik said). For anyone that wondered about it, dinosaurs are still wandereing amongst humans every day..

kktm
kktm

Our field prides ourselves on what we know and what people come to us for to fix, not what we wear. As long its not offensive like the photo from pete6677. LOL. Better to be IT smart than to look nice and superficial but know very little. Who cares about climbing the ladder. its brain boring at the top! Geeks rule.

lijo.leecorp
lijo.leecorp

Dress make the first Impression. it is necessary to have that added advantage when you work insiide a lab for 8 to 10 hours for months. For me it's "For your eye's only ". Atleast we can have a Good Sight ...

Lotus14
Lotus14

We had a casual Friday, but everyone during the week were wearing just about anything so casual Fridays didn't mean much. We in the engineering department decided to do a turn around, and on Fridays we would all show up in suits and ties...it was actually a lot of fun, and made quite a stir.

paulsherriff
paulsherriff

If you don't have contact with customers or vendors who cares what you wear to work. During the summer I have a few personal rules: 1. It's unAustralian to wear shoes before Australia Day (flip flops are fine) 2. Shorts are OK all year around However casual Friday between New Year and Australia day (about 4 weeks) is a big problem for me, given points 1 & 2 :-)

stgcs(sw)
stgcs(sw)

Any employee who has direct interaction with customers should dress to at least the "business casual" standard which is usually slacks, collared shirt, and dress shoes. If there is no interaction with customers any reasonable level of casual should be acceptable. But you must keep in mind that sometimes employees of the same company are your internal customers and your dress should not be considerably more casual then their normal business dress code. I once attended Windows training at the Microsoft campus in North Carolina. The Microsoft employees were dressed in shorts, tennis shoes, and tee shirts. I asked if they were 'allowed' to dress down when attending training. Their response was that they don't interact with customers on a face to face basis and Microsoft doesn't care how they dressed as long as they do their job. If it were up to me I would be wearing western boots, levi's, and tee shirts or polo shirts to work all the time. However, I dress in slacks and a shirt and tie because my employer requires it. I may personally feel more comfortable without the tie but so far I don't see that wearing it is that much of a big deal.

jocelynboyer
jocelynboyer

As for shoes, we force everyone to wear shoes, no bare feet for security reason. As for the rest of the clothing, I always dress to be able to meet the CXX people that means having a vest hanging in my cubicle and wearing pan that can match. The ladies also have some vest and make sure to present a professional look when working. So much with cabling and going behind switches cabinets and other tight area, we always dress to show respect to our client, whoever they are (internal and/or external).

ericsjohnson
ericsjohnson

Lots of good comments and varied opinions. I do think you need to dress appropriately, be clean and wear decent stuff. Sales staff & Managment may have to dress nicer but they get other perks with meals, trips and bonuses. I've always said I/T staff should be allowed to wear jeans and I can't see anyone taking offense to that. We can on casual Fridays. Sometimes people have to evolve to not judge by initial appearance. We had several clients in just today in flip-flops - but they were dressed nicely. Maybe management will take note. At least I can get away with wearing flip-flops on the weekends if I come in.

kenefick.m
kenefick.m

It really does not matter what any of us think. If you want the job you will wear what they tell you or get another job some place else! My biggest complaint is the sexual discrimination in this matter. Men are expected long sleeve shirts, ties, long pants and closed toe shoes. Women on the other hand get away with sleeveless tops, shorts and a variety of open toed shore.

carsonstuart
carsonstuart

At my last job with Cisco I wore cargo shorts almost everyday. My current position requires long pants. I miss wearing shorts to work.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

No open-toed shoes. But that's more a safety issue than an appearance issue.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

For customer-facing jobs, a reasonable dress code is absolutely appropriate, but safety considerations should be top priority. Any job that requires hands-on work on electronics or mechanical assemblies should have a dress code that [u]excludes[/u] loose or dangling pieces like ties or necklaces. Do you expect the technician repairing your printer or copier to wear a tie that can be caught in the drive rollers? But If a back-room tech or coder who never sees the customer is more comfortable working in shorts and sandals, what's the problem?

DT2
DT2

"Some employees look like the came to work in their PJ's with a tie" Don't you mean "they" instead of "the"? But hey, you sure look nice... ;-)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

What puts me in the work mood is sitting down at the computer with a cup of coffee and logging in. I'm just a voice on the phone at those times, and as long as I can get the job done, the customer doesn't care if I'm wearing a Dr. Who topcoat, mechanic's coveralls, farmer's overalls, a suit and tie, or nothing at all. As for shaving, sorry, dude, ain't happening! After putting up with the discomfort of shaving daily for 24 years, blade has not touched my face since December 31, 1999. I keep it neatly trimmed, but don't now own either a razor or shaver and never will again. If you feel facial hair makes me less of a technician, that's not my problem. And manner of dress does not, in any way, determine work ethic, only your opinion of it.

sighthndman
sighthndman

I take it you've never had to ask strangers in your company for something. It's just like meeting someone from the public, if you have to meet someone from another department for the first time. (I've discovered, if you need it today, a personal request works better than an e-mail, and if you need to send a second request, in person works better than a phone call. "Hey, Bob, I just discovered that there's a problem with the XYZ report, and I need this information _yesterday_ so that I can get corrected numbers in time for the monthly financial statement. Can you help me?")

sighthndman
sighthndman

Hey! I like dinosaur. Tastes like chicken. Well, some does. Turtle is not dinosaur. Alligator is not dinosaur. (Doesn't taste like chicken, either.)

jdm12
jdm12

who make this double standard possible should pay for it in the next life. And yet women (nationally) still earn substantially less than their male counterparts with the same experience and training.

stgcs(sw)
stgcs(sw)

Although we don't have the long sleeve requirement I agree with your observation. Many women where I work are not dressing to the standard required of the male employees. I've seen some of the women wearing what looks like flannal pajama bottoms and tops with what looks like slippers. Others were jeans when men cannot wear levis or anything of levi material. There is a double standard.

DT2
DT2

Cool idea. I think I'll make a suggestion that our official dress code include a Dr. Who topcoat.