There was a very interesting opinion piece from Otto Stern in The Register last fall called "CEOs should follow NBA and make geeks wear real clothes" (referring to the new dress code in the National Basketball Association that was put in place at the time). The subtitle to Otto's piece was "Put your pants on, coders! Grow up!" That sums up the general tone and thesis of the article.
Otto also says, "For too many years, geeks have been abusing their roots as antisocial miscreants who could do things normal people couldn't do. Companies needed computer work done and would tolerate these freaks roaming around data centers. Do not poke the geek because he may ruin you if make him angry. Today, guys like Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy and that loser Tim O'Reilly still embrace this mentality. They're businessmen of the highest caliber and run around in jeans and sweaters. This makes people way down on the totem pole think that sandals, torn jeans and KISS T-shirts will suffice as proper work attire."
Predictably, Otto's diatribe drew a lot of responses from IT professionals, and he printed many of them in a follow-up article 10 days later. One reader talked about an IT colleague who reflected poorly on himself and the company by wearing cargo pants and food-stained shirts to meetings with customers. Other readers ripped Otto as being over-the-top and way too straight-laced.
I think Otto made some important points, but the guy did go off the deep end a bit. In my last job, I worked at a health care practice in which I regularly met with business partners and was seen by customers (patients) in the hallways of the office. As a result, I was required to wear a shirt and tie every day. At that job I quickly realized that people take you a lot seriously when you are dressed in business attire. I work in a much more casual atmosphere now and so I haven't worn a tie in several years. But old habits die hard and so I still tend to wear khakis and collared shirts (business casual attire). I just think that if you want others to take you seriously then you have to take yourself seriously.
That being said, I don't think it's necessary for everyone in IT to wear business casual attire. For techies like software developers, who sit in their cubicles for most of the day, and held desk techs, who spend a lot of their time on the phone, there certainly isn't any benefit to the business to have them dress in business casual attire. And, in fact, a strict dress code could turn away some talented IT pros who don't want to work at a place where they have to spend money to buy extra clothes. However, for IT pros that interface with customers, for managers, and for consultants, I would highly recommend adopting business casual attire.
A new TechRepublic poll (which will run March 20-26) asks whether IT pros need to dress better and there's a companion discussion thread on this topic as well. Jump in the discussion and add your opinion.
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.