The merits of a work uniform
Do you have a work uniform? When I was in my previous role I had two: a closet full of black dresses worn with boots; or leggings and a long tunic or sweater. I worn one on meeting days and the other on non. The look was monochrome, upscale and "advertising cool". Not much thought but it served my purpose. Our company had a loosely worded dress code with words like "appropriate", "fits the tone the business you represent", "if you get home and can lay down on a couch without changing or go from a club to the office you should rethink". Our EA had a saying "no BBBB": boobs, bums, bellybuttons or bunions showing...ha!
Now I work at a startup where the uniform is different. Jeans and a T are the norm. Hoodies all day, flip flops, crop tops - it doesn't matter. Especially for engineers and developers....seen as a bit of cool nerd rebellion, but I think it has more utility...The idea of uniformity and adopting a uniform for yourself keeps things very simple and allows you to focus on what matters.
I am in an advisory role - day is filled consulting with founders/CEO; their team and clients. I want to portray a certain impression but I also want to fit in. In the business world lots of men have uniforms: think Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, even Barack Obama. I love the story of Matilda Kahl, an art director with Saatchi in New York. She wore a white silk shirt, black trousers, a black blazer plus a simple leather adornment for over 3 years.
Mike Slepian, adjunct assistant professor at Columbia Business School and author of “The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing,” provides some context: Casual clothing makes workers think less abstractly and more concretely — useful for completing tasks focusing on details such as writing code or planning a product launch. With formal dress, on the other hand, you feel more powerful, because they’re not the type of clothes you’d wear with friends. “That makes you feel more distant, more removed and [allows you to] think in a higher [level].”
Michael W. Kraus, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, co-wrote a study for the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2014 which showed that clothes with high social status can increase dominance and job performance in “high-stakes” competitive tasks.
Sometimes a small fashion adjustment can have big results. Don’t go looking too far afield if searching for a model of success to imitate. While Mark Zuckerberg seems to have done pretty well in business wearing hoodies and jeans, experts say he’s an outlier. “Mark Zuckerberg is in a creative enterprise,” Yale’s Prof. Kraus says. “People like that are playing around with their status symbols. For most of us, high status means suit and tie.”
As for me today I typically wear a bit of high low...great top with jeans, or a lord and taylor tshirt and a burberry skirt. High/low and firmly in the background.
Update on June 22 - someone sent me this hilarious post on the difference between what is appropriate for men vs women.
While I get the point the reality is that there are standards, and in some work places shorts = causal and dresses are appropriate.
For the record, I think he looked fine...but the debate continues.