This morning, I was reading an old Dilbert cartoon that showed Catbert, Human Resources Director, manipulate the corporate dress code to cause insanity. The dress code is explained as follows: “Casual clothes don’t lower stock value, but only if worn on Fridays unless somebody sees you. Fridays are casual but you can’t wear jeans because jeans look and feel good and you already own several pairs.” When Catbert is accused by Alice of creating “another sadistic human resources plot to make people quit”, Catbert responds “Say hello to unsightly tan lines”.
That comic is a perfect example of why I love Dilbert so much, it hit the nail right on the head. It also really got me thinking of the evolution of the dress code in the workplace. When I first started working for Electronic Data Systems (EDS) in 1991, the women were required to always wear skirts and heels. Some women even wore giant bows where a man would wear a tie. So, I spent a lot of my first paychecks on ‘suits’ for women. (Skirt, blouse, jacket. I never did buy into the bow thing though.) Of course, men all wore suits with ‘power ties’. I believe the power tie of that era was yellow for some reason.
Flash forward 19 years later. Most people I know go to work casual, if they go in to the office at all. My former employer (which has since been bought by Hewlett Packard) now allows jeans in the workplace. By the way, the ‘workplace’ doesn’t exist as it once did. Many people now work from home, where they are free to wear whatever they want (or not…).
So what I wonder is this: Is business actually affected by the dress code? Do clients buy less from people that are dressed in khaki pants and a polo shirt versus a suit? I am so far removed from the workplace since I have not worked in an actual office regularly for about 12 years that I don’t know the answer. (When I was working, it was from home.) Has casual dress gone too far? I am sure Ward Cleaver would never think of going into a meeting with Fred Rutherford wearing anything less than a full suit and tie.
So, what do you wear to work? Do you feel the clothes a person wears affects their success? Obviously a lawyer cannot go walking around in court wearing torn jeans and Birkenstocks. But in typical situations, if you are looking to do business with someone, does their clothing choice affect your decision?