Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Pat’s Tips for Appropriate Office Attire

Most of us in the IT world would like to think the old stereotype of the computer person who dresses badly and doesn’t “fit in” no longer applies. After all, IT professionals are just that: professional. Unfortunately the reputation lingers.

Express yourself

The fact is, clothing is a form of expression. Sometimes our attire speaks louder than we do, but is it saying what we want it to? The outfit shown in Figure A is a good example of something some pros wear to work. Those techs are expressing “I am not concerned with impressing anyone. I am my own person.” However, the message received is most likely “Hi, I’m the office lackey. Need anything heavy moved?”

Figure A

These cloths say “grunt worker.”

Figure B illustrates another common mis-communication through attire. The IT pro who dresses like this to the office may intend to express “I’m young, I’m hip, and I am in great shape.” The message heard is probably “I like to use the office like a singles bar, and I’m prowling for dates.”

Figure B

 Figure B

IT pro or someone looking for a date?

Some people who dress in similar fashion to the examples above will disagree with me.  Those who do should look at their careers and ask, “Do I miss out on a lot of promotions or projects I want? Do people often ask me to perform menial tasks that are not my responsibility? Do I get a lot of unseemly attention?” These things happen to everyone from time to time, but anyone who has one or more of these experiences regularly or more often than their co-workers might want to consider a change in attire.

Most companies have written policies on dress code and, obviously, those codes should be followed. Don’t stop there though. It’s a good idea to go beyond the least acceptable. “I won’t do anything more than I have to” is not a good message from any employee.

So where should the IT professional look for clues on what to wear? The best examples at any given company are those in positions of power.  If the executives tend to wear golf shirts and slacks, like the outfit shown in Figure C, the safe thing is to do is wear the same kinds of clothing. It’s an easy and clean look. Dressing similar to the boss is a great message. It says “I’m one of you, part of your tribe. It’s safe to give me the important projects and promotions.”

Figure C

Figure C

Boring but safe in a “business casual” office.

Contrary to popular belief, there are still a few companies left where business suits are the norm . Law firms and financial institutions are good examples. While it’s always best to wear suits in a formal office, if that’s just not possible, an acceptable substitute can be dark dress slacks with long-sleeve dress shirts and dress shoes. For the finishing touch, men should add a nice tie and women should add a jacket, as shown in Figure D and Figure E.  Most men who wear suits to the office remove the jacket as soon as they arrive, so a man with no jacket fits in. The opposite is true for a woman. A jacket adds the same formality to a woman’s ensemble that a tie brings to the man. An added benefit is a jacket provides a female tech with more pockets for phones and tools, something her slacks often fail to do.

 Figure D

Figure D

Geeks can wear ties too!

  Figure E

Figure E

A blazer makes casual attire more professional.

Regardless of your company culture there are a few “Don’ts” that apply in most any office.

  • Sexy or Revealing clothing: An office is not a pick up place. Wait until after hours to show off that killer body.
  • Stains or tears: Dress like a homeless person and you may just be treated like one.
  • Ill fitting clothing: If you lose or gain weight, adjust your wardrobe to compensate. Looking as if you’re going to pop a button or drop you pants is no way to be taken seriously.
  • Grubby sneakers and overly scuffed or dirty shoes: Money spent on appropriate office attire is wasted without appropriate shoes.
  • Flip Flops: Fashionable as they are, they have no place in the office. Save them for your days off.

Fashions for the IT Mind

If your IT career isn’t going where you hoped take a look in the mirror. Do you see a manager staring back or do you see a grunt? If your reflection is more like the latter, consider a change. To learn more about what it takes to be a successful IT manager download this free tool,  IT Management 101 by Mike Sisco. It’s an incredibly valuable resource for any IT manager.

Are you dressing for success?

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