I went through this whole phase last year of wearing shirts to work a lot. Not because I wanted to but rather because I felt that as the ‘businessy’ person in the company, I really should. Somehow I believed that by wearing a shirt, instead of a t-shirt and jumper, others would take me more seriously and treat me more professionally. Turns out the words that I spoke and the way that I interacted with people were far more important than anything I could ever wear.
“Well, of course it doesn’t matter how you dress!”, I hear you cry and, yes, you’re absolutely right. With the rise of Silicon Valley and the boom of young, geeky billionaires, dress codes have become more relaxed than ever. I mean, you only need to look at the likes of Mark Zuckerberg in his jeans and hoodie to realise that only a fool would fail to take someone in casual wear seriously. More than ever before it’s mattering less and less, especially in the technological and digital professions.
But the fact that the term ‘dress code’ even still exists shows that deep down we’re all still hung up on the idea of conforming to certain expectations and upholding certain formalities. Perhaps it’s become accepted that non-client facing developers, locked away in their dark rooms and sustained on a constant supply of Red Bull and Kit Kats, can wear whatever they like but as soon as you enter the murky world of ‘management’, ‘sales’ or ‘finance’, anything considered traditionally corporate, the rules change slightly. Whether it’s a full suit or just jeans and a jacket, there’s still a lot of unspoken social pressure to fit in.
Formality as a virus
DHH, known for his outspoken opinions (seems to me that people just hate someone who has opinions and the success to back it up), recently called formality a virus that “infects how people talk, write, and interact”. Although his thoughts weren’t limited to the way we dress at work, he did specifically point it out as an example of how the idea of dress codes within a business create yet another barrier to productivity.
“Formality is like a virus that infects the productive tissue of an organization.”
- David Heinemeier Hansson
Whilst I don’t agree with David completely – I believe there has to be a measure of formality in business to ensure equality and due process – I do take his point that to produce great work, you need to cut down on all of the red tape put in place to prevent it. Work shouldn’t be about filling in pointless reports, or ticking items off a list or even making your boss happy, it should be about doing truly amazing things that ultimately benefit both the customer and the business. If we lose sight of that due to unnecessary bureaucracy, then we’re harming everything the company is striving for.
And the way we dress is usually just another formality. Although I’m sure plenty of people enjoy wearing shirts on a daily basis, as soon as we start to wear clothes that are counter to our normal tendencies, we’ve simply created another obstacle between great work and great ideas.
It’s just being about honest and genuine
As much as I would love to profess to being fashionable, the clothes that I chose to wear every day are simply based upon practicality and comfort – I do actually like shirts and I like wearing them but I find the weather in Scotland too cold to wear them without a jumper. As I dislike wearing anything on top of shirts, I usually forgo them completely in favour of a simple chinos and jumper combo, a poster boy for Gap advertising except without the jacket-less scarf and immaculate two day stubble.
“(he was in the uniforms business, so he knew the difference between a man with a uniform on, and with the uniform off – it’s the same man).”
- Richard P. Feynman talking about his father
And ultimately, what’s important is not formality or a fight against corporate oppression as DHH would have us believe but just about being honest and genuine in every aspect of one’s life and business. As soon as I wear what I think someone wants to see me in rather than what I honesty want to, I’ve lost. I’m no longer honest or real, I’m a guy jumping to a beat of pretense and fakery trying to impress. If someone can’t trust me in what I wear, how can they trust me in what I say?
Of course, I’m not a complete idiot and do recognise the necessity of maintaining social harmony and not making others feel uncomfortable through the way I look. I always dress pretty conservatively by anyone’s standards but I wouldn’t turn up to a pitch presentation in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt because, well, I’d look ridiculous. It would also likely make everyone else feel awkward, distracting them into spending more time pondering my clothes than listening to what I was saying which wouldn’t do anyone any good.
So that’s me, a non-shirt person. I wear what I wear because it’s just who I am, nothing else, nothing more, an honest reflection of my mind.
Also I hate ironing.
Image credit: Caza_No_7