Let’s talk about your appearance.
I’m sure it’s been said before that the only person who could dress like Steve Jobs was Steve Jobs. Conversely, you’re not Steve Jobs so don’t try to dress like him. In fact for those of you who have no memories of the 80’s Steve Jobs used to wear a suit and tie.
Your place of employment has a relaxed dress code, congratulations! Keep in mind “Relaxed Dress Code” means different things to different companies and people who work at the company. As an employer you have to strike an appropriate balance between the comforts of your employees, the image you wish to leave with visiting customers, and what kind of salary benefits are you willing to pay to attract staff that may be averse to wearing more costly attire. However, having an ambiguous or un-enforced dress code will only lead to easily avoidable challenges. Additionally, in larger organizations the enforcement of an ambiguous dress code becomes more tenuous. Leaving each manager or supervisor to his/her own interpretation of how to dress for the office will lead to great variances in what you as the owner or CEO thought should have been a uniform standard.
If the company that employs you has more than 20 employees there is most likely an official description available of acceptable attire for the workplace. You can safely assume you will not receive a reprimand for dressing in accordance to this document. So, do you want to be a face in the crowd, wearing what everyone else wears? Do you want to stand out by pushing the envelope of your company’s policies? Your attitude in these matters gives impressions of how you are going to approach your career while working for an organization. Impressions like “conforms to the rules” can be a positive or a negative depending on management and the industry you work in. “Shows creativity and energy” has the same challenges.
How do your customer’s dress when they visit your office? Nothing makes me feel more awkward than when a group of professionally dressed clients walks into a beautifully designed and maintained reception area only to be visibly accosted by an employee walking by in sweats and flip-flops.
Flip-Flops! I do not care how much you paid, nor how many plastic ornaments adorn them. If your footwear makes that annoying sound of heal slapping shoe, you are wearing Flip-Flops. You should not assume that everyone you meet has some desire to see your feet either. The only profession where Flip-Flops are acceptable is lifeguard.
Remember that first impressions are based mostly on sensory perceptions. You want the person who may decide where you go in a company to have a favorable first impression of you even if it’s just what they see while looking across a room at a crowed company function.
Consider where you are in the organization and where you hope to one day be. If you are a Jr. Software Developer and you wish to someday climb to VP of Software Development, how does the person currently holding that position dress? How do the successful salespeople dress? I didn’t always think this way, but I found later in my career it was better to dress for the position you want and not the position that you have. It may be an easier sell to promote you if you look somewhat like the person who currently holds that position. Decision makers may wonder if you have the wardrobe to start a new position if they’ve never seen you in the appropriate attire for it.
There are cultural differences to consider as well. You may be a fan of various European entertainments and wish to emulate their dress. Just because that overweight gentleman is wearing a bright yellow, skin tight polo with the collar turned up seems to pull it off doesn’t mean that you can. First, understand that outfit probably cost him $1,000.00 or more and you’re not going to be able reproduce it with the fare available at Wal-Mart. Second, you must realize that look is only barely acceptable in the more progressive metropolitan areas of the United States. I find nothing more entertaining than watching someone from NYC pushing the trendy envelope in a meeting of professionals in Atlanta.
If you have aspirations to be the next Steve Jobs, I’d suggest you follow his example in all stages of his career as you grow in yours. Until you’ve created the largest most profitable company on the planet, don’t abandon conservative professional attire for stubble, jeans and a black shirt.