Executive and Peer Pressure to ‘Dress Down’, Really ?

Sonya Glyn NICHOLSON

Executive and Peer Pressure to ‘Dress Down’, Really ?

When we published our recent article “Why Do We Dress up ?“, we received a great comment about how some men in the “Tech” industry are, on the contrary, pressured to dress down.  We’re compelled to address this issue today and are interested in knowing any other thoughts on this conundrum.

Hi Sonya,

I would like to add that in certain industries, dress codes are not simply relaxed: it is actively frowned upon to suit up or dress well.

I work in tech, a sector which in the old days was stylistically notorious for bearded hippies wearing jeans & t-shirts with funny/political/satyrical messages. They did not care about narrow sartorial rules, but they had their very own flair and endearing style.

The above characteristic of the early days of tech was dissected, repackaged and taken to the extreme by the modern world. In tech, we now make an arms race (or a “rags race”) on how to dress down. I’ve even heard conversations of people boasting how little they spent on clothes. I’ve heard people making judgements on others solely on the fact that they’re wearing a nice pair of trousers. The whole problem reached its climax a few months ago, when a prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneur publicly declared “I never invest in someone who wears a suit”.

This mentality is based on the silly theory that clothes make you smarter or dumber. It is also based on the outrageous hypocrisy that dressing-down leads to a more egalitarian and meritocratic society.

I ask you my friends, which is more elitist: a) a nicely-cut understated suit, or b) an Oxford or Harvard hoodie?

In terms of a nicely cut suit: everyone can get some basic sartorial education via PG or other websites + some standard budgeting practices.

Regarding the Oxford / Harvard hoodie : how many people can attend those universities? Wearing the hoodie without any such affiliation is a faux pas – but yes, those things exist even in the tech world.

My closing remark my dear PG + readers would be; isn’t there a more boorish display of power than appearing at a professional meeting with a dirty hoodie + flip flops and uncut toenails? Isn’t that the most vulgar way of saying “I am so much more powerful and important than you, that basic dress rules don’t apply to me”?

With best regards,

Y

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Dear Y,

Thanks for writing and giving us insight into this peculiar behavior among those who pressure others to “dress down”.

Like fashion, this reverse snobbism for uncut toenails and flip flopped attire is taking longer to die out than bell-bottoms and the leisure suit (i.e., more than a decade).

No matter the industry, we find peer pressure among adults to “dress down” to be similar to the adolescent who lacks the maturity to recognize each person should express himself as he pleases and that individualism is something to be valued.

Individualism within a company makes a competitive industry like the tech world tick better and expand faster. We don’t suggest that companies require men to wear suits, but it’s equally absurd for companies to require men to dress like hungover frat boys.

In countries where freedom of expression is revered, it seems to be an infraction of individual freedom for a CEO to make a declaration that he’ll never hire someone who wears a suit. It’s the CEO’s prerogative to hire whomever he pleases, yet to insinuate  someone cannot be a genius or a guru or a master in his field because he wears a suit is a statement shot from the hip intermingled with ignorance.

After some short research, I discovered billionaire Peter Thiel is the man who (according to Business Insider in September,  2014) said he has a simple rule for investing: “never bet on a CEO in a suit”  (you can see his vitae here on Oslo Freedom Forum .com). While he also states that there are “no absolute and timeless sartorial rules,” Thiel says that “in Silicon Valley, wearing a suit in a pitch meeting makes you look like someone who is bad at sales and worse at tech.”

But paradoxically, the majority of the photos I can find of Mr. Peter Thiel (and I invite you to image search his name), including the photo from Business Insider features Thiel wearing—you guessed it, a suit. The point that Thiel chooses a suit for his own attire on many occasions speaks for itself.

Indeed, there are successful pony-tailed lawyers who wear blue jeans and muscle shirts to work, so why not allow a tech gentleman to  ‘assume the risk’ of wearing a sharply cut suit if it is his choice?

If the original intent of eschewing suits in the tech workplace was to cultivate a renegade flair (with T-shirts bearing intellectual themes and channeling bohemian thinkers), the initial intention, albeit rather noble, has been contorted into a form of laziness—with the new message being “I’m so absorbed in my job that grooming or dressing myself is the least of my worries”.

Apparently, the situation has degraded further since Spring, 2014, when the The Business Insider attempted an upgrade to the ‘tech worker look’ by quantifying the so-called Tech Uniform as shown here :

infographic_techstyle_1200_transparent (1)While the illustration above channels a hint of hipsterism, the reality of the Tech Uniform may be better depicted by valleywag.gawker in an article entitled Why Are Tech Workers So Bad at Dressing Themselves?, as shown below :

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Let’s face it : when we deal with perceptions among the masses who adopt the belief that men in the tech world look like Mark Zuckerberg in a hoodie, then what is one to do if he works in this industry? Go with the flock or “suit himself”?

The answer is a personal decision, but it’s absurd to imagine being demoted or chastised for presenting oneself as a well-dressed gentleman.

If the Silicon Valley man enjoys the image he relays of shopping at Goodwill and stocking his fridge with beer and Kombucha, then more power to him, but if he wants to wear a good suit and attract attention with his style, then preventing him from creating his own personal image is an act that is as ludicrous as it sounds.

further reading :

Testimonials : Do Silicon Valley engineers look down on people who dress more formally? Quora