Last week I wrote about a judge’s request for lawyers (lawyers!) to get out of bed and put some clothes on before appearing in a virtual court.

I knew this would result in people telling me that dress codes are stupid and what matters is performance and not whether the lawyer is wearing a swimming suit. I was right. I got messages.

Okey-dokey. Performance is what matters. What is a part of performance? How you communicate. What are clothes? A means of communication.

This quarantine when everyone is joking about not wearing pants and staying in their pajamas for days on end proves it. If you’re not seeing other people there is no need to communicate anything about yourself.

We choose our clothing, just like we choose our words. We do so to demonstrate things about ourselves. Showing up to court (virtual or real) in your swimming suit or pajamas says, “I don’t think this is very important.”

If you disagree, think about what you would do if you were falsely accused of a very serious crime. You hire the best defense lawyer that money can buy. You show up to court on the appointed day–what are you wearing?

Betcha you’re not wearing your pajamas. And if your lawyer showed up in her swimsuit you’d freak out. If you’re in your pajamas and your lawyer is in a swimsuit and the prosecuting attorney is in her suit and the judge is in her robes, just who do you think the jury will take seriously? It’s not you.

Militaries wear uniforms to communicate that they are military. It’s part of the Geneva convention. And even so, the Army has a different uniform than the Marines, who have a different uniform than the Navy. For cost-cutting purposes, you could say every military member wears the same uniform. They would not like this–the point is to identify who they are.

When you choose what to wear–be it to a brick and mortar job or a virtual Zoom meeting–you communicate who you are.

For some situations, it’s perfectly fine to be in your slouchy couch friendly clothes. For others, it’s absolutely not. And you know this. It’s why you dress differently for different occasions.

You don’t wear a white gown to a wedding unless you are the bride (or an especially obnoxious groom’s mother). You don’t wear a suit to watch a hockey game.

Clothing is a form of communication and businesses have every right to determine how they want their employees to communicate with their coworkers and their clients.

So, yes, dress codes matter. Wear pants. Or a skirt. Take a shower. If you’re unclear about what is appropriate, ask your boss.

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9 thoughts on “You Love Dress Codes

  1. It is how you communicate who you are. People must also remember that people judge you by what they see and hear as well. We don’t like to hear that fact, but it is true. You are judged by your handshake (remember those?). What did you think about a ‘dead fish’ handshake from a colleague? You did make a value judgement, didn’t you? What you wear does matter.

  2. Also, my high school speech teacher drilled into my head: “Look professional. Feel professional. Do a professional job.” And it’s so very true.

  3. If you looked under the desk on a TV news broadcast you’re more likely to see shorts and running shoes than dress pants and oxfords.

  4. People need to apply common sense both ways. I should not show up at work in pajamas, whether in the office or via Zoom. But on the other hand, the company should not mandate pantyhose or neckties, which are constrictive useless garments, or require heavy suit jackets in summer or the kinds of shoes that damage rather than protect one’s feet. Those fashions may traditionally communicate professionalism, but the cost in health and comfort makes that method of communication one that we would do well to change.

    1. Thank-you! Well said. I hated wearing pantyhose, especially in Houston, Texas. Will not wear them ever again. I will find jobs that have casual dress codes. Who had the authority to make pantyhose part of the required dress code?

  5. On the flip side, I have gone to meetings with clients–C-suite staff on Fortune 500 companies–in jeans, boots, and a plain gray t-shirt. When asked why, I explained that I was going to a jobsite immediately after the meeting, per our contract. They were construction people, and took it as a sign of professionalism on my part; I was prepared to do the job. Had I came in business casual office attire, it would show that I was unprepared for the reality of a construction site.

    There’s also the joke that the more important a geologist is, the worse he dresses. A kid in school wears a sports coat and slacks. A professor is going to dress in a button-down shirt and jeans. Someone who’s developed a revolutionary theory that’s changed the way we see the fossil record? They’re going to be in hiking boots, torn jeans, a ratty t-shirt, and a hat (there’s ALWAYS a hat).

    As in all communication, it’s about knowing your audience.

  6. For my video-on team meeting yesterday I wore the fancy embroidered shirt that I’d normally wear for square dancing. Why not look extra sharp?

  7. The clothes do matter. I would never go into court in my pjs. Just like I would never go to an interview in jeans and a t-shirt. Yet, it happens all the time. I get people daily who show up for interviews in holey jeans, flip-flops, and ratty t-shirts. My mother would roll over in her grave if I went to an interview like that. Granted, I would be interviewing for an HR Professional job and I am currently interviewing people for car wash jobs, but I would still expect them to wear nice jeans and at least a polo shirt. It is a job interview! You are making a statement about yourself and how much you care about the particular thing you are doing. I’ve had homeless people come in for interviews in nicer clothes than other applicants who were definitely not homeless. Just goes to show you that some people care more about their appearance or about getting the job than others.

  8. I once had a job interview in August at a large corporation, in a California city with outdoor temperatures in the 90s to 100s. The manager of the department interviewed me one day and then invited me back on another day to interview with the other members of the group. All of these people were wearing casual clothes; one woman wore shorts and a T-shirt when she talked with me, even though I was wearing a suit. I accepted the job offer and reverted to wearing more comfortable clothing. How can people perform highly when they are wearing constrictive clothing?

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