I need some advice on what to say to upper managers and directors when they ask me about why I am now wearing more professional clothing (button up shirt and tie, slacks, etc.)

Most male employees at my workplace dress casually. Since I have started working here, I too have been dressing casually. Since I have started listening to manager-tools, I have made many improvements in my behavior at work. One of these improvements has been to start wearing shirts and ties. Since I have done so, many people have commented in one way or another, mostly positive.

Yesterday, I was in a meeting with my boss and two of his peers. They are all director level employees. None of them dresses more formally than dockers type pants and button up shirts with the sleeve rolled up. Two of them were wearing jeans and polo shirts. One of them, who also happens to be my previous boss, asked me why I have started dressing the way I am now. He then asked if I was interviewing. The question was asked at the beginning of the meeting with the other two directors present.

My response was given in a joking manner. I stated, "I'm always interviewing." In a sense, it is true, in that I am, at least according to my current boss, about to be offically promoted to manager with a pay raise, etc. This will be next month when annual reviews are completed.

Thinking about it later, I am thinking I should have replied differently, perhaps being more candid in that I want to present a more professional image and ensure my promotion, as well as working towards becoming a director level employee for the group I am managing. The group may soon be expanded as the company is building another location for R&D.

Should I go back and explain to them why I am dressing this way?

pmoriarty's picture
Training Badge

Dress nice, but not too nice.

Look at how everybody else dresses and then dress just a little bit better.   Otherwise, you run the risk of not fitting in and being "that guy."

I once worked as a director in a $500 mln, publicly traded, high tech company.  The CEO wore a polo shirt, khakis and running shoes every day. And they all had that slightly rumpled, just-pulled-from-the dryer look.  The COO?  Completely unbuttoned bowling shirts over a t-shirt, blue jeans and Converse sneakers.  You could imagine how wearing a jacket & tie every day would have stuck out in an oddball way there.

At company above, I settled on open collar oxford shirts with khakis, both professionally laundered.  A pair of polished dress shoes rounded out my work wardrobe.


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

There's no need to go back and clarify.  If you want to, and your relationship is good enough, you be 100% certain either way, I'd have to have had seen the looks on their faces. ;-)

I think they probably took it the wrong way, but it's water under the bridge, and it will be fine.

For the record, we haven't put out our guidance about work attire yet, but you may be overdressing for your company with the tie you're wearing.  I think slacks and a button down shirt and shoes you can shine would be enough.  And, some ties don't improve an image.  Some look cheap, some are tied poorly, etc.


Black_Caps's picture


Thank you for such a quick response at such a late hour!

Moving forward, I will probably reduce or eliminate the tie. I will also polish my required safety shoes, at least to the extent they can be polished.