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As soon as Mike asked "We don't give feedback about clothes?" my thought was that it's just like personal scent, only easier.

This was, for me, a very fun 'cast, because the clothing expectations for my organization are so upside down. If you dress well, you send the message that you're more concerned about your appearance than about getting the work done. The most successful people (particularly on the science and engineering staff) wear jeans and "work" shirts. Often plaid or flannel in the winter; often Hawaiian in the summer. Good choices in t-shirts are almost revered. Some people wear shorts, even in the dead of winter.

People who wear ties regularly are considered a little odd. People who wear suits are viewed with suspicion, except for very few senior people who have to deal with the government on a regular basis. We have a dress code, but it has only one element that is enforced: You have to wear shoes.

But we still occasionally have problems with people who wear clothing that distracts from the work. Usually this is either a cleanliness problem (often for males) or a skin-exposure problem (usually for females.) This has not been a problem for me for many years, but the next time it comes up, I have a simple, seven-step process for addressing it.

Thanks, M&M!

tc>

terrih's picture

To be sure, company culture plays into it. And the modern "Business Casual" is subject to a wide range of individual interpretation... (and I don't know whether that's a good thing).

I wish that for women it were as easy as "Shop at Brooks Brothers"... not that I could afford it... and even if there is an equivalent, I don't look my best if I buy off the rack, because I'm 6'1". (I can get away with most tops off the rack, but if it's long-sleeved it'll be a skosh shy of my wrist-bones.)

I buy a lot of my clothes from catalogs with names like Long Elegant Legs and Tall Classics, and they sure don't give their stuff away. So I'm gradually building my "executive" wardrobe, a piece or two a month.

Fortunately we have a fairly casual culture, so a lot of my individual contributor clothes work OK... but I still want to upgrade... I don't want to dress at the more-casual end of the spectrum ALL the time.

HMac's picture

"Long Elegant Legs" - wow! Now THAT's marketin'!

terrih: PLEASE tell me you've been using that as a password or an avatar! :lol:

Tom - your story reminded me of a recent experience with a VP who joined our company about two years ago. He came from a traditional outside sales management role, and joined us - a marketing agency.

For the entire two years he was with us, he insisted on wearing a necktie every day (and these were not particlularly fashionable ties or interesting shirt colors, just typical shirts and ties). He would be the ONLY guy in meetings wearing a tie, including his boss the EVP and the CEO.

When I'd ask him about it, he'd respond:
a) Clients expect VP's like me to show up wearing a tie, or
b) I'm just more comfortable wearing a tie every day.

Regardless of the truth of either statement, the effect was that he never really looked like he fit in with our company. And I could never figure out if he was just that "tone deaf" about the signal he was sending, or if he just didn't care.

He was fired.

Nobody ever confided in me what the reasons were. But the one thing I know for sure is that he exhibited almost no leadership behaviors. Unless maybe he thought dressing different from all of his reports was leadership.

-Hugh

tcomeau's picture

[quote="terrih"]...
I wish that for women it were as easy as "Shop at Brooks Brothers"... not that I could afford it... and even if there is an equivalent, I don't look my best if I buy off the rack, because I'm 6'1". [/quote]

When my wife first got out of law school there was a brief period where we both shopped the same place for work clothes -- Jos. A. Banks. (A bit like Brooks Brothers with a Baltimore accent, hon.) I quit shopping there because I wasn't wearing nice clothes any more, and most (maybe all, by now) of the stores quit carrying clothes for women.

She has the reverse problem that you have -- she's 5'1" if she stretches, and she has large... Um. Well, she has to check to be sure a jacket closes comfortably without having sleeves that are too long. A number of the petite stores she used to frequent are gone, and some of the majors have quit carrying much in the way of business attire for petites. And it seems very few places can do decent alterations for women. (I'm exactly average height, so I have little trouble finding clothes, and no problem getting alterations.)

I agree, it's more difficult for women. There is more variation in body type, and frankly the expectations are higher: Women are somehow expected to have a fashion gene on that second X chromosome. (And nobody ever comments that Mary's boss doesn't wear makeup in court.)

This is one area where I'd love to see M&M find a very successful, thoughtful, articulate female executive for a "guest 'cast." Maybe there is a female equivalent of Brooks Brothers?

tcomeau's picture

[quote="HMac"]...For the entire two years he was with us, he insisted on wearing a necktie every day (and these were not particlularly fashionable ties or interesting shirt colors, just typical shirts and ties). He would be the ONLY guy in meetings wearing a tie, including his boss the EVP and the CEO.
[/quote]

When one of my guys was promoted, and became one of my peers, he started wearing a tie a few days a week. On days when we had management meetings, I'd wear a tie in solidarity, in an attempt to raise the sartorial bar a bit. He wouldn't go so far as a suit, but having more than one guy in the room with a tie seemed to raise the level of discourse, too. We were still seen as a little odd, and we were (with others) deliberately trying to change the culture.

"Dr. F-bomb" (as my daughter calls him -- he's a galaxy formation guy) is no longer a manager, but he has excellent taste in ties, and still wears them regularly. He's also from Italy, so I guess his taste in ties comes from early indoctrination.

If you're going to buck the culture, you should have the sense to do it thoughtfully, not reflexively, and with some purpose in mind. If your guy-with-a-tie had been reeling in new customers at a record pace, I suspect ties would have become [i]de rigueur[/i] as others recognized his success. Clothes won't make you, but they can make you look bad.

tc>

jhack's picture

I wear ties most days.

Years ago, after some "peer pressure" to join the rest of the crew on casual Fridays, I wore clean pressed jeans, no tie, and a shirt with collar. The CEO of our #1 client called me - "You have to join me for a meeting right now! A delegation from the Japanese Ministry of Trade is here and they want to talk about the Internet." (this was before the dot com thing took off).

Needless to say, I was by far the most underdressed person there! But they probably remember the American Internet Guy in Jeans.

So I keep a suit handy. You never know.

John

Chelle's picture

Clothing definitely affects how people behave and think. When I started at my company 8 years ago, I was interviewed by somebody wearing jeans. I was a little surprised, never having worked in such a huge company (big pharma).

After working there a while I noticed the inter-company executive interviews playing on the monitors. They were saying that they believe in the business casual culture because it helps people "think out of the box" and be more creative. A few years before, it was all business suits all the time.

I feel for terrih, I'm in a similar boat. I'm 5'5" with a 32" inseam. Average seems to be around 28-30" inseam. I also can't buy Talls because the rise is huge on me (waist band to armpits).

I also try to buy short sleeves or 3/4 sleeves because my arms are long as well. I tend toward nicer knit tops because it's very difficult to buy shirts and jackets. I am also cursed with no fashion sense ;)

terrih's picture

[quote]I also try to buy short sleeves or 3/4 sleeves because my arms are long as well. I tend toward nicer knit tops because it's very difficult to buy shirts and jackets. I am also cursed with no fashion sense [/quote]
I'm cursed with limited fashion sense myself. :wink:

Knit tops are good, I have narrow shoulders so an untailored shirt like that allows the sleeves to drop down a bit farther. 3/4 sleeves dig into the crook of my elbow, but I still buy them sometimes.

"Long Elegant Legs" as a password or avatar... I hadn't thought of that! Good idea!!

A big part of the issue, I think, is that men's clothing sizes come in smaller increments... which are usually expressed in actual measurements (waist, collar, inseam) instead of the vague, arbitrary, and non-standardized sizes of women's clothing.

Another note... I buy a lot of jeans from Land's End (and some slacks, too)--they have a few styles where one can specify the inseam. One time I phoned in an order and the salesperson said, "36 inches? Are you sure? That's really long." I just said, "I'm 6 foot 1," and she shut up.

What I REALLY wanted to say was, "I've been buying jeans from you people for 20 years, I think I know what size I want." :roll:

kenstanley's picture

[quote="jhack"]Needless to say, I was by far the most underdressed person there! But they probably remember the American Internet Guy in Jeans.

So I keep a suit handy. You never know.

John[/quote]

Many other men I meet in business don't wear ties. [u]Every single time [/u]I don't wear a tie, other people I meet do. So I have simply wear one all the time now.

When I meet with my peers in my company, a tie would be out of place, but since we are geographically diverse, I can wear a tie in my normal workplace.

As an added bonus, I live in a cold climate (for Australia) and a tie keeps you warm.

Ken.

wendii's picture

For the girls!

I'm definately a 'I'm smart, I don't need to dress up' kind of girl, but I went to an image class yesterday. The most interesting part was a demonstration. You can try this at home. You need a friend, dressed as follows: makeup, earrings, necklace, bracelet, watch, belt, jacket, and heels.

Get her to stand in front of you (about 6 feet away) and try to think about the impression she gives. Then have her take off the earrings. Try and describe the difference.

Then fold in the lapels of the jacket and take off the necklace. Describe the difference.

Take off the bracelet and the watch.

Then take off the jacket.

Loose the belt.

And finally take off the heels.

You have to do it in stages to get the full effect. But at one stage (and I wish I could remember which!) I exclaimed... Oh MY! That was £20K off your salary, right there.

Most amazing thing I ever saw. I will be getting up half an hour earlier tommorrow to accessorize!

Wendii

josm's picture

Thank you for this Wendii.

I'm starting a new job tomorrow and spent the weekend trying to decide how dressed up I would be for my first day.

I'm definitely going to add some accessories to my suit.

Thanks again.

Josephine

asteriskrntt1's picture

To the ladies

There are companies like http://www.maxwellsclothiers.com/ that tour town to town, city to city and will custom tailor clothing to you (suits, shirts, blouses, pants, coats). They measured me 27 ways and then took pictures. They then outsource the tailoring to Hong Kong or whatever and then mail your clothing back to you.

For the mens' stuff, they give you lifetime alterations. I suspect they do the same with the womens'.

I got a fairly - high end suit and 3 gorgeous shirts for about $600. My cousin, who is in retail clothing, said it would have cost me $135 each for the shirts and would have paid $1500-1800 regular.

HMac's picture

asteriskrntt1: thanks for the tip about Maxwell's!