Discussion Thread

Dressing the Part

  • 1.  Dressing the Part

    Posted 9 days ago
    Some firms have a business-casual dress code while other firms don't have any dress code with some people showing up in tee-shirts.
    I have seen a company handbook that requires the Engineers to wear ties (although none of them do).

    With virtual meetings, and the summer months coming, this questions applies more than ever! What is the appropriate dress code? Is there even a dress code anymore?

    Both sides, for and against 'dressing the part', are credible. Some, such as Dr. Karen Pine, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and fashion psychologists, say "Dressing casually could cause an employee to feel less focused and alert" (FORBES) while others disagree citing personal experience and several case studies such as one conducted by Stormline  found that "61% of employees more productive when dress code is relaxed" (TALiNT International).

    Either way, I would like to know what you think is considered "appropriate" dress code in the workplace? (I personally always wear a button down shirt, even while working from home.)

    Daniel Bressler EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Brooklyn NY

  • 2.  RE: Dressing the Part

    Posted 8 days ago
    Hey Daniel,

    This seems like a fun topic to discuss. I would imagine that dressing a certain way helps people engage a certain mindset. I assume that for some people, a button down shirt and suit helps them feel "on", and for other people, comfort helps them focus better. Of course, if you are comfortable in more dressy clothes, then it sounds like you win both ways!

    As someone who went to a school requiring a uniform from kindergarten through high school, I am comfortable in "business casual", but relish the chance to dress more casually, especially in the summer. It takes me back to my college days, where I got to work on tons of projects with fellow classmates who had many different styles of dress. I always felt that most of them always brought their A game to what they were working on, regardless if they were in a suit or coming to class or lab straight from a sport they played.

    In terms of how we relate to those around us based on what we wear, I find that this is a topic that I try to balance a fine line on. My employer specifies a dress code, as many of us work out of a client's office. The client is a government agency with much more relaxed dress code. On one hand, my employer wants me to always look presentable to them.  On the other hand, I have heard from many of the client staff that they feel less at ease when we show up "over-dressed".  Therefore, I try to strike a balance where I adhere to the letter of my dress code, yet also wear things that feel familiar to those in the client's office.

    Final fun fact: In my early days at my job, I recall getting a compliment on a pair of pants I wore from my boss. He later discreetly asked me not to wear them in the office again, as upon further admiration of my flawless sense of style, he realized that the pockets were horizontal, rather than vertical. Apparently not all chinos are created equal!

    At the end of the day, I try to focus on the work habits of myself and those around me, and pay no more than a passing thought to whether or not their shirt has a collar.

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 3.  RE: Dressing the Part

    Posted 8 days ago

    For me when I started in the engineering workforce our dress code is business casual, I know that I had asked for an explanation of what that all required. During college a few of my professors mentioned business casual as meaning differently to each business. Some have business casual as nice dress pants, with button up dress shirt and possibly tie or no tie, where other places have the business casual as polos and chinos.
    At my office our business casual is nice pare of chinos and polos, unless you are doing out of office travel/inspections then you can wear jeans in place of the chinos. Also on Fridays we have a dress-down day, so jeans and polos or plain t-shirts.
    It really depends on what your employee handbook classifies as code of dress and getting explanations from supervisors or other coworkers who've been there awhile.

    As for me I enjoy our dress down days and feel more relaxed at work, while Mon-Thur. is our regular business casual, which I enjoy wearing also. Yes it depends on the person, company, and dress codes. As for working, really depends on each person, I'm fine with either dress attire.

    Good discussion.

    Timothy Lang EI, A.M.ASCE
    Staff Engineer
    Elkhart IN

  • 4.  RE: Dressing the Part

    Posted 7 days ago
    I think this is a neat topic, as I think "dressing the part" has evolved over time, and especially so over the last few years with the pandemic.

    I know when I first started working in engineering, you could tell that workers with more experience typically dressed more formally, compared to newer engineers. And it made sense in a lot of ways. Because they had more experience, they typically had more responsibilities that included having meetings with clients and managers, so "dressing the part" was informally part of the job description. For newer engineers, who typically only had to interact with their direct supervisors and their fellow colleagues, "dressing the part" wasn't as critical, and the newer engineers typically dressed more casually.

    Personally, I have had a lot of great supervisors and mentors over the years, and one of them told me something that still sticks with me to this day, "Don't dress for the job you have; dress for the job you WANT to have." To me, taking pride in the way you present yourself can indicate to managers that I am taking my responsibilities seriously, and am looking to progress my career. I have received many strange looks from coworkers if I am wearing a tie or dress shoes, but I wasn't wearing them for my coworkers, I was wearing them for my supervisors.

    But that is just my opinion. How you dress is a way for someone to express themselves, and as we are all individuals, it makes sense that we would have individual thoughts on how to dress. To me, there is no right or wrong way.

    I will say that during the pandemic, so many things with "dressing the part" has changed. I bet we all have been guilty of attending an online meeting with a nice, presentable top, while wearing sweatpants that can't be seen (hopefully). With a working from home environment, how you dress becomes less important, and what you produce, when you produced it, and how you communicate it is becoming more important, as you may not have the option of quickly and easily talking face to face with someone anymore.

    I also think that a difference in attitudes toward dressing the part can be influenced by the different generations in the workforce. I feel younger generations tent to think more of "As long as I am doing good work, who cares what I dress like?" And I completely get that. I feel older generations tend to think more "I wake up a professional, I dress like a professional, I work like a professional, and I eat like a professional" (OK, that last one is a stretch, but you get my point) And I completely understand that mentality too.

    Whether you dress formally, or informally (or somewhere in between), is your choice. Different situations and environments call for different techniques to succeed, including how you dress.

    I will leave with a quote from Deion Sanders (former NFL and MLB player) that I love, "If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good."

    Doug Cantrell P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Durham NC

  • 5.  RE: Dressing the Part

    Posted 6 days ago
    Pre-pandemic my go-to chinos and a long-sleeve button-down put me in the top 10% for best dressed in my (government agency) office.  Granted, a third is field staff, but even among engineering staff that was more formal than most.  With SOP now being work-from-home, those that need to be in the office have relaxed more, myself included.  I won't go as far as a T-shirt like some, but a polo or flannel (depending on weather) and dark denim is typical.  It's basically my step up from weekend errand running (which is generally a T-shirt and sandals).  I'll be interested when (if?) we return to regular office hours whether dress will return.  There was never a formal notice more casual was acceptable, it just kind of happened.

    As for working from home, I'm firmly in the camp where how I dress doesn't impact my focus/productivity.  I never have anything more formal than a T-shirt on, and if it's the first half of the day sweatpants are highly likely.  I'm admittedly fortunate that video is not required during virtual meetings, something I know not every organization allows.

    Ultimately "appropriate" dress code with depend on an organization and its culture.  As generations cycle through I expect things will trend more casual until an inevitable reversal.

    Gavin Finley P.E., M.ASCE
    Associate Civil Engineer
    San Mateo CA