Discussion Thread

Dressing the Part

  • 1.  Dressing the Part

    Posted 04-06-2021 09:58 AM
    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 04-07-2021 07:42 AM
    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 04-07-2021 09:28 AM

    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 04-08-2021 09:43 AM
    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 04-09-2021 01:15 AM
    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

  • 6.  RE: Dressing the Part

    Posted 04-15-2021 04:29 PM
    I find that as a woman it is even more complicated to hit the desired "business casual" look. I'm yet to find a good alternative to the khakis and polo look. Women's tops tend to be more dressy than a polo, and most women's cut polos don't come across as sharp as a polo does on a guy. There also aren't many options for women's pants that are along the lines of chinos. So I either feel over or under dressed when told "business casual" and hardly ever right on the money. Also, I learned the term "chinos" from reading the other responses; that's a new one for me!

    In college we had a company come talk, and they require borderline business professional because the founder says something along the lines of "dress professional, act professional."  The company I work for is the opposite. Our dress code is essentially "If you'd wear it to the lake, don't wear it to work," which basically means no shorts for anyone and no sandals or sleeveless shirts for guys. The reasoning I was given was essentially "comfortable engineers are happy engineers, and happy engineers do good work." The caveat with our dress code is that if you are meeting with clients you should match their expectations. With some clients I wear jeans and a top with a cardigan. With some clients I wear a nice dress and flats. I would love to wear a dress or skirt most days since they are comfortable and more easily look like the female equivalent of dressy to what the guys wear, but it just isn't practical -- I get cold easily in the office, and I can't go to site visits dressed that way.

    I personally usually dress on a daily basis in a way that on short notice I can visit a construction site of a project without having to change anything but my shoes.
    I once had to literally run to my apartment to change into jeans because a contractor had an emergency and I was in a skirt. My construction site visit clothes had been taken home for a wash and not been brought back.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 7.  RE: Dressing the Part

    Posted 04-15-2021 04:33 PM
    Thanks Daniel, I want to hear some from them too. While for me as long it was corporate attire it is fine. I take note of avoiding reap jeans, plain T-shirt with sort of printed designs (white t-shirt and black t-shirt or any plain colors can be good with some suit/vest), showing too much skin like wearing off shoulders, long v neck clothes, spaghetti straps, etc. Also obtaining clean haircut for boys and neat ponytail for girls. As long it will be needed like wearing clothes for colds when the country is really cold, because no one can lend you a suit in the office when you needed it. Flats, rubber shoes, 2 inch heels, black shoes, are goods. Pants is okay too.

    Llala Chrishaye Ocampo S.M.ASCE
    City of General Trias Cavite

  • 8.  RE: Dressing the Part

    Posted 05-18-2021 06:15 PM
    Q.  "I would like to know what you think is considered "appropriate" dress code in the workplace?"

    Back around 2001or so, an E/A/C firm of about 237 people with three offices decided to nail this topic down.

    So, a very diverse group of employees formed a "Physical Appearance" task force and went at it.

    Once drafted, it was sent to all employees . . .who were encouraged to take it home . . . for their input and advice.

    Not only did it include what clothing to wear for various functions, it also included tattoos, face jewelry, hairstyles, and color, just about everything that was identified as a concern for any and all employees.

    Once edited and re-issued, it was released and became that firm's go-to book for the obvious questions that might arise.

    The Point:

    Everyone had an opportunity to input, review, evaluate, revise, comment, etc., before its approval and release.

    Stay Healthy!



    p.s. Before reacting to this historical milestone for an E/A/C firm, recall it was

    some 20 years/ two decades ago.

    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 9.  RE: Dressing the Part

    Posted 05-19-2021 09:07 AM
    I'd echo what Heidi said. This question is even more challenging for women as there are more options/nuances in terms of skirts, blouses, dresses, etc. rather than deciding between chinos and jeans and a short or long sleeve button-up. Also I've found that people tend to have far more opinions around female attire and what's appropriate then men. 

    That being said I think context is huge. My company is business casual but what that means in our Boston office vs. our New York office vs. our LA office is even different based on the different cultures, the clients you're expecting to be hosting, or the clients offices or sites you're expecting to visit. I would say there are two big pieces. First, knowing that you feel comfortable in what you're wearing and provides the best productivity for your own work, and second knowing that your leadership feels comfortable with the culture you're presenting. Finding the balance between these two is the tricky part. The second one sometimes requires a conversation (hopefully that can be done in a way that's not awkward) to make sure you're dressed the part for a client meeting or presentation. Personally, I like to put on more formal clothes when I have a really busy day coming at me, and have on many occasions just asked my boss if I needed to dress nice for a meeting. 

    I'd say that a lot of the issues come from everyone having slightly different opinions on the matter but not discussing the topic so you either get caught off guard when someone makes a comment or there's disapproval that's never expressed and comes out in more passive ways. 

    Interesting topic especially in the time of Teams/Zoom calls!

    Taygra Longstaff
    Ipswich MA

  • 10.  RE: Dressing the Part

    Posted 05-21-2021 12:26 PM
    I felt Heidi's sentence of "I'm yet to find a good alternative to the khakis and polo look" in my soul! When I started my new position in December, I was told that the office dress code was "jeans and a polo" and, like she said, polos on women typically send a different message than polos on men. Long story short, I found that cable knit sweaters are an acceptable alternative for cold months and short sleeve shirts with cardigans work well for warmer months. This is for my particular office though, which is fairly casual.

    I ended up choosing about 5 tops and 2 bottoms to cycle through each week until I learned more about the culture. I added a few variations depending on the weather and changed the selection with the new season. As the only woman in my immediate office, I figured the men wouldn't notice if I assigned outfits to days of the week. If they did notice and if they cared, that would be weird because they were doing almost the same thing. The simplification helped enormously. 

    So much of women's clothing is over-sexualized (read: impractical). Men usually don't have to worry about their pants being too tight or a certain top being too revealing for work, but tight fitting/revealing clothing is the norm for women. I don't think there's anything wrong with trendy clothes per se, but when I'm regularly at construction sites, I need PRACTICALITY above all else. There are some clothing companies that are paying attention to the needs of women in positions like this (e.g. Duluth for some items), but we need more. I don't consider myself a fashion-conscious individual and I dress modestly by today's standards, but choosing my clothing for work can be surprisingly exhausting.

    Also, on a tangentially related topic, the choice of clothing gets even more complicated on a personal level if the individual has experienced any form of sexual harassment on the job. As somebody who has experienced this, I regularly find myself asking questions like "will this attract the wrong kind of attention?" or "will I have to endure So-and-So looking at my chest because this shirt is slightly form-fitting?" I know that experiencing sexual harassment is not my fault, but it's almost impossible not to try find a solution through clothing when you feel powerless to make changes in other people's behaviors.

    Gail Hayes Ph.D., EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Rockingham VA

  • 11.  RE: Dressing the Part

    Posted 05-23-2021 03:39 PM

    I'm glad I'm not alone in that!

    I resonate with trying to find that line of feeling comfortable/practical yet professional in clothes. If you try to go up a size to not make something too tight when that is what is in style, then you run the risk of looking sloppy. I'm looking forward to seeing further development in women's clothing for situations like site visits as more women join the industry. Even things like safety vests are awkward sometimes because it's either way too loose somewhere or too tight somewhere for certain body shapes.

    I can also relate to your final paragraph. There was an employee at my office for a little while that made me highly uncomfortable. After one very uncomfortable encounter, I wore jeans and a t-shirt unless I had a meeting outside the office until that employee was no longer around. I'm thankful that employee is no longer at our company for that and a couple other reasons, but in that in-between time I definitely felt insecure in some of my dressier clothes.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 12.  RE: Dressing the Part

    Posted 05-24-2021 10:20 AM
    I've read that some women envy men's business attire, because it takes time and money to dress well, whereas dress shirts and pants can be easily switched for variations while greatly simplifying decision-making every morning. I myself went to Brooks Brothers, before they went bankrupt, and a few trips were enough to keep me dressed for years. I wouldn't want the casual trend to continue too much, because it'd mean I'd have to update my wardrobe more often.

    Tsee Lee S.M.ASCE
    New York NY