You Wore That To Work? Really? No, Really?

They say clothes make the man (or woman) so be mindful of what message your wardrobe is conveying about you

I've always loved wearing suits and ties to work. (Image: Courtesy of Subject)

I don’t care what anybody says; I’m SO glad we have a dress code at Black Enterprise. Just saw a guy from another company on the elevator in the building where our New York offices are located. His slacks looked like he took them from a homeless dude with dandruff. (I mean, they were like the bum in the Slick Rick lyrics: Don’t know the meaning of water nor soap. Nor dry cleaners. Nor even an iron. And there really were white flakes on them.) His belt missed at least one loop. And I think his fly was open. He had on a dress shirt, half tucked in. His shabby black kicks (couldn’t tell whether they were shoes or sneakers) would be rejected by Goodwill.

Now, not everybody who’s worked for Black Enterprise, past and present, feels the way I do about our dress code of traditional business attire, including shirts, ties, jackets and leather shoes for us men. (I love wearing suits and ties, and I’ve always been one of the better dressed people at every job I’ve ever had, even before I began making decent money.) But every time I ride the elevator in my building, I’m newly grateful for the policy. Ours is the most professionally attired company in our building by far. Even our operations staff dress better than many of the professionals and managers at most companies. Everybody in our building can tell who works for Black Enterprise. And it’s not because most of us are Black. Many people don’t want to believe it, but our attire does make a difference in how we are seen by others—and perhaps more importantly, how we see ourselves, as individual professionals and as a company.

Every dress code shouldn’t be like that of a white shoe law firm. What makes sense obviously varies from industry to industry, and even company to company. But some attire standard must be set or people will go buck wild. If your dress policy is going to be a casual one, then for goodness sakes, define it, and hold the people in your organization to it.

Amateurs play the game wearing whatever they want to. Pros wear uniforms. I’m proud to wear the uniform of Black Enterprise.

How about you, are you for dress codes at work or an advocate of self expression—even if it’s in poor fashion taste? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

  • Ken McDaniel

    I am not a proponent of the old fashion dress code per say. I think there should always be minimum standards. And I can agree with encouraging folks to dress with class. Workers should present themselves in a neat, clean and decent manner….no question. However, I do not feel the need to have men wear suits and definitely not ties. Although ties tend to look professional, in this day and age, it really adds nothing of importance when you factor in the fact that the person is at work to perform certain tasks, not necessarily for a fashion show. If wearing certain items means it takes the workers longer to get to work, the works dread getting dressed up for work and the workers feel uncomfortable at work, then why would we want to force this upon them? It doesn’t make sense.
    I work at a school where there is a certain dress code for faculty and an even stricter dress code for administration. On occasions we have reason to dress down (wear jeans and sneakers) at work. Sometimes it’s to shoe school spirit and other times it’s a fund raiser where we are allowed to dress down after paying a $5 donation to support a worthy cause. On those occasions, employee attendance is much better than on regular days and the smiles on the employee’s faces are ten-fold. For those reasons alone, it is obvious that the repressive and out-dated dress code is a hindrance to employee morale. Why bother?
    This out-dated and narrow-minded mentality that forces men to wear slacks, tucked in dress shirts and ties is so overused that when I go to a store right after I get off work, people mistake me for a worker at Sears, K-Mart, Home Depot, Macy’s, etc… Wow. They figure, why in the world would he be dressed like that if he doesn’t work here? LOL
    Let’s get with the times. Remember, even if there is no dress code, you can still wear your suits to work. Why would a person wish that others have to suffer just because he likes to wear certain clothes? No one wishes that suit wearers came to work in jeans, so why do suit wearers wish that jeans wearers look like them? Selfish!

    • Sono

      Wholeheartedly agree with you. I’m more comfortable without all the trussing up. And because I’m comfortable, I work better.

  • Tony S

    Fashion codes are ridiculous, archaic and unnecessary in any field to get work done. I do know that many do not share my viewpoint on this so I try to conform to society, but that does not make society right.

    Dress codes exist to draw imaginary lines between people that really do not exist. Someone is telling me because I wear a t-shirt and jeans that the quality of my intelligence, work output and communication is poor? BS. I hope the current generation realizes the ridiculousness of things like this and moves on to help society instead of “honoring” out of date crap.

  • Melissa

    I totally agree with the line: “Amateurs play the game wearing whatever they want to. Pros wear uniforms.”

    I work at home. I could, theoretically, wear pj’s all day long. And some days, I have. But I can tell you that my productivity on those days was waaaaay lower. Everyday, I shower, put on make-up, and a casual, but nice outfit. It gets me in the mind set to work. I’m a “pro”, and I’m in it to win it. 🙂

  • Estherlyn Bonas

    Our dress code differs from ten or even five years ago and we blend ideas. However, whether shoes come from the store with the star logo or a buy-one-get-one-free-deal, they should be neat, clean and lo “bling.” Simple suits are versatile as one could make three outfits. If the work culture supports
    simple slacks and dresses, a dark, starchy pin-striped suit might seem overbearing and distant.Styles for meetings should be appropriate.If you wear clothes that are not “you,” people pick that up. I try for simple detail and moderate jewelry for work. Weekends differ. Most of all, be you.

  • Robin

    The whole reason for a dress code is to project a certain image to important customers who are the reason you have a job in the first place. If there are no customers to pay your company, how do you get paid?? It is not an “outdated” concept as Tony suggests, rather a continuation of the good old days when people believed that proper things were done out of consideration for others and also for the image projection aspect in order to win over more clients, hence more money for the tee shirts and jeans crowd.

  • Ian

    Your shirt sleeves are a bit short, it appears.

    • Alfred Edmond, Jr.


      You’re absolutely right. I wore the wrong shirt for that suit that day. That’s why, when I get my money right, I’m going to invest in more custom-tailored shirts. Buying off the rack can be hit or miss.

      Still love my look, though. 🙂


  • zeb

    Talent and skill trump appearance every single time. I dress like a schlob, and my boss hates it, but, I’m too valuable for him to give me a hard time about it. Why? becuase I’m good at what I do, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

    • Alfred Edmond, Jr.


      What do you do for a living? Where do you work? Do you have any career goals beyond what you are doing now?


  • zeb

    you love wearing suits and ties to work? Don’t you realize that you’ve been colonized? Do you think your ancestors who were brought to this country in chains every wore a suit in their lives? You love to wear the white man’s uniform. You look like a house slave, tom.

    • cecil

      Are you kidding me, zeb? Dressing professionally is only for the white man? Come on, now.

  • Eli Johnson

    I guess in the corporate world, this stuff matters. But I can tell you in fields such as math and science, they don’t have time for this nonsense. I think the smarter you are, the less stuff like this matters to you. Not trying to be awful, but that seems to be true most of the time. If I were some schlep in corporate America with a Harvard MBA, I guess I would dress the part. But as a Harvard PhDx3 in science fields, I think I am above all that. I know that may sound snobby, but that is how I feel.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like to dress up, but not to make an impression on my co-workers who have their head next to a microscope all day trying to find cures to stuff most of you can’t pronounce. No. That just isn’t a consideration.

    And to be honest, I wouldn’t hire a person based on that type of inane tradition. If I ran a business, and I will some day, I would be more worried about how much money I can make off this person and how much money they can bring to the company. Maybe that is why Americans have such a hard time with up and coming countries. Americans have been so hoodwinked and bamboozled by the idiots in HR and MBA types that they don’t even know the difference between substance and window dressing. And please don’t get me started on the dolts in Human Resources. A complete waste of Human Resources, in economic terms, if there ever was one. I guess dumb women needed a career too! That is why so many women are in the field. OY VEY I SAY!

    • Alfred Edmond, Jr.


      Please let me know when you plan to start your business. What kind of venture will it be? Will it require outside investment? Is it your plan to keep it a small, closely held company, or is your goal to build a larger company with the growth and revenue potential to go public or be acquired?

      I’m curious about whether your views might change (making a positive impression on co-workers is unimportant, HR and MBA types are idiots; human resources is a complete waste/for dumb women, etc.) once you have to deal with employees, clients, partners, customers and investors, as a business owner.

      As far as your confidence in your Harvard PhDx3 as a measure of your superior intelligence (at least in comparison to the schleps, dolts and idiots you reference), I highly recommend the book “The Smartest Guys In The Room” by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind (if you haven’t read it already). Also, check out the book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol S. Dweck; pay special attention to the section on CEOs and business leadership.


  • Al

    Dress codes are a way of enforcing hierarchy, which the author seems quite happy with. If you think that hierarchy is important and an efficient way of working, then go for dress codes. But if you want an efficient and happy work team, then they are a hindrance. My brother was head of research at a top Silicon Valley software company – he went to work in jeans and t-shirt. Look at the top companies, like Google – they don’t have a dress code. If you are concerned with appearances, then, have a dress code. If you are concerned with results, then let your staff dress as they like.

    • Alfred Edmond, Jr.

      I’ve had significant contact with professionals and executives at Google during the past five years, both at public/industry events and at internal meetings with Black Enterprise (Google is a sponsor of our major events including the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference and the Women of Power Summit.) I’ve also spent time at Google’s offices in Manhattan. It is an absolute myth that Google, and companies like it, don’t have a dress code. It may be more relaxed than say, the attire of an executive at Goldman Sachs. It also may vary depending on the function, department and location of the employee. But to say that there is no dress code, no professional standard of attire is an absolute myth.

      Also, I don’t believe that dress codes are a way of enforcing hierarchy. In fact, I have no idea what you mean when you say that. Nor do I understand how setting a standard for professional attire (not saying that it should be what it is at, say, Black Enterprise or Xerox) hinders the efficiency and happiness of a work team.

      Your view seems to be that appearances and results are not related. I’m stating that in business, especially the higher you go, the more money there is at stake and the more interaction/cooperation required with customers and other constituents, there is a DIRECT correlation between the two.


  • bird

    google engineers wear flip flops to work… these are guys who are changing the world. they’re busy coding — not color coordinating. thank goodness they don’t worry about such petty things. ’nuff said.

    • Alfred Edmond, Jr.


      Coders and engineers at Google may be able to wear whatever they want. However, the people they work for, i.e. the executives who run Google as a profit making venture, who are doing business on behalf of the brand and the products and services it sells, are most assuredly NOT wearing flip flops. The higher up you go in any organization, including Google, the more your professional presentation counts.


      • Citizenland

        you didn’t specify anything in your piece about management. I thought the discussion was about white collar jobs in general. IMO, the folks who actually do the WORK benefit from being more relaxed so casual dress is a win. The individuals who appear to work but are merely a conduit (management) to the important ppl (workers) should, at the very least, look like they’re useful hence a suit would be appropriate.

        • Alfred Edmond, Jr.


          Anyone who doesn’t believe that management is WORK doesn’t understand either.

          • Tom

            BS. I run a business and I can tell you that only lasts long enough to ink the deal, and that’s only if I’m required to come in to their office during the negotiation. Otherwise, I do it in my underwear at home over the phone. I show up to work in jeans and T-shirt, because not only am I the management in my company, I’m also the lead engineer of the software project.

            When I have to do business with company’s that think like your article, I’m always willing to walk away from the table. They’re probably the types that will try to stiff me when it comes time to pay, or I’ll end up in court suing them because they tried to weasel out of payment stating that the software didn’t meet the requirement somehow. I smell those customers from a mile off, because I’ve been burned by them. The lesson I learned was always withhold the source code and documentation until final payment is received, and if you can avoid doing business with them then avoid it.

  • Pamela

    For a long time I thought that the way I dressed didnt matter. I was an HR manager at one of those Silicon Valley companies that say they dont have a dress code. Later I found out that there is actually a “hidden code” of sorts. If you are an individul contributor, young and with very few upward career development interests, you can dress any way you want. If you are interested in these, you should dress well. Unfortunately I have found out that even these companies that say they have relaxed dress codes expect their managers and senior staff to dress the part, if you dont ( like me) then you are judged by that and may lose some opportunitites. I left that company and now work for another IT company, and although I dont go to the office in dresses and high heels all the time, I do make sure I look sharp.
    I think that the flip flop and shorts dress codes applies more to the software engineers, designers, etc. If you are in the corporate world in a role in which you have contact with customers, vendors, or internal stakeholders that can affect your future career, I recommend dressing well. Even if you are wearing jeans and sneakers, make sure they are clean and sharp!

  • Citizenland

    Its entirely dependent on what business you’re in. Working in the financial sector that requires a company to appear competent would benefit from employees putting forth a professional image. Same with people in PR work. Other jobs such as writing code (ie game development)or anything in the art/creative sphere benefits much more by having a relaxed dress code.

    Its not a (pardon the expression) a black & white issue.

  • Linda

    The USMC library where I work subscribes to Black Enterprise, just thought I would let you know. We have a work policy of business casual which for women is a school teacher look. For men it means no jeans.
    Interestingly enough our base has an overall dress code–no tank tops or short shorts.

  • depro

    I’m a paralegal at a SF law firm; the dress code is “business casual” unless clients are visiting. In that case, everyone is “business as usual.”

    However, said dress code is enforced only for staff; attorneys frequently come to work in jeans and tennis shoes all week, whereas staff is allowed such laxity only on Friday. Nonsense, I know; but when your office manager is afraid of the attorneys it’s what happens. The staff dresses better than the professionals. So, who is actually setting the tone for the office?

  • Tom

    As a business owner I’ll tell you, I HATE wearing dress clothes. Ya, I do it only because my clients are large fortune 500’s that require my services for a short time. They expect that I come in professional business attire — at least until I land them. Often times, I’m hired over the phone so they never even see me.

    It will forever baffle me how people react to the first time they see me after I have signed the bid. I always come in jeans, T-shirt, and a nice clean pair of tennis shoes. I look young for my age. Despite being in my mid 30’s I look like I’m in my early / mid 20’s. I have tattoos … lots of them. They snake down my arms in dark colors with the occasional accented color splash that pops out at you. My tongue is pierced, and I know I have a tendency to peer from beneath my eye brows with the narrow-eyed impatient look. My girlfriend often needs to remind me that its intimidating for others, and I appear angry even when I’m perfectly happy.

    The reactions are pretty damning. I’m frequently asked to change my attire and dress more professionally, or told that my style doesn’t fit their culture. It’s always met with the same response: “You hired me for my skill set and not how I look. You made no specification that I had to adhere to your dress code policies while working this assignment in our contract. Please let me do my job. According to the terms of the agreement, early termination of this project results in your company being penalized. You’re free to pay the fee if you’d like.”

    After the dirty looks and attitude, a few months goes by. They often times find they misjudged me. While I might look unorthodox, there’s a reason I can demand the pay rates that I do: I’m good at what I do. I am always marked for rehire at the end of these projects, and sometimes I get repeat customers requesting my work. There’s typically a lighthearted conversation on the phone when I’m being referred to a different hiring manager that is unfamiliar with me. It usually goes something to the tune of: “I had to warn about your unorthodox appearance, but I did tell them that you did good work. They said they were ok with how you dress as long as you can complete the task”.

    The idea of a suit is an artificial construct of our society that is meant to be a symbol of what it means to be a part of the middle class in America. While that’s all fine and good, it’s no different than donning the robes of your favorite occult and chanting because everyone else is doing it. Suits have no real meaning, and they simply give people a way to judge others by assessing their social classes. I can dress up something fierce. I can pull out top dollar outfits that cost me a few grand and sport it with the best of them, but in the end it doesn’t say shit about my skillset or competence. People like the author of this blog and others think it represents something about the person, but it doesn’t mean anything at all.

    I have interviewed / worked with engineers dressed to the nines and watched them strike out. They relied entirely on their personality, charm, and appearance while offering up buzz words with little substance. The best engineers I hire are usually the ones you condemned in your blog. Ya the guy has a mustard stain on his shirt, it’s obvious he forgot to tie his shoes, and his shirt is of questionable appearance but I’ll tell you that that guy can probably write the tightest damn code you’ve ever seen. I’ll pay that guy top dollar any day of the week to work an assignment with me over pretty Ricky that doesn’t have a clue.