Words on Wardrobe
Updated: Jun 25, 2019
Where BA = Business Attire, CC = Corporate Culture, I = Industry, F = Fashion, and PC = Personal Choice.
Truthfully, I am not a fashion maven. I have loosely followed general fashion trends for most of my life, but only really to the extent of regularly updating my wardrobe and buying what is current fashion trends off the shelf at large department stores. My story is about the unique place that fashion holds in the human consciousness and its role, both conscious and unconscious, in our opinions of others.
“For the apparel oft proclaims the man.” - Polonius
When I entered the workplace, my first big stop was with a large multi-national conglomerate. The culture was stiff, like a well starched white shirt worn with a solid tie covered by a blue suit and mated with well-shined black shoes. And that was the uniform. Certainly for any external, customer engagement. For the office days, a dress shirt and chinos was bordering on too casual. I wholeheartedly adopted this fashion, both obedient to expected standards and because it was a bit fun to play dress-up.
Fast forward to my first 'new manager assimilation' event. For those not aware, this is a fun little adventure designed to help your new team get to know you and accept you as their manager (or alternatively tear you down and expose your weaknesses). At the time, I was still wearing the standard uniform but now with some twists. As confidential feedback from my new team, my HR leader shared with me 'Sometimes Dale wears brightly coloured socks.' No further explanation nor question - as if either or both should be implied from the statement. And then also 'Dale does not always wear a tie when we meet customers. This makes me uncomfortable.' It was very interesting feedback. And I pondered on it some. But my HR leader also pointed out to me at the time, 'If your socks are their biggest concern, you've done a good job of hiding all of your other faults.'
Colourful socks play a big part of this story. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to be on a panel interviewing then CEO and Chairman of General Electric, Jeff Immelt. An immense honour, there was significant preparation involved including specific advice from his handlers on dress code. We had just acquired two 'digital' companies in Canada and we wanted to project ourselves as 'progressive and hip'. And so you see, I nicely matched my socks to my shirt that day. After posting about my experience on LinkedIn, a full 50% of the replies commented only about my socks. Wow, I had just interviewed the Chairman of a $150B/year, 125 year old company and people were most interested in my socks.
And now the next chapter of my career. I am currently ingraining myself into the technology and start-up community in Vancouver. Of note, I have not pulled out any navy blue suits lately. Even with this, I feel that there is a legacy of conservatism in my dress that remains. I do my best to show up in nice jeans, a dress shirt and sport coat - but this still feels overdressed sometimes. I have been recently meeting with a local technology company in a burgeoning market. At the same time, I have been doing some casual work as a labourer for a local construction company. (Disclosure, I very much enjoy physical work and am pretty handy.) So before meeting the CEO for a coffee, I told him I'd be in work clothes. After we met, he commented on my hat. 'Your wearing a flat-brimmed hat. When we first met, I thought you were a bit stuffy. But seeing you in that hat makes me think not.' Wow, I have come full circle. And it was actually great feedback and relevant to the image I am trying to portray. But more accurately, it reflects me. I have a closet full of flat-brimmed hats to go along with my surfer/skier 'bro' look that is still my personal fashion brand.
I will try to sum this up with an equation - because it makes sense to try and characterize workplace fashion as an equation (LOL).
Where BA = Business Attire, CC = Corporate Culture, I = Industry, F = Fashion, and PC = Personal Choice. I'm really not sure if this accurately sums up standards for business attire but I will let you know when I adopt a 'hoodie' or 'black turtleneck' as my everyday uniform.