Over the weekend, I took part of an interesting conversation about what defines “professional” clothing. Many in the room held firm to the belief that professional dress did not include the wearing of jeans. Others were seemingly ambivalent. Not shocking to any that know me, I had strong opinions in opposition. I believe that your behaviour defines your professional demeanor, not the wearing of Spanx and dress clothes.
This belief probably has something to do with the fact that the majority of my career has been a part of start-up technology companies. When I was 25 years old, I assisted the team negotiating an asset only acquisition wearing shorts and a Hooters t-shirt. Yes, a Hooters t-shirt. I was living in Austin, and owned a “Austin Hooters t-shirt.” Classy, probably not. Hilarious, absolutely. Did it change my skill set in navigating the muddy waters of employee transition? Without a doubt, no.
My voice defines the work that I do. My skills don’t change if I am wearing a pencil skirt or a pair of jeans. In my world, a venture cap firm honestly doesn’t pay attention to the clothing that I wear when I present instead, they are more focused on profitability and volume of media spend that we generate on a monthly basis. Frankly, half the time, in the rooms that I speak, people rarely look up from their machines to glance at the speaker. I’ve joked in the past that I could most likely show up to a meeting in my pj’s and the only way that someone would notice is if their battery died on the tech that they are plugged into.
As I was getting ready to go into the office this morning, I pondered this conversation. Today, I am dressed in jeans, shirt and light sweater. I brushed my hair (yay for me) and slapped on some basic make-up. The make-up is for me, not the colleagues that I will be meeting in 90 minutes. Our meeting today is about a plethora of really important things, none of which will be impacted by the clothing that I selected at 4:30 am.
Next week I travel to visit some clients. The wardrobe will mostly be the same, as I pitch business. Maybe a touch more accessories, but the jeans will come with me. They are my wardrobe. My battle gear. If I were to suit it up, believe it or not, I would lose credibility in the room. I am to look like my peers. We blend in, and let the technology show for itself. If I were to show up at work wearing what many deem as “professional clothes” immediately people would wonder if I was interviewing.
I used to work for a man that had tattoos covering his arms. He would walk into a big client with his sleeves rolled up. He wouldn’t hide them. They were part of who he was, and as a reflection, it communicated the creativity of the product & platform that we were. I always admired his wardrobe choices. His clothes didn’t cater to a perception of the role, instead he let the work do the talking.
It’s the year 2015. It’s time to focus less on the clothing, and more on the work, the words, the deeds.
When I interview people, I look for three things:
1.) Does their resume have any spelling errors?
2.) Do they look me in the eye when discussing their accomplishments?
3.) Do they seem hungry for work?
NOW… all of that being said, I do prefer that a candidate have the appearance of taking a shower and not smelling like a party from the night before, but that’s pretty much where my requirements end. Working with mostly developers and creatives over the years have changed my ideas of what people should look like.
I’ve sat in the room with disgustingly wealthy investors who eschewed suit and tie about 15 years ago. I’ve sat next to powerful female CEO’s and VP’s who wear jeans and black button down shirts. Somewhere along the way, at least in my industry, we said “screw societal norms” and focused on the body of work.
So, I ask you this:
What is your definition of professional clothing? Let me know in the comments.