How to establish a useful workplace dress code.

The seasons have finally changed across the northern third of America. We can safely put our Icelandic sweaters, mukluks and buffalo robes away for the next 6 months. It’s time to bust out our warm weather wardrobes. Which means revisiting an old issue in the workplace: dress code.

My First Job

Before I started my first job in advertising I had no idea what to wear. So I called the agency for guidance. They assigned me a Fashion Mentor named Shannon. She called me and told me that, ‘polos and khakis were pretty much standard’. While I dressed respectably on my first day, I saw that the creative team wore jeans and t-shirts. So I quickly adopted the more comfortable creative attire. Thanks for nothing Fashion Mentor Shannon.

The Weaponry

Today I face a new challenge. As the Founder of the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I now have to set the dress code for the entire agency. This spring is the first time we have had warm weather since we moved into our new office in the fall. So I have to determine what types of summer clothing are acceptable, or preferable. The challenge is that they didn’t cover establishing a dress code at the Harvard Business School. Trust me. I read a book about it (Ahead Of The Curve).

I considered writing an explicit dress code. I thought it would be fun to have rules like a strict English boarding school, that said things like, The hem of the broadcloth covering your lower hemisphere must fall within a ruler’s width of your knee’s equator.

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At The Weaponry, a team t-shirt is always up to code.

But I don’t believe in a complicated dress code. Instead, I believe in a very simple rule of thumb. Here is the dress code at The Weaponry:

Dress the way you want people to see you.

Breaking It Down.

This is a bit more complex than it may seem at first glance. Sometimes this direction means dressing up. It means looking professional, polished and well-coordinated.  Sometimes this means looking more interesting, more fashionable or trendy. And sometimes this means dressing down. Some people should look more relaxed. Or more creative. Because you need to dress for the role you want to play in the minds’ of your co-workers and clients.

To that end, I have worn jeans to every client meeting I have had for the past decade. Because I believe clients don’t want their ad agency creatives to look like bankers and lawyers. Then again, they don’t want you to look homeless either. But I’ve found there is a fairly wide field to play with between the two.

Key Takeaway

Ignore the limits of your current workplaces dress code. Instead, dress the way you want people to see you. Make a statement. Use your wardrobe choices as sign that you are ready for the next step in responsibility. That may mean not partaking in Casual Friday. It may mean wearing an elective tie. Or bow tie. But it may also mean that you rock the Ramones T-shirt for the next client meeting.

Don’t ignore your clothes. You can bet your clients and coworkers won’t ignore what you are wearing. So unless you work at a nudist colony, think about your threads. Because every day on the job is a day in costume.

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How does your job look on you?

How often do you take a good long look at your job? Once a year? Once an hour? Once a never? It is really easy to stop evaluating your job and simply accept it as your reality.  Then years go by, and your job search muscles atrophy to the point where you can barely lift your interviewing suit off the hanger.

Many of us accept our jobs as necessary, but not special. Your job provides the money you need for critical things like food, clothing, shelter and a mobile phone. However, the ‘necessary evil’ mindset leads many of us to jobs that are just… fine.

But life it too short, and the workday is too long for fine.

I have reevaluated my job-love frequently throughout my career. But instead of job-hopping I have used my evaluations to tailor my jobs in ways that kept them feeling enjoyable, dynamic and growth-oriented.

A New Lens

A couple of years ago, while mentally jogging, I began thinking of my job as clothing. It made me consider my personal style, the image I want to show the world and my personal comfort. In that context it was clear to me that my current job didn’t fit me. The size, style and cut of the clothing was nice. But it just wasn’t for me. Clothes are highly personal that way.

So I decided to do something about it. I got all idyllic. I thought a lot about the perfect job. I thought about the perfect place to work, the perfect kind of work and the perfect culture. I even started a blog about it. Maybe you’ve read it.

I concluded that the specific place I was looking for didn’t exist, yet. So I started the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry.  Today, I couldn’t be happier. Everything about it seems to fit me. It seems the people working at The Weaponry are enjoying their experience too.  Perhaps because we set out to make this a really enjoyable place to work. Perhaps this is because, like fashion designers preparing for a runway show, we have been able to pick people for our team that we knew would look good in our jobs.

Now, back to you.

Today  I want you to think of your job as a piece of clothing.  It could be a dress, a suit, a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, a blouse or jacket. I want you to think about the fit and feel of your current job. Think about the style and the silhouette.

Now, let’s evaluate.

14 Questions To Ask Yourself About Your Job, If It Were A Piece Of Clothing.

  1. Do I like wearing it?
  2. Does it fit me well?
  3. Do I choose to wear it as often as I can?
  4. Would I only wear it if everything else was in the laundry?
  5. How would I feel if an old boyfriend or girlfriend saw me wearing this?
  6. Is it out of style?
  7. It is well-tailored to me?
  8. Does it make my butt look big?
  9. Am I excited that I own it?
  10. Do I get compliments when I wear it?
  11. Does wearing it make me feel stronger, more attractive or more fun?
  12. Could I really benefit from removing it from my closet?
  13. Is it the right style, but too big or too small?
  14. Do I cringe when I see the types of other people who wear what I’m wearing?

Here’s the reality: Your job really is like a piece of clothing. You wear it more than anything else you own.  Yet many people would be better off donating their jobs to Goodwill. You may think your current position is better than nothing. But I know many people who would look better wearing no job than the one they currently have.

You have more career options than you realize. You have the ability to create your own job, perfectly tailored to you.  Don’t ever forget that.  The more you enjoy your job, the more you enjoy your life. As far as I know, we only get one shot to get this right. So find something you love to do and a place you love to do it. If you find it doesn’t exist, make it yourself.

Why there has never been a better time to wear white.

Welcome to After Labor Day! This, unfortunately, is the darkest time of the year. Because now we are supposed to put away our white clothing until Memorial Day. Or until Diddy invites us to a party. Whichever comes first. I have known about this rule since I was old enough to make my own fashion faux pas. But I didn’t understand the rule, until now.

After long minutes of research (hey, it’s the information age) I discovered the Labor-Day-White-Thing was basically a mean girl rule established by a small gaggle of old money biddies in the late 1800s. They decided that they would use the imaginary rule to identify and ostracize new money ladies who didn’t know the insider rules, and wore white on the wrong days. Yet over time everyone adopted this standard.

How lame is that?  

This isn’t a rule. It’s a joke. Or at best a standard we follow without reason. With this knowledge, how do you pick out your clothes tomorrow?

There are two ways to view these widely followed, but non-rule-rules.

  1. We can adhere to them, just like everyone in-the-know.
  2. We can see them as the gifts they are. And use them to help us stand out from the masses.

When I was in college I had a track teammate named Alex Mautz. Alex liked wearing shorts so much he decided not to pack them away after Labor Day, or Halloween or Thanksgiving. In fact, Alex wore shorts every day for an entire year. Which is no big deal if you live in Florida. Or Ecuador. But we lived in Madison, Wisconsin. Where I experienced -26 Fahrenheit without windchill. Alex turned heads everywhere he went. Not only was he memorable, he provided total strangers with an instant conversation starter from November through April.

One of the most important things we do at The Perfect Agency Project is find ways to help people and organization stand out from the crowd. That’s how you build a memorable brand. And if you want to be noticed, cultural and category norms are a gift.

White wedding dresses don’t stand out. Red ones do. I have seen thousands of diamond engagement rings that all blend together. But my sister Heather’s stands out. Because it’s an emerald ring. Chick-fil-a is one of my favorite restaurants. But unlike most restaurants, it isn’t open on Sundays.  Yet Chick-fil-a is the first restaurant I think of every Sunday (can I get an Amen?).

If you, your brand or business want more attention, find a convention and start doing the unconventional. There are opportunities all around you. If you would like help finding your white clothes after Labor Day let me know. We could grab some caramels and talk.