When you are great at what you do, no one cares what you wear.

Yesterday I had a bee and wasp specialist come to my house to handle a situation. A buzzillon yellow jackets found a small opening in my siding, and Goldilocks-ed their way into the just-right attic space above my garage, where they built a watermelon sized nest.

Dennis, aka The Bee Guy, (not to be confused with the Bee Man, Bee Boy or Bee Gees) walked up to the spot where the yellow jackets were throwing me a house swarming party, and calmly said he could take care of the problem. He said, ‘But first let’s look to see if there are any other areas of concern.’

Those Little Stingkers!

We walked around the house, and sure enough, he found another active area on the back side of the house that we hadn’t noticed. Then he got to work. He treated both of the nests, and soon it was clear that these Georgia Tech mascots were no longer active residents in my home.

The Kicker

Dennis never put on any protective gear. He never put on any netting, or armor or even bug spray. He did his work in jeans and a short sleeve shirt. And he did it really well. He talked me through each step. He even walked me through the proprietary equipment he used that he had invented and created himself. I could tell that Dennis knew his profession as well as anyone could (I bet he got all bees in school).

Key Takeaway

Don’t be fooled by clothing. It is easy to buy the right clothes to look the part. It is much harder to have the skills the part requires. There is no direct relationship between clothing and expertise. I have found over and over again that people who are truly experts don’t get caught up in looking the way you think they would or should or could. So focus on gaining knowledge and experience. Become great at what you do. The more value you offer others, the less value they will place on your appearance. Which is good news for a man who looks like me.

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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.