Monday, November 21, 2005

Is the Lack of Suit and Ties That Bad?

The Sydney Morning Herald reports IT workers dubbed 'worst dressed'

(via Slashdot)
"I think the way in which you present yourself is very important to building relationships and is integral to business and personal success," she said.
Nothing wrong with wanting to look good. But I do have a bit of a problem with the emphasis on what might be called 'business style'. That's trousers, long sleeve shirts, ties, suits, etc. That article seems to criticise the IT field's lack of emphasis on business style:
"Because the majority of IT people are not in front of customers all the time, they tend to slack off," she said
Help-desk staff were named as the worst offenders, followed by those working in technology start-ups, many of whom had continued to wear T-shirts to work as a consequence of the casual web culture of the '90s.

"The internet is now such a massive industry but people haven't caught up in terms of their dress," she said.
It seems to me that business style is really a symbol, representing the business 'class', as oppposed to manual laborours, students, and so forth. It's a symbol that we associate with a certain sort of businessy behaviour and attitutes, with connotations of 'proper', serious and kinda staid behaviour. We feel it's somehow improper for a business person to be wearing more casual clothing.

What I don't really like about it is that it's all about appearance rather then substance, and in particular, it's criticising someone just because they don't conform to what's considered the proper appearance. It seems a very primal form of pressure to conform.

Related to this, Paul Graham writes:
A company that made programmers wear suits would have something deeply wrong with it. And what would be wrong would be that how one presented oneself counted more than the quality of one's ideas. That's the problem with formality. Dressing up is not so much bad in itself. The problem is the receptor it binds to: dressing up is inevitably a substitute for good ideas. It is no coincidence that technically inept business types are known as "suits."


  1. You might then be interested in reading Rise of the Creative Class. I had to return my copy -- but it talks at length about these trends, from a much less superficial point of view.

  2. hi michael,
    thanks - interesting sounding book, i would like to check it.