REP: ImpREssions in the Workplace

Ladies and gentleman, you may be readers of this blog every other day, but today I need you to be a jury and help with a debate. I had an instant message conversation with my buddy, Kevin, and we got in an interesting debate about fashion, impressions, and the workplace. The essence of our debate was whether or not it matters if you dress nicely (to work—and in general). Now although the previous statement is simply put, both Kevin and I bring up interesting points. Intel has a casual dress code and employees dress the way they feel most comfortable. I enjoying dressing for style (Michael, another friend who feels the same will also weigh in on this in my next blog post) while Kevin enjoys dressing for comfort. I like that Intel gives employees a lenient dress code (because who can really wear business casual five days a week, week after week after week?). What I’m wondering, and readers please weigh-in, is does it matter if you dress for style or comfort? If no, why not? If yes, why? Therefore, I’d like to submit our IM debate for case review and let you be the judge.

The Case…

Prosecution (me) believes: dressing for style matters and it influences others’ impressions of us at work and in life.

Defendant (Kevin) believes: dress for style should NOT matter. Impressions should be shaped (mostly, if not completely) by our ability to deliver results and our character.

Kevin [10:40 AM]:

hey Kirsten!


Kirsten [10:40 AM]:



[…skips to the good stuff…]


Kevin [10:42 AM]:

Ah, I hate dressing up!


Kirsten [10:42 AM]:

Dressing up? For what?


Kevin [10:43 AM]:

I lost a bet to my brother

Kirsten [10:43 AM]:


Doesn’t seem like such a bad bet to lose

Kevin [10:43 AM]:

But it is!! :-(

Kirsten [10:43 AM]:



You know who you’re speaking to, right? :-P

Kevin [10:44 AM]:

LOL, that’s right—I should realize my audience

You dress up all the time

Haha, I bet you’ve never worn PJs to work ;-)


Kirsten [10:44 AM]:

PJs??? Haha!

 Never….pure blasphemy!

Kevin [10:45 AM]:

Haha! Yeah, I wore PJs to work yesterday

*waits for tomatoes to be thrown*

Kirsten [10:45 AM]:






Kevin [10:45 AM]:

Technically it was at night.

I went in to work at night to check my tool.

It was relaxing.

I need to do it again :-)

Would you ever wear PJs to work?


Kirsten [10:46 AM]:


Not once.

I felt awkward wearing a t-shirt the other day, haha!

Kevin [10:46 AM]:

Why not?

It’s amazing!


Kirsten [10:47 AM]:

PJs sound relaxing. But, I wouldn’t want to run into anyone.

Can you imagine???

Impressions matter.

You never know who you’ll see (cute boy/girl? VP?

I’m surprised more people don’t dress up for work

Kevin [10:48 AM]:

But it’s what’s on the inside that counts, no? ;-)


Kirsten [10:48 AM]:


Kevin [10:48 AM]:

If you do your job well that’s all that should matter.

Results matter, right?

Stylish clothes don’t make someone work harder


Kirsten [10:48 AM]:


The inside that counts?

 LOL! Umm… Lots more to it!

It’s why you wear a suit to an interview

…why Michelle Obama is a style icon

Kirsten [10:49 AM]:

Results matter—yes. But! Presentation and impressions matter too.

Haven’t you ever heard “dress for the job you want?”

Kevin [10:49 AM]:

Yes, but it should be about delivering good work.

…the merit of your work.

And, I do dress for the job I want! Haha!

Haven’t you noticed the most technically influential people at Intel dress like me—comfortably, haha! :-P


Kirsten [10:50 AM]:

Agreed, at Intel, results matter.

As engineers, technical merit is priority

But!!!! Humans evolved to make split choice decisions

And we base those decisions on first impressions.

It’s the difference between getting the job and not getting the job.

Being taken seriously, or being thought of as the weird guy in the corner.

Kirsten [10:51 AM]:

Example 1: Bob and Ryan are equally good job candidates.

The difference between them is Ryan wears suits, looks polished, projects when he speaks, and stands tall.

Bob wears PJs to work-cough- cough ;-)

and dresses comfortably .

…all else being equal, who would YOU give the job to?

Kevin [10:52 AM]:



Kirsten [10:53 AM]:

Example 2: Lauren and Michelle are equally attractive. Lauren wears sweats, a stained t-shirt, has messy hair.

Michelle wears skirts, styles her hair, and wears lip gloss.

You can ask EITHER girl out on a date (without fear of rejection).

Who do you ask?

Kevin [10:54 AM]:


Can Michelle cook? ;-)


From our IM chat, you can tell Kevin and I have different perspectives on whether dressing up for work is important.  Kevin believes results and task-orientation are more important than what shirt he’ll wear to work.  And I think Kevin is over-simplifying the situation and self-presentation (in this case, how you dress for work) is important, because people make snapshot judgments of others based on their looks.  What do you think?  Do you agree with Kevin?  Do you think I’m right?  Or do have a different point of view?


7 thoughts on “REP: ImpREssions in the Workplace

  1. well, bank tellers and upper-middle-class housewives dress up in the traditional sense. which is fine, but neither is the job I want. here in the greater Boston area, a lot more people dress up than dress up in the SF Bay area. i’ve watched carefully, and determined it makes absolutely no difference in terms of compensation, promotions, and other measurements of regard. dress so you feeeelllllll good.

    1. @Kmhurley: It’s interesting that you mention you’ve “watched carefully and determined it [dressing for style] makes absolutely no difference in terms of compensation….” My experience and observations have been different. At the airport, for example, I’ve found that I am provided better service when I dress up and wear business casual outfits. The same has also been true for my experiences at grocery stores and restaurants. A reason I might get better service is because airport attendees, for example, expect that I can afford a better tip (likewise at restaurants). I think people often make assumptions about you based on the type of clothes you wear and, I wonder, who’s to say the same isn’t true in an office setting?

  2. Kevin has a point in that what should count is the results and in a perfect world perhaps that is how it might work. But…wishing doesn’t make it so. Kevin (and to an extent me) thinking this way does not change the way the people who influence our lives (supervisors, interviewers, attractive individuals we would like to know better, police officers, judges, etc.) think, particularly on first impressions or in tense situations. Should this change the way Kevin dresses? It depends on the reality he lives in. For most of us it really does matter. Whether writing code, splitting atoms, asking someone for a job or a date, it’s critical to know the difference between “should” and “does”.

    1. @Chuck Mattern
      You bring up great points :) I especially like the first two sentences in your comment (can I pass them along to Kevin?). It’s true dressing to influence others’ impressions of us matter to varying degrees and depending on the circumstance. And, sometimes when I’m having a stressful week at work, it’s tough for me to follow my own advice– are you the same? Do you follow your own advice?

  3. At my place, we have a dress code but the HR department does not enforce it. Personally as an Engineer, I feel most relaxed at work in jeans and t-shirt. Let’s face it, engineers face computers/machines daily and our computers have not achieved the A.I to distinguish a nicely dressed person vs a poorly dressed one.

    However, if I switch roles in the future to be client facing, I would dress formally because you are not only representing the company but yourself. Who knows they might be looking for talents to cross over, so it is always best to leave a good impression.

    1. @Darren
      It’s interesting that you bring up how a change in job roles might alter how you dress. I wonder, would you trade in your casual look if you became an esteemed technical leader in your company? How about a technical leader that isn’t customer facing?

  4. Our workplace makes the decision for us by enforcing a strict dress policy :)

    Personally, I would not judge a person by his attire, but I think it makes sense to follow the general culture of the organization you are working for. What is considered appropriate dress varies from culture to culture. I found that jeans and t-shirt was OK for engineers in the US but here in India many companies insist on formal wear everyday.

Comments are closed.