Dressing Up for Work

30Jun, 2017

Shreenatha M. Narayana, Chief Operating Officer, Quadwave

Formal or Non-Formal Dress at Work Place?

A pertinent question constantly asked by us and of us is, “How do you dress up for work? Formals, casuals, semi-casuals, overly casuals……”  This is a very relevant topic to ponder upon in a knowledge-worker industry like software or IT. From the mid-1990s, there has been quite a trichotomy to decide what to wear in the workplace.  The white collar industry in the Western world wore formal clothing, which Indians copied to a good extent.

I remember my father’s generation wearing fairly formal shirts and trousers. Many people preferred to wear tie and coat also.  With greater exposure to the Western world and due to the economic boom, Indians got exposed to other concepts like business casuals (a T-shirt with khakis or formal shirts with khakis and semi-formal shoes etc). Often people quote, great product companies like Microsoft say that people come in shorts, T-shirt and a pair of sandals. And of course, everybody there produces great stuff. Though the above statements seem to be male-centric, similar logic can be applied to the confusion created for the working women. They were wearing saris and other Indian formal equivalents before the 1990s. Not many wore suits to work. Similarly, Indian women wearing business casual trousers and T-shirts was not a common sight.

Why Dress Up At Your Best?

Coming to the present day (e.g., consider our company), how do you dress up for work? What is considered appropriate dressing? This is a point of argument, debate and due consideration. We are in Software services / IT industry, which needs working with customers constantly (customers may visit our offices occasionally). Also, we need to work with teams all the time, need to work with other service providers, need to work with partners etc. This is considered professional services career (Engineering – for majority folk!).

Here is my suggestion!

Dress up in the most formal way that you deem fit (though the company does not dictate any dress-code, but only provides a guideline). I can think of two reasons why this would have a positive impact – Perception of professionalism and Perception of interest/passion/love for what you do.

Perception of Professionalism

Meaning: When the milk of ocean of was being churned by gods and demons to obtain nectar of immortality, it seems there were many other off-springs that the Samudra Raja (king of the ocean of milk) produced. When he saw the handsome Vishnu decked in golden robe (Peetaambar), Samudra deemed him (Vishnu) worthy of his daughter Lakshmi; when Samudra looked at Shiva, who wore a loincloth made of deerskin, he bestowed him with the harshest of the poisons/venoms, halaahal.I remember the old subhaashita (cited above), which I learned in primary school is the best example to understand the essence of “Perception of Professionalism”. In a knowledge-worker industry/consulting world, how you look matters. It is worthy to ponder what importance clothing/dressing up has to demonstrate one’s capability.

Perception of Interest / Passion / Love for What You Do

When I was a child, I used to visit a nearby temple every day with my mother. My mother would spend time wearing nice saree and also make sure that I had nice clothes while going to the temple. She would explain that if we are truly interested in God, then we would express that in front Him in our best attire to show how interested we are.

Thus, dress up yourself to showcase your interest/passion for work and leave a very positive professional perception with everyone you meet. When the time comes to decide who is better, the one who dresses up good will get more marks. Mind you – in this professional world, all those who judge you are only humans!

Being Presentable Always

While thinking about dressing up, another point came to mind. Dr. D V Gundappa (Kannada writer and philosopher popularly known as DVG), who wrote the equivalent of Bhagavad Gita in Kannada called Mankutimmana Kagga, points out how people care about looking handsome or beautiful.

Here is the Kagga and its translation:

Meaning: Is there a human being who does not like beauty?  A child, an old man, a philosopher, a leader, can any one of these deny it? When the world is not looking (or in a place where the world cannot see), everyone stands before a mirror and fixes his or her face!Dr. DVG points to the fact that everyone in the world is interested in looking beautiful and handsome. We can relate it to human thinking and perception of attaching goodness, intellect, good tastes with beauty and smartness. This again reiterates the point that looking smart is a basic expectation to be successful in a professional world.