Do Clothes Affect Work?

I’ve had a few different work outfits. As a caddie at a golf club, I had to wear a specific white polo every Saturday and Sunday.

When I started in government, I worked for three different agencies with varying dress codes. One was khakis and polos and the other was pretty much everything goes including jeans.

Then I moved onto an environment of khakis and long-sleeve button-ups. Then onto suits.
And now I’m back to working from home in jeans and t-shirts.

I do notice that the clothes do affect your feeling and thinking. Honestly, in a creative space like GovLoop, I feel like my outfits helps me think and interact well.

But I also remember that I disliked my government job where people dressed to sloppy.

Maybe there needs to be a ratio of dress-up to creativity?

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Scott Horvath

Clothes definitely affect your attitude and creativity at work. I’m a firm believer in that. But there’s also a line between what’s considered sloppy and what’s considered casual. I wear what’s comfortable to me, but I also don’t go sloppy. Some people don’t believe you should wear casual to work. I think it all depends on the person (what you’re comfortable in), and the type of work you do. If I was someone who worked on Capitol Hill, I would probably be wearing shirt/tie. If I’m behind a desk all day, banging away on the keyboard, casual is certainly appropriate.

Some people are more comfortable in a shirt and tie. If you’re a web developer and you feel great wearing a shirt and tie all day…please be my guest and wear it. If you’re a manager and feel comfortable and productive wearing jeans and a shirt…be my guest and wear it. All I care is that you’re being productive and you’re happy doing it. If you’re happy, I’m happy.

Brock Webb

My mentor once gave me this advice: there is a casual dress code, you don’t have to wear a coat and tie, but the people that could promote you do…(followed by) Always keep a sport coat in your cube in case you’re called to a meeting with these people present…

Studies done between IBM and Apple (back in the 80s) did not show any difference in productivity, but IBM of course had the suite and Apple…

I think that Scott makes an excellent point in his comment on sloppy vs. casual. The “sloppy” effect, AKA the “broken window” effect of the office environment can be a drag on everyone.


Good point…Casual doesn’t equal sloppy. For example, there is wearing a jeans and a polo. And then there’s wearing 20 year old jeans and a 20 year old polo that both don’t really fit. And actually wearing something moderately new that fits appropriately.

Scott Horvath

I’ll add that I’ve also been asked before by people about if I always dress casual (b/c I often do even when presenting). Typically they say, “My boss would never go for casual except on Fridays.” But step back and think about why something like “Casual Fridays” began. It was started years ago (according to Wikipedia in the 1950s) in order to help improve employee morale in the office place. Apparently managers and supervisors back then knew that how you dress affected how you worked.

But when it comes to dress codes and work environments, one-size does not fit all. Determining a dress code needs to be done on a case by case basis.


Indeed. The rise of telework also makes dress codes a little funny. I have a friend who teleworks and when he needs to get on a video cam..puts on a shirt/tie…with the shorts below.

R J Parry

Your manor of dress mainly affects the way people PERCEIVE your level of expertise, creativity, professionalism and yes (unfortuately) even your social status. One thing to remember one’s perception is one’s reality. So if people think you look unprofessional in your clothes, you ARE unprofessional.
Is there a legal stance on enforcement of any dress code in any organization?


Do Clothes Affect Work? I think so to a degree.

Imagine you’re at the office, and looking for someone in the HR department to answer a benefits question on submitting and obtaining approval of a medical leave you need for your upcoming surgery. You walk into the department not sure who to ask for. Upon first-glance, someone is dressed business casual, and as you approach the person, and you notice that along with their business casual attire, they have flip-flops on their feet (male OR female) What would you think?

I’ve had the person come tell me as a manager, that they didn’t believe the person was knowledgeable, and sought the answer from others in the department. Their view was the person might work in HR, but was a “clerk”, and not knowledgeable about benefits and how to complete the form correctly. A correlation in dress and intellect! I guess one should dress the part from top to bottom!!

Scott Horvath

@Tricia: Honestly, I probably wouldn’t care what they were wearing…but that’s just me. If they’re sitting at the desk that I’m either directed to by a person in the HR office, or there’s a sign on their cube/desk, etc that says they’re the person to talk to…doesn’t matter to me as long as they give me the information I need. Upon talking to them if they make no rational sense then my opinion may change from being “this person being knowledgeable” to “this person doesn’t know how to do their job.” However, it still wouldn’t matter to me what they’re wearing. Again, that’s just me.

JoAnn Hague

As a communicator, I believe that my appearance should never distract a person from the message I seek to deliver. Ideally, my appearance should augment the message. I want it to work for, not against, me. If people succumb to stereotypes when I wear corduroy at work, then I’ll forget the corduroy. If production workers chat more freely if I wear khakis, then hurray for khakis! At work, my first goal is not to express my individuality; it is to do my job to the best of my ability.

Lori Zipes

Let me put a funny spin to this – in my highly technical world there is a reversal of the standard perceptions. Those in the suits and very nice attire are perceived to be managers who therefore do not have any depth to their understanding of the “real” issues and can’t answer the “important” questions. If you want a good answer, you call in the guy in the jeans and sneakers. Dilbert did a great strip on this years ago.
And I’m working on a profile photo, really I am. Perhaps now I’ll post one of me in PJs.