The issue of appropriate “business” attire came up for me this week when I received word a client was disappointed in my dress for an engagement.
As someone who takes particular pride in his suit and jacket game, this got my attention.
This particular program called for “Business Attire". Cool. I’m into business attire but let’s just say I wore a more casual version of this call to action. Grey dress jeans and grey sport jacket. No tie. Ready for business but not “business” in the traditional sense.
Of course when I suited up that morning I knew I might ruffle a few feathers in a room full of dark suits and ties but to be perfectly frank, that was the point.
My decision not to wear a traditional suit for a “business” attire event was not by chance. What I wear is always very intentional, especially when dealing with clients that are asking to learn about the future of work and client expectations.
My personal belief on the issue of dress has always been that there is no way I can stand in front of a room full of leaders and talk to them about what's coming next from their customers and future workforce and NOT be an authentic representation of myself and that transformation.
Of course that doesn't mean I wear ripped jeans and a t-shirt, but as you would probably expect, I don't wear a suit and tie very often either - and with good reason.
The future of work is a much more diverse place with a greying line of what "professional" looks like in all aspects of the word.
In fact one of the topics we discussed at the aforementioned client event was the idea of professional vs formal and how that plays out in our language and in our dress and the implications that has with customers and talent.
I told this group of leaders, like I tell all of my clients, you have to be able to adapt to any environment while still finding the balance of being true to yourself.
You can be "professional" without being "formal” today.
Now you might be thinking based on that line, dude why not consider busting out a suit and adapt to the situation?
I hear you but here's the rub with clients; the future can be uncomfortable for some and I am intentionally trying to push them, especially those asking to be pushed, out of their comfort zone, not only with my stories and ideas but also with my own presence.
How I "show up" is a big part of this.
How you “show up” in all sense of the word from your mental and emotional state to the attire you choose to wear impacts those around you.
The question is, are you being intentional with this?
For me, I’m trying to spark a revolution with my clients as they try to reimagine the world of work and leadership but unfortunately feel stuck.
You know how the story goes; on one hand they’re saying we want to be more flexible and adaptable. They want to breathe new life into their organizations. They want to break out of the "we do it this way because that's the way it's always been done" mindset. They want to have someone on the executive team making an impact that's under 45.
Everyone talks this way. Few are equipped to live it.
Let’s be honest. If my wearing jeans and a jacket makes you uncomfortable in a historically traditional environment, how are you going to respond to the white water world of change happening in all other aspects of the business?
Unfortunately, with this particular client, my dress may have caused them to miss the message.
So what’s your take? Are you dressing for the job you want or the one you have? Do you feel better in a three-piece suit than jeans and a t-shirt?
From where I stand I believe it's OK to wear what you want today but you have to own it as clients and employees desperately seek out authenticity over formality from those they follow and work with.
If you feel naked without a suit on at work, wear it. If you're ready for a pair of dark jeans and a jacket, that's cool too, either way just make sure you walk into the room like a boss and own.