Steve Konves


Fashion is the Grammar of the Workplace

Communicate your technical ability without distraction

I am a highly analytical, left-brained, software developer. Based on those credentials alone I have absolutely no standing to speak with authority on fashion. Furthermore, from the perspective of analytics like me, the quantifiable success of a person’s actions are a much more rational meter of worth than the clothing they wear. So then why worry about clothing when what you do is more important that what your wearing?

Chances are you just re-read that last sentence a few times to ensure that “your” was, in fact, the wrong word. Chances are for a moment you were distracted enough by that grammatical mistake that you disengaged from the the flow of the article. Ironically, the more analytical the thinker, the easier it is to get distracted by the grammar and lose sight of the logical content. If you have ever been on the internet, you have likely observed a comment war digress into a grammar fueled red herring rave where the original point is lost in pointing out each others’ mispellings or apostrophe misuse. You get the picture.

In “hacker culture” it’s a badge of honor to wear flip flops to a board meeting. Why should I play dress-up when I can code just as well in shorts and a tee shirt? And if I’m working from home and don’t have a video call, I can just work in my PJs, amirite?

I have found that inappropriate fashion choices have roughly the same effect in face to face conversation as a grammar faux pas in a written conversation. Granted, the other speaker isn’t going to verbally rip you for wearing a black belt with brown shoes or not wearing a tie to an interview. But when a linguist hand-crafts an artisanal phrase that embodies all of the subtle notes and flavors of grammatical complexity, the reader is free to drink in the logic without distraction. Similarly, even as a developer, how I visually present myself can either support or distract from my technical abilities.

Dressing professionally is no substitute for technical ability but does aid in communicating your technical ability without distraction.

I will be the first to say that the susceptibility to be manipulated by clothing is irrational behavior. However, humans are known to be predictably irrational and thus the behavior is not unwarranted. The takeaway is this: dressing professionally is no substitute for technical ability but does aid in communicating your technical ability without distraction. So then, don’t wear a tux to your next hackathon, but consider dressing just a smidge above average when presenting to a group. If you’re asking for money, consider dressing like you’ve already earned it.

In both writing and in “real life” poor presentation is distracting. Don’t be distracting.

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