How do engineers dress? For the most part, a dress code doesn’t exist. You see shirts and ties, all the way to engineers that look homeless.
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Overall though, your corporate environment will shape any dress requirements. But also, different work settings can dictate what you wear as well.
I’ll go over some examples of different engineer work settings. Then, I’m going to discuss the ramifications of the common casual workplace dress code. I’ll go over its impacts on the engineering profession as a whole.
Inside the office
In the office, I wear a pair of blue jeans, an untucked shirt, and a pair of sneakers. My dress attire is super casual and overly comfortable. Not surprisingly, no one can guess I do any type of professional work by just looking at me.
The first year I started work as an engineer though, I dressed up nicely every day in the office. I wore nice tight khakis, an ironed-out buttoned-up shirt, and nice dress shoes.
But when I looked around the office, I saw people in pale-colored jeans, and half tucked in wrinkly shirts. I was like, “damn, I’m WAY overdressed!” Soon thereafter, I started to dress super casual and I haven’t looked back since.
In the end, if you’re not directly working with customers, all that matters is your work output. Wearing a tie doesn’t make you any more efficient in solving a hairy engineering problem.
In fact, if you deliver awesome work, a customer wouldn’t care if you look like a caveman.
Interviewing for a potential project
When you’re interviewing for a new project, first impressions count. No different than in everyday life.
When I’m meeting with a new customer for the first time, I’ll go the full 9-yards. This means I’ll put on a crisp buttoned-up long sleeve shirt and tie with polished dress shoes. My goal is to look trustworthy and professional!
To illustrate the importance, let’s quickly go over the process for going after a new project. When an RFP, Request For Proposal, releases you first submit a time-consuming proposal.
Then, let’s say you beat out 10 other firms who are gunning for the same project. You now need to go up against the remaining 2 or 3 firms in an in-person interview stage.
Given all the time you’ve spent on the project proposal, you want to pull out all the stops. You want to leave no stone unturned. Otherwise, you’ll flush hours of time down the drain just because you didn’t take 10 extra minutes to dress up. And time is money.
So, you want to make a good first impression, as the customer doesn’t know you. Plus, you don’t have any leverage at this point. You’re just another engineering firm among many.
In short, you want every last edge you can get when you’re gunning for new projects.
Meetings with existing customers
After I get to know a customer, I don’t dress up too fancy anymore. They know me, and I know them. Usually, the superficial facade fades away fast.
Thus, I’ll just wear khakis or jeans, a polo shirt, and nice-looking boots. I find most other engineers wear the same when dealing with existing customers.
At the same time, I still don’t want to come off as a slob and dress down too much. Because wearing something decent makes you feel good. Plus, you never know who else will show up at the meeting.
Construction sites & factories
Everyone is wearing jeans or khakis, a polo shirt, and most importantly steel toe shoes. When you go into the field, you need to dress appropriately given the safety concerns, and the dirt and grime.
Just as important, you want to feel comfortable in the field. At construction sites, you need to be able to easily maneuver around heavy equipment. And yes, not care if you step in a pile of mud.
What’s more, certain work environments call out for specific mandatory protective wear. One great example is working with certain energized electrical equipment. You’ll need to wear the following:
Flame resistant nonconductive clothingProtective gloves over insulating glovesSafety glasses under face shields
The attire must meet all appropriate arc flash ratings. The point is, different situations call for different outfits.
Dress attire observations
In modern high-tech companies, the dress code is even more relaxed than my casual attire. Heck, look at Mark Zuckerberg and the late great Steve Jobs.
Their dress code is a mix of professional yet utilitarian. When you wear a pair of jeans with the same color shirt every day, you waste no time in the morning getting ready.
I vividly remember many years ago, I wasted 10 or so minutes thinking about what to wear in the morning. This was precious time too, given my days were already super hectic.
Now, these days, I quickly put on a pair of jeans and I have a set of work shirts ready to throw on. I randomly pick one shirt and wear it. That’s it. I’m then ready for work in 1 minute every day!
Talk about efficiency!
Mark Zuckerburg captured this wardrobe philosophy best,
“I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.”
“I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life, so that way I can dedicate all of my energy towards just building the best products and services,” he added.
In more traditional engineering companies though, I find people dress up a tad more. For example, khakis and a buttoned-up shirt are common.
If you happen to dress down a lot too, it could negatively impact your ability to move up the corporate ladder. This is in some workplaces only though. Just be observant of what people higher in the food chain in your company wear.
Does the casual dress attire of engineers hurt the profession?
I believe it does. In many instances, you can’t tell the difference between an engineer and an average Joe. Most engineers blend in with the general public effortlessly.
This is part design though.
What I mean is, I’m not looking to impress anyone for the most part. If I don’t need to set a good first impression for a new customer, I’m dressing casually. I could care less about praise and I don’t want anyone to treat me differently because I’m an engineer. The latter is a ridiculous notion, to begin with.
But on the flip side, I totally get how this lowers the prestige of the profession as a whole.
Think about professionals in the healthcare field. They wear white coats and/or scrubs. So when you see someone in this dress attire, you immediately know the person is a doctor or nurse. This differentiation helps set individuals in this profession apart from the general public.
Through marketing, this healthcare wardrobe, the general public equates with knowledge and care. Thus, we subconsciously equate anyone in a white coat to someone who we should respect.
The engineering profession doesn’t have such professional identification and classification.
The public just visualizes engineers through what’s shown in Hollywood movies. So they equate tight short pants, buttoned-up shirts, and glasses with engineers. But overall, engineers don’t look like this.
In the end, many engineers are introverted and could care less for extra attention. Plus, wearing a uniform won’t bring you extra cash. So why even bother?…