How do engineers dress? Well, it’s a mixed bag! There’s no one-size-fits-all dress code, and it can range from formal to downright scruffy.
Ultimately, your workplace vibe will influence how you dress.
Let’s dive into some examples of different engineering work settings and how the casual dress code impacts the profession.
Inside the office
At my office, I wear blue jeans, an untucked shirt, and sneakers. It’s relaxed, comfy, and no one would guess I’m a professional just by looking at me.
During my first year as an engineer, I dressed up every day – think tight khakis, a crisp button-up, and classy dress shoes. But then I noticed my colleagues in faded jeans and rumpled shirts, and I realized I was way overdressed! I quickly switched to a casual wardrobe and haven’t looked back since.
If you’re not dealing with clients face-to-face, it’s your work output that counts. A tie won’t help you solve engineering problems any faster. In fact, if your work is top-notch, clients won’t care if you resemble a caveman!
Interviewing for a potential project
When it comes to interviews, first impressions are crucial. Just like in daily life, appearances matter when someone doesn’t know you.
For a new client meeting, I go all out: a sharp button-up shirt, tie, and polished dress shoes. I aim to look professional and trustworthy!
Think about the process of securing a new project: you spend hours crafting a proposal, out-competing other firms, and finally, facing a few remaining contenders in person. All that effort shouldn’t go to waste just because you didn’t spend an extra 10 minutes dressing up. Time is money, after all.
Meetings with existing customers
Once I’ve established a relationship with a client, I ease up on the formal attire. We know each other, and the façade has faded.
In these cases, I opt for khakis or jeans, a polo shirt, and stylish boots. Most of my fellow engineers follow a similar dress code. However, I still avoid looking sloppy, as dressing well can boost your confidence. And who knows who else might show up at the meeting?
Construction sites & factories
When venturing into the field, it’s crucial to dress for safety and comfort, especially considering the dirt and grime. You’ll usually find people in jeans or khakis, a polo shirt, and steel-toe shoes.
It’s vital to be comfortable on construction sites, as you’ll need to navigate around heavy equipment and not worry about stepping in mud.
Certain work environments also require specific protective gear. For example, when working with energized electrical equipment, you’ll need:
- Flame-resistant, non-conductive clothing
- Insulating gloves with protective gloves on top
- Safety glasses worn under face shields
Make sure your attire meets all appropriate arc flash ratings. The bottom line is that different situations call for different outfits.
Dress attire observations
At modern high-tech companies, the dress code is often even more laid-back than my go-to casual getup. Just take a look at Mark Zuckerberg and the late, great Steve Jobs! They sported a blend of professional and utilitarian attire. By wearing jeans and the same color shirt every day, they eliminated those pesky morning wardrobe decisions.
I can still recall the days when I’d waste a good 15 minutes each morning, trying to figure out what to wear. With an already jam-packed schedule, those minutes were precious. Nowadays, I just slip into a pair of jeans and grab one of my work shirts at random. Boom! I’m ready for work in less than a minute. Talk about efficiency!
Mark Zuckerberg summed up this wardrobe philosophy perfectly:
“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.”
In more traditional engineering firms, though, I notice folks tend to dress up a smidge more. You’ll often see khakis and button-up shirts.
If you’re always dressing down, you might be hurting your chances of climbing the corporate ladder. So, keep an eye on what those higher up in your company are wearing.
Does the casual dress attire of engineers harm the profession?
In many cases, it’s hard to tell an engineer apart from your average Joe. Most engineers blend in seamlessly with the general public. But hey, that’s partly by design…
For me, at least, I’m not trying to impress anyone most of the time. If I don’t need to make a great first impression for a new client, I’m all about dressing casually. I couldn’t care less about praise, and I sure don’t want anyone treating me differently just because I’m an engineer. That’s just plain silly.
But I get it – this casual approach might lower the profession’s overall prestige.
Consider healthcare professionals. They don white coats or scrubs, and when you see them, you instantly know they’re doctors or nurses. This distinction sets them apart from the general public.
Clever marketing has made the public associate healthcare attire with knowledge and care. So, subconsciously, we tend to respect anyone in a white coat. The engineering profession, though, doesn’t have that same visual identifier.
Instead, the public bases its perception of engineer attire on Hollywood movies – people wearing tight pants, buttoned-up shirts, and glasses. But let’s be real, most engineers don’t look like that.
At the end of the day, many engineers are introverts who’d rather not attract extra attention. Besides, wearing a uniform won’t pad your paycheck, so why even bother?…
Important Note: Dress codes could help protect certain segments of the public. The “engineer” title isn’t regulated, and the public often equates any engineer with intelligence. As a result, uncredentialed folks can use the title to deceive others. A lack of a dress code only makes that easier.
“How do engineers dress?” wrap up
Well, it’s all about where you work and what you do. There’s no one-size-fits-all dress code, and that’s why some engineers feel a bit miffed about not being respected as professionals.
I’ll be straight with you: There’s definitely some truth in the whole “dress for success” thing. Your wardrobe can make or break you, particularly if you’re new to the field. That’s why those sneaky salespeople dress to the nines to earn your trust, only to pick your pocket later on. We humans are suckers for visuals.
Ultimately, though, it’s your performance as an engineer that matters. If you can tackle insanely complex problems, go ahead and rock that dinosaur suit at work.
What do you wear as an engineer? Do you think the casual dress code of engineers hurts the profession? How do engineers dress at your company?
SUBSCRIBE TO ENGINEER CALCS NEWSLETTER
Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.