How do engineers dress? For the most part, a dress code doesn’t exist. Some wear shirts and ties, while others look homeless.
Overall though, your corporate environment will shape any dress code requirements. But also, different work settings can dictate what you wear.
We’ll go over some examples of different engineer work settings. Then, we’ll go over the ramifications of the casual workplace dress code on the profession.
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 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 casually and I haven’t looked back since.
I figure if you’re not directly working with customers, only your work output matters. Wearing a tie doesn’t make you any more efficient in solving engineering problems. 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 someone doesn’t know who you are.
When I meet with a new customer for the first time, I’ll go the full 9-yards. 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 a Request For Proposal (RFP) releases, you first submit a time-consuming proposal. Then 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.
Given all the time you’ve spent on the project proposal, 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. Time is money.
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. Typically, the superficial façade is long gone.
So, 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
When you go into the field, you need to dress appropriately given the safety concerns, and the dirt and grime. Typically, people wear jeans or khakis, a polo shirt, and most importantly steel-toe shoes.
Just as important, you want to feel comfortable in the field. At construction sites, you need to easily maneuver around heavy equipment. Also, you can’t concern yourself with stepping into a pile of mud.
Even more, certain work environments call 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 clothing
- Protective gloves over insulating gloves
- Safety 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 and 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 15 or so minutes thinking about what to wear in the morning. This was precious time too, given my days were already super hectic. Now today, I quickly put on a pair of jeans and I have a set of work shirts ready to throw on. I randomly pick a shirt, and I’m ready for work in less than a minute. Efficient!
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.”
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, you’d negatively impact your ability to move up the corporate ladder. So 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?
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…
For example personally, 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 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, the general public equates the healthcare wardrobe with knowledge and care. So, the public subconsciously equates anyone in a white coat with someone to respect. The engineering profession doesn’t have such professional identification though.
The public just visualizes engineer wardrobes through what’s shown in Hollywood movies. It’s people who wear tight short pants, buttoned-up shirts, and glasses. Overall though, 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 in extra income. So why even bother?…
Important Note: dress attire could help protect certain segments of the public too. The “engineer” title isn’t protected, and the public equates any engineer with smarts. Thus, uncredentialled people can use the title to fool the public. And without a set dress code, it makes it all the easier.
“How do engineers dress?” wrap up
The dress attire of engineers highly depends on where you work and what you do. A universal dress code doesn’t exist. This is one reason why some engineers gripe about a lack of respect as professionals.
I’m not going to lie, there’s certainly some truth to the motto of dress for success. The wardrobe can help make or break the engineer, especially if you’re a newbie. It’s why slimy salespeople dress super sharp to win your trust, before picking your pocket. Humans are visual creatures.
All in all, it’s all about your work output as an engineer. If you can solve insanely complex problems, you can wear a dinosaur suit to work.
What do you wear as an engineer? Do you think the casual dress attire of engineers, hurts the engineering profession? How do engineers dress in 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.