08/15/2013 08:58 EDT | Updated 10/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Sticky Situations: Is It OK to Dress Better Than Your Boss?

Sticky Situation:

Dear Julie,

In the workplace, there seems to be an unwritten rule that you should not be dressed dressier than your boss. For example, if I like to wear a tie and my boss rarely wears one, I should not wear a tie to work.

What do you think of this unwritten rule?

Thank you.


You are right. There actually is an unwritten rule that recommends not dressing up above your superior's style of dress.

Simply stated, dressing more formally than your boss could be perceived as having the pretension of saying: "I'm better than you."

The only exception, where being "dressed dressier" than one's boss is acceptable is when your boss dresses against, or under, what is considered appropriate for his title or the industry that he works in.

In general, etiquette promotes uniformity.

Thus, in the workplace, we adhere to the dress code of our profession and the company for which we work.

When respecting attire guidelines and displaying a certain level of uniformity within the team and ranks, each employee can then be assessed for his professional contributions -- what he says and does, instead of what he wears. When following dress code guidelines, including the unofficial ones, you demonstrate your commitment to the team.

Whether we like it not, we are judged by what we wear.

Choosing to dress differently than the rest of the team, or a notch above your boss will bring attention to you -- positive or negative -- and that may be quite uncomfortable. One thing is for sure: You will not go unnoticed. Also beware that your different look could bring about office gossip.

Keep in mind that first and foremost, we dress for our client.

That is the main message for my Dress for Success workshops and coaching sessions. Attire choices reflect the products and services that we represent. Thus, choosing to wear a tie or not depends on what you do for a living and whom your customers are.

If your customers are jacket and tie kind of people, and your boss has the shirt-with-sleeves-rolled-up style when at the office, I recommend that you leave your ties aside for working internally. Keep a tie or two in a drawer or in your car. When the time comes for you to meet with clients, put on a tie to complement your outfit for external visits.

I am not recommending that you do not wear what you like. I am recommending that you avoid being marginalized and noticed for your style of dress instead of your skills and abilities. It is not about copying your boss's style, but more about demonstrating that you are part of the team and that you respect the organizational hierarchy.

Good luck in your career and do not hesitate to write to me again if you have other questions.

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