Your Company’s “Casual” Dress Code is Just as Bad

Years ago, I was interviewing at a startup-turned-Fortune 500. To show my respect, I wore a tie and nice slacks.

During my interview, I asked the interviewer what the culture was like. Very laid back, he said. “We’re still a startup at heart.” Cool, I like that — autonomy, agile development — that’s perfect.

He elaborated, “there’s no dress code here. Did you pass anyone out there in slacks? No, everyone wears jeans. We’re very laid back.”

“Quite the opposite,” I wanted to respond. Laid back would have sounded more like: “There’s no dress code here, everyone wears what they want.”

Rather, this interviewer was ironically, and accidentally enforcing a new dress code: laid back. If it wasn’t jeans, it didn’t fit. He pointed out my attire as a mismatch for their culture. That’s not no dress code, that’s just a different dress code.

It’s hard to spot, because it’s not in the employee handbook; it hides in one-off remarks. Has your company suffered from a de facto dress code?