Updated: Dec 8, 2022
Raise your hand if you have ever been told to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. One of my favorite go-to jokes is “People told me to dress for the job I want and then get mad when I show up in a Spider-Man onesie.” Obviously, I do not want to be Spider-Man: I’m afraid of heights, spiders, and tight fabrics. And I think that sort of attitude to employee dress only leads to more confusion. For example, what if the job I have and the job I want are the same? What if the job I want has a seriously different dress code expectation from the one I have?
When I found myself in the corporate world at 25 after 4 years of working in a very red and khaki retail environment, I was completely out of my depth. In a panic, I read every article on the topic of dressing professionally that Forbes and Business Insider had to offer (plus, I might have binge-watched old episodes of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, because I was desperate). I settled on nearly identical versions of the same dress shirt and dress pants, with a matching tie for each and left it there.
The way I dressed often made me feel uncomfortable, and a not-insignificant amount of time in my workday was spent devoted to making sure my tie looked nice and my shirt was unwrinkled. I also cannot say that I felt like I looked professional. Instead, I think I often looked like I was borrowing my dad’s clothes. This regular discomfort helped to create the false dichotomy of work!Kato and regular!Kato--and I made sure these versions were kept completely separate. I started to resent all the time I spent as work!Kato, because I felt that being myself meant doing so at the sacrifice of my professionalism. Note: the fact that I was the source of that angst did not alleviate it.
I’m not saying I should have necessarily been allowed to be regular!Kato at work—that guy dresses a little bit like a hooligan (see below: me at 26, making my mother oh so proud), but I wish it felt a little less like I was a superhero with secret identities.
There are many things about me that are the epitome of everything dress code articles would flag as a “Don’t.” I have visible tattoos, I have visible piercings, and I think plain black skate shoes can look just as nice as leather dress shoes (see below: the scourge of professionalism, sort of).
I am not advocating normalizing face tattoos in the office, but not all visible tattoos and piercings are created equal. Times change, employees change-- our dress codes should evolve too. The average millennial is approximately 28 years old and has nearly a decade of experience in the workforce. It’s time to let professional experience and attitude speak louder than the pair of Latin tattoos on someone’s wrists.
As with all things, I think we could take a page out of LMC’s book (handbook, to be exact).
“All team members are expected to present a clean, respectable Relaxed Business Casual image; however, for days when a client will be visiting, Business Casual will be required. We understand that what makes people comfortable varies from person to person, and we want to celebrate that individuality! To that end, we ask that you take these guidelines and wear what makes you most comfortable while producing your best work and representing LMC effectively.”
So have I successfully reconciled work!Kato and regular!Kato? Thankfully, I wake up every single day now and dress for the job I want, because it is the job I’ve been fortunate enough to have for the last 500+ days.
If you’d like to discuss the metaphorical resonance of my tattoos,”professional mohawks,” or would like help making your dress code a little more millennial-friendly, you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.