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Be yourself. Abnormal people create abnormal returns. (42floors.com)
151 points by jaf12duke on Mar 31, 2012 | hide | favorite | 124 comments

The article seems to imply that what you wear is part of your identity (don't wear a suit, be yourself). How about decoupling your clothes from your identity? There is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to "dress to impress". People who think that seem to me to want to make a point of how they are so not into fashion - which ironically is a form of fashion itself (see punkers).

Be yourself. Dress up if you want to and it seems to fit the occasion. Don't feel pressured into wearing something that you don't feel comfortable in. Don't confuse inner qualities with superficial looks - but don't ignore the fact that first impressions matter.

Of course it could be a good anti-signal to show that you don't care about how you present yourself, but that doesn't mean you should go to investors in a bathrobe because someone told you to.

How about decoupling your clothes from your identity?

Maybe, but you can only take that so far. I think the thing to keep in mind is that clothes are communication, almost as much as what you say. The MBA, the punker, and the hacker all have their messages they send with their clothes. You can't avoid communicating, if for no other reason than that people will draw their own message from what you choose to wear. May as well make it count.

You can decouple what you say from your identity, but that can be fake too, sometimes.

My ex-partner was in fashion and the one thing he taught me most of all is that clothes are just that: "communication."

That's also why I don't feel bad wearing a suit for investors, because I consciously choose to communicate that I'm dressing up for my surroundings.

I don't try to walk like I wear a suit everyday and I don't try to walk and talk like a big-shot businessman. I walk like I'm a geek who's wearing a suit to dress up.

There's very little fake about that.

What's fake is people who wear a suit (trying) to trick people into thinking they're established businessmen and people who dress down as 'counter-signalling' to appear to be confident hacker founders.

TL;DR; Fashion is about communication. Communicating a congruent message is 'real'. Trying to 'signal' with your communication is fake.

Every comment in this thread right now is casting doubt on Jason's point that you shouldn't be fake to seem more businesslike for investors. Wow. That's a bad sign.

Jason's talking about good investors and he's right. Take YC - if you're talking to the YCers about your startup it's just absurd to place importance on "businesslike" apparel or indeed anything other than your startup. No doubt there are a few genuine exceptions (Tesla liked to work in formal dress) but for the majority of us that comes as a relief.

I thought what Jason's saying was a truism by now. Valley culture may not have permeated everywhere in tech but it's far more widespread than it used to be - widespread enough that the point about dress is probably a good litmus test in most parts of the US and Canada. And any place it isn't true, that's a problem. The Valley culture of being informal and focusing on the work evolved for good reason.

All this would indicate is that there's a new dress-code. e.g. not turning up in jeans, hoodie/t-shirt (or whatever counts for 'casual') marks you out. It's just another uniform.

When you can rock up wearing a suit or a hoodie and be treated exactly the same is when dress no longer matters.

No objection to your second paragraph but I think your first is precisely wrong. It's not a new dress code, same as the old dress code. It's the side effect of a shift in economic relations.

Last year a video surfaced on HN about technical founders in the 1970s who would end up with 2% of their companies after taking investment. From there to, say, Zuck controlling Facebook and wearing hoodies because he likes hoodies is just a massive, massive change. It's happening for historical reasons. And to the extent that Silicon Valley is the avant-garde of the economy at large and YC the avant-garde of the valley, we can project where the trend is headed.

A commenter said that Buckminster Fuller preferred informal attire but couldn't get away with it in his day. Technical/creative people haven't changed. What's changed is the balance of power shifting toward them.

But the point's not really about clothes, and I feel like the heart of Jason's post got lost in this discussion. You should be who you are, that is, who you really feel yourself to be, because to fake it for the sake of others' approval is to give up your strength and the best things about you. That puts you in a weakened position. Are you going to do as good a job articulating yourself that way? I doubt it. But suppose it works and you get investment from people who wouldn't approve of you otherwise. Then what? Is that a good place to be?

Maybe the dude in the story was secretly looking forward to finally getting to wear fancy shoes and a crisp shirt - in that case, more power to him. But the story was premised on the idea that he didn't really want to.

As a prominent counter-example, Bill Gates was famous for showing up at tech conferences with a grungy t-shirt, unkempt hair, etc. (And like Zuckerberg, he didn't need to impress any bankers.)

Dredged up from the murky depths of my memory:

> I once had lunch with PG after having come back from a VC meeting. I had just moved to California then and was wearing business attire. PG stopped mid-sentence to ask me if I had on french cuffs and then told me how investors like startup guys to be scrappy haha.


I don't think anyone is saying to be fake, but the same way you wouldn't show up to a wedding in ripped jeans and a t-shirt, you shouldn't show up to an investor pitch in those clothes either. Just cause you're wearing a suit to a wedding doesn't mean you're trying to be fake, it just means you understand the conventions surrounding the event; the conventions surrounding a pitch is similar. I wonder, at the YCom demo day, what do the presenting YCers wear?

I agree about the wedding, and disagree about the investor pitch. Underdressing for a wedding might be perceived as an insult. Likewise with an investor meeting, but the risk is much lower since it's not principally a social occasion. Moreover, dressing like a hacker has an upside: they'll know you're a hacker. Finally, underdressing is a status hack known as counter-signaling: if you're confident enough to show up to an investor pitch in jeans and a T shirt, you must be a badass. Jobs wore mock turtlenecks and jeans with holes in them; Zuck wears fleeces and shitty sandals.

great point, but let me ask you this, how many people out there have the talent and product that matches up to Jobs and Zuck; they're once (maybe twice) in a generation kind of guys. For everyone else, you should try to get as much help as possible, and I think dressing appropriately can help you do that. You're right though, counter-signaling is something that you can use to your advantage, but you should not just be a badass, but you better have a badass product (and hopefully tons of customers)

You both have a point but this counter-signaling thing is a fad. When everyone is doing it the value just plummets. The whole casual dress for pitching thing is so common now that I predict it's not long at all before the guys dressing nicely are taken more seriously again.

Also, what does "dressing like a hacker" mean? Hackers exist outside the valley too and there's no uniform that I was issued. Maybe theyre on back order for the Chicago metro area? But in all seriousness, if you said "he doesn't dress like a doctor" it makes far more sense than "he doesn't dress like a hacker". I'm a hacker but I'm also a business owner. So what attire do I don? Hoodie and flip flops or open sport jacket and collared shirt sans tie? I feel that in this case many aspects of hacker culture are just fads and the old standards (like dressing well for pitches and interviews) will never go out of style.

Ah, you're in Chicago.

I think you'd find it's different in Silicon Valley.

Which is not to suggest in the slightest that you'd be out of place in an open sport jacket and collared shirt sans tie. But if you prefer a hoodie and flip-flops, I think you'd find you could indulge that preference more freely here.

I can't find it, but there was a thread on HN where it was mentioned that some YC alum (I think the first ever) showed up in suits and were told to lose them.

I don't think anyone is saying to be fake

Nobody's saying it, just implying it.

at the YCom demo day, what do the presenting YCers wear?

A good question. Someone who was there should tell us.

Thing is, I don't mind wearing a suit at all, and in fact prefer it in certain situations. A good suit can be just as comfortable as a t-shirt and jeans or whatever other bullshit.

I don't have a problem with jeans and sneakers, but there's that expression "never trust a programmer in a suit", and I do have a problem with that.

Agreed, I get annoyed when other programmers look at me askew for choosing to dress better than them. A lot of times it feels like there is a hacker dress code, it's just inverted.

Thank you. Being asked what the special occasion is every time I wear a dress shirt gets old fast.

Perhaps they're reacting to your belief that you're dressing "better" than them.

I don't know why you got downvoted for this. I upvoted you. I think you've hit the nail on the head.

I'd like to hear someone explain why a suit (or whatever dress code) is better than what someone else chooses to wear.

It's obviously more traditional. Is there anything more to it than that?

Well, by "better" I mean that what I wear is usually intentional and has some thought put into it; whereas a lot of hackers will actually make a point of declaring that they put no effort at all into what they chose to wear.

And that's fine! If you don't care then you don't care. There's nothing wrong with that.

I just see it as weird that people use that notion of "not caring" as a badge of honor. My question to those people would be, why do you think it's weird that I do actually care?

April fools! The trick is that people judge you by how you choose to make yourself appear and dressing a certain way doesn't make you any less authentic.

I'll also add that as a member of a certain minority community, I've been criticized by peers for not sporting an "authentic" style, despite the fact that 98% of potential employers would likely send me packing were I to show up to an interview in said style. You don't know how someone will interpret your appearance, so unless you really know your audience, the smart money says "look good for investors" (or employers etc)

Appearances do matter a lot which is why I would never dress up for a technical interview.

Would I wear a tailored executive suit to a technical interview? No. But if I'm interviewing technical candidates, all else being equal, I'm going to favor the nicely dressed one who has attended to personal hygiene that day, vs. one that I would have trouble distinguishing from a panhandler.

Dressing up to an appropriate level shows you care.

And thus you would overlook Woz and demonstrate incompetency. Not that I accept for a second that someone like Woz deserves patronizing language like "attended to personal hygiene that day" or "panhandler" - but people who base their evaluation of technical talent on social conformity certainly do see them that way.

The thing about the good investors the OP is talking about is that, increasingly, they don't do this. There are two reasons why they don't. One (which applies to only some, like YC) is that they are technical people themselves. The other is that the ones who do it lose to the ones who don't.

That is the historical trend and it has little to with fads or fashions. It has to do with economic power shifting towards people who create things.

All your evidence is decades too late, but you have a point. Woz would have worn a suit to a job interview or investor meeting. But the 1970s were a long time ago. It's no longer to be taken for granted.

all else being equal

Highly relevant snippet taken from the quote you responded to. Please look it up if you are not familiar with the phrase.

I confess I did not see that. Still, I don't think one is a precise judge of talent one minute and the next minute (having determined that all other things are equal) switches to filtering for conformity. It's much more likely to be the other way around: first we see through our filters and then we judge what we see. Especially when what we're judging is something intangible like talent.

You claim it is simply conformity? I suppose this is a matter of opinion, and I am not so foolish as to think I can change yours. I will close by simply observing that to me, presenting yourself in a polished fashion is a display of respect, interest, and investment in the matter at hand. Even if it was simply a display of conformity, I disagree with your implicit presumption that conformity is by definition evil. You must pick your battles, and to me, what I wear to an interview is pretty low on the list of priority.

Ah, you've replied while I was busy editing my comment. Usually I get away with that without a collision. Well, I've tried to make it more reasonable and I suspect we don't really disagree that much. But I will add something: there are quite a few talented people who don't really have the choice to conform. They just don't "get" the social system well enough. And yeah, maybe part of it is that they're not interested enough to force themselves to do it. And I like a lot of those people and I don't like it when others turn their noses up at them.

Conformity isn't evil per se, but judging people for lack of it often is.

Interestingly, "conformity" is one of those words that no one uses about themselves. Like "tourist".

Looking like a panhandler is nothing like "not dressing up" for me and I don't really think that is what is being discussed, but if it is then my comments of course make no sense.

I also don't think tailored executive suits are what is being discussed.

Hygiene != Dress. I can wear a nice, clean teeshirt and cargo pants with some comfortable new Vans and still shower, shave and wear deoderant, fix my hair et al. I'm not untidy and I'm not naked, I clearly know how to clean and present myself. I'm still not going to wear a suit to an investor meeting because there's no need to. There's no reason to do so beyond convention and frankly fuck convention.

You don't get to say you aren't playing the signalling game. This is just interpreted as either a high status move (if you're already high status) or an admission of defeat if you are low status.

Doing nothing is always still a move. http://lesswrong.com/lw/bam/doing_nothing/

The general rule of thumb is try to dress 1 step above the average level in whatever setting, but no higher.

I can't imagine anything more tedious than to spend my life thinking this way.

You can't approach every minute of life thinking about signaling theory, but it often helps understand the root mechanisms when they are otherwise murky.

Much like calculus, really.

There's something called "signaling theory" that has uncovered the "root mechanisms" of human relations and is comparable to calculus? That sounds like an absurd fantasy. I'll have to look it up.

I must not be communicating clearly this evening. What I meant was, (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) similarly, calculus grants us deeper understanding of otherwise confusing mathematical/physical/etc systems, but is far too tedious to apply to life every minute of every day.

As for 'root mechanisms', perhaps "mechanisms" wasn't precisely the right word, but it's up there with game theory. It is typically applied to animals observed in nature- yet that said, we too are animals, and it takes but a moment's thought to recognize it in action among humans.

Think of it as a heuristic tool to analyze and evaluate human behavior when you need it. And if you find it useful, try learning the basics of a few other frameworks and/or theories too: social capital (and social network analysis in general), labeling theory, diffusion of innovation, etc. In particular, technologists (and particularly entrepreneurs) that don't have some sort of exposure to sociotechnical research are missing out on a tremendous resource, imo.

Care to recommend one or two of the best sources?

"Impro: Improvisation and the theatre"

disregard the seeming lack of relevance.

That's quite funny. I love that book! (The first half, at least.) Keith Johnstone lives in my town and I've occasionally crossed paths with him at the local grocery. Anyway, sure, his chapter on status games is brilliant. But not as a guide to living. There are much better guides to living in there than that :)

According to Wikipedia: "The halo effect is a cognitive bias that involves one trait influencing others in one's judgement of another person or object. First noted by Edward Thorndike in the 1920s, the halo effect has since been applied to a variety of other fields".

This is a primary reason why you should really, really care how you look. I am not saying that it involves wearing a suit 24/7, but even if you are a hacker-type, in real life, those things matter.

Television has exacerbated this phenomenon. The good looking people do all the interesting things.

Walked into a meeting with VCs last week with my standard outfit: very expensive shoes, cheap $40 jeans, crisp but simple Brooks Brothers shirt and a decent (but not outrageous) designer blazer. This is my dressed down... no tie, no suit. I feel comfortable like that.

Not too dressy but not a mess.

One walks in wearing a tshirt, jeans and sneakers. I'm like WTF?!

Second one walks in with the same. Double WTF?!

Five years ago you would NEVER see a Sand Hill Road VC wearing a tshirt and sneakers. Never.

It's the Zuck effect IMO. :-)

You can't be a rebel unless you wear the right uniform.

Ah, but you see; the "right uniform" changes over time. In an age where everyone tries to be a rebel; wearing a suit becomes rebellion.

A uniform is by definition anti-individuality.

you can get away with most things with nice shoes.

I think it's the Zuck effect too. Problem is, there's only one Mark Zuckerberg and when a bunch of people are out there emulating that... err, I mean "being themselves", then it loses all meaning. The appeal of this trend will fade and eventually those walking into VC meetings like their shit doesn't stink in a hoodie and flip flops will be looked at like the phonies they very well may be and asked to leave until such time they can show that they take themselves, the people they're meeting, and their ideas seriously.

It's not the Zuck effect, though Zuck may have catalyzed it. You might as well call it the Steve Jobs effect; the trend has been all one way for at least 35 years and is related to changes in the industry and indeed the economy at large.

Unfortunate, but probably true.

Unfortunate because some of us were dressing in jeans and t-shirt long before Zuck created Facebook. Some of us were also never Apple fanboys.

Believe it or not, some of us just prefer to stay away from major fashion trends. For better or worse, it's just not that important to us. We don't want the attention a hipster pursues and we're uncomfortable in the conforming not to mention confining suit.

Jeans an a t-shirt has been my entire wardrobe for a long time now (I had to borrow suits for special occasions). No one I work with or live with minds this (and I'm freelance). This is what I wear even for sales. If I choose to pitch a business idea some day, I'll probably do it wearing jeans and a t-shirt because I'll feel more relaxed and focused. I'm not making some kind of stand against suits on principle though. I just find them distracting. Ultimately though, if society tells me I absolutely must dress up for a specific occasion (funerals, weddings, maybe a pitch?), then I'll just suck it up and put on the suit.

I should mention that I find personal hygiene to be important though. I don't think you can assume that ultra casual attire equals poor hygiene.

I remember that Buckminster Fuller said he started out dressing in a shirt without a tie and nobody took his message urgently. So he started dressing like a banker. That was a long time ago, but perhaps the lesson remains.

... and nothing matters today except a hockey stick curve.

If you showed up in a thong and pink cutoff shirt and barefoot with a pinterest-like curve any VC would run over their grandmother in the parking lot to fund.

VCs only care about one thing: returns.

Between recording videos and meeting with a more people than I'm used to, I'm now paying more attention to what I wear. I tend to dress formally when meeting people in a formal setting - I find that it impacts my mindset in a positive way. Interacting with people, tooling, and relaxing in the same clothing is like working in your bedroom; it blurs boundaries between different contexts. By dressing for the occasion, I can delineate my behavior appropriately.

That being said, I wouldn't go to a meeting in something uncomfortable; a suit to talk to investors feels like overkill.

"Investors are not looking for someone that looks like them. They may wear suits. That doesn't mean you should. Investors are interested in getting to know the real you. If you’re a little strange, that’s okay. They like strange. They like people who do things that normal people aren’t capable of, and they know that that capability often correlates with eccentric people. The last thing you want to do is wash away your own personality in some doldrums of blue and khaki."

They also just might want someone who's not afraid to step out of their own comfort zone for two hours. Seems to me we're getting to the point (or are past it) where "entrepreneur" just means "guy in tennis shoes working on a web service idea". Certainly seemed to be the vibe from that piece there. People are comfortable with 'pitching' all the time - 'pitching' their 'new idea' to 'investors', cause when you're casual like that, anyone could be an 'investor' you can 'pitch' to.

Don't get me wrong - there's a lot of hard working people out there working on great ideas (some of them not even involving a web api!). They're going to go through a hell of a lot of tough times, ups and downs, and doing a hell of a lot of stuff they've never done before.

If wearing a suit or tie or keeping your "weirdness" in check for an hour are the things that holds your endeavour back from succeeding, you had bigger problems all along.

Excellent points, but it never hurts to clean up a little bit. Remember, people make their first impression of you within the first 30 seconds of meeting you, in the case of a pitch, that first 30 seconds may be before you even say anything (setting up the presentation)... What do they have to go on? Your body language and your appearance... If they write you off as just another hacker that doesn't understand the business aspect of a start-up, you're not doing any favors. Maybe the answer is to have a balance of founders (as I think most people recommend anyways). Have the technical guys clean up a bit but still have their personalities shine, and the non-technical look sharp. That way you can represent a balanced team; the dreamers and the realists together.

If they write you off as just another hacker that doesn't understand the business aspect of a start-up, you're not doing any favors.

Oh yes you are. You just avoided a bad investor.

How so? All you've done for yourself is create a hill you have to climb to right from the beginning. Investors, like founders, often have tight schedules and little time to make decisions. They have to make their decisions quickly, because they have 100 other people clambering to meet with them on getting their investments. You can't blame them if they write you off b/c you couldn't take the 1/2 hour before the meeting to freshen up... Plus, in the start-up community it may seem to be more "acceptable" to dress casually for an important investor meeting that could change the trajectory of your company and maybe even destroy it, (sounds ludicrous when I say it that way), but in the public perception that is unacceptable. The goals for many companies is the get mass appeal and adoption, and if you're going to play the part of the founder/ceo/face of the company, you have to represent your company in a professional manner; if you can't do that in such an important investor meeting, what assurance does the vc/investor have that you can do it to the public.

Because an investor who thinks things like "just another hacker who doesn't understand the business aspect of a start-up" is likely to interfere with how a hacker-founder wants to run the company later.

In courtship, you should be grateful when the other person says something so egregious you could never stand to be with them. They just spared you a lot of trouble down the road.

Your view would make sense if founders didn't have a choice because all investors thought the same way. That's the world we used to live in, but not anymore.

I'm arguing that generally founders don't have a choice; Unless you have an unbelievably good product, and know the right people, the likelihood that you will get your start-up funded is unbelievably small. The start-up community is relatively small, the number of people in that community who are investors is even smaller; the pool of founders is very large. Many, if not most, founders know very little about investors and who they can reach out to. So their perception is that, if you need funding you take what you can get. Especially when you hear NO after NO... Beggars can't be choosers. Is it ideal, of course not, but it is what it is...

This is frustrating. It is indeed very hard to get a startup funded in 2012. But for first-time investors, getting funded has never had less to do with connections and dress code than it does now. That's what 'gruseom is saying.

You're also missing his larger point. You seem to think that not getting funded is the worst thing that can happen to a small business. No. Getting funded by the wrong people can be way worse. I think first-time entrepreneurs on HN need to get this fact through their head more than perhaps any other: it is worse to waste 1-2 years of your life on a DOA startup than it is to fail fast and get on to your next endeavor.

You will not get those years back.

It can be even worse than that: you can be 9-12 months into your DOA startup with your pathological dress-code-attentive investors, have a much better idea and a team capable of executing on it and not be able to pursue it because of your legal obligations to the investors.

Taking investors is in some ways worse than taking a full-time job. The law recognizes the real power dynamics in employer/employee relationships and, for instance, refuses to enforce noncompete contracts. The law sometimes views the relationship between founders and investors in exactly the opposite way.

Take on investors, by all means, if that's what's best for your business. But watch the heck out for psychos.

Well, ok I guess, if that's the world you live in. I observe things changing quite a bit more than that, but admittedly at different rates in different places. You know what, though? I'd rather work on making that unbelievably good product you mention than figure out how to make myself seem something I'm not. Lots of people are succeeding. Not all of them take funding.

Besides, if you make something great that people want, your chance of getting funded is not so small, because you can apply to YC, who are looking for people just like that and have none of the prejudices you describe.

Looks like we finally found something we can agree on ;)

Making a great product that people want is the key, it's always been the key and always will be the key.

Don't forget though, YC has gotten alot more press in recent years (e.g. this http://news.cnet.com/8301-33617_3-57406737-276/y-combinator-...), and one might argue a little more competitive because of it.

That might increase the quality of what's coming out of YC, but it also means, as hard as the may try, they are always going to miss out on some potentially good teams/ideas/products.

Jesse Thorn on why how you dress matters:

When you dress, you are making a statement; not a fashion statement, but a statement of identity. If you put on a jacket and tie, for example, you are signifying to others that you take the occasion seriously, whatever that occasion may be. If someone looks at you and interprets how you dress, they are not being superficial. They are reading the message that you wrote. [...] Can one earn respect in other ways? Certainly, and one should. But that’s no reason to open a conversation with someone by saying, without words, “this is not important to me.”


Why can't the 'message' be: "I respect your intelligence enough that I won't assume you'll judge me based on what I wear, so I'll just wear what's comfortable for me."

I think there's a subtle but important difference between "what you wear sends a message" and "you'll judge me based on what I wear."

You're shifting the agency away from yourself - to make a choice about what message you're going to send (by how you're dressed) - to others, making them out to be shallow for receiving the message you send and processing it accordingly, no?

This may be true in the valley, but in the rest of the world setting the initial impression with how you dress goes a long way.

I guess, it's true in a tech world. Well, in fact, I know that in Russian IT-world it's also so.

People pay attention to how you dress because it's the very first communication you make, before you shake hands or say "Hello". And there is no reason to open that conversation with the phrase "this is not important to me".

good point, non verbal communication makes a big impact and you don't want to risk anything specially if you're going for a pitch and asking for millions of dollars!

The type of person who balks at casual dress is not the type of person who I'd want to work for or with, and vice versa. Problem solves itself.

Casual dress shows confidence: "I don't need to bow to social norms, I'm confident I can sell myself and my ideas, even without a suit."

this advice works if people aren't broken. unfortunately, people are broken.

I think the point Jason, and others in this thread, are making is that great investors understand that how a founder dresses (especially in tech) is a poor indicator for success. Their pitch and, as YCombinator has pointed out, the intelligence and drive are much better predictors of success. This is on top of the fact that investors aren't looking for the status quo, they are looking for visionaries who are going to make next great thing. Dressing nicely because everyone else is, shows that you are buying into the status quo, not changing it.

I think his point is dont try too hard to control how people perceive you. (Not whether suits are appropriate attire.)

The rule of thumb is, "other people aren't thinking about you, and if they are, they are wondering what you are thinking about them."

That being said, just like great design influences how people perceive your product, dressing right for the part is equally important.

I read a case study where chiropractors make more money when they wear a lab coat, stethescope, and all their employees wear scrubs.

Your "packaging" has to match your customers expectations

and the story going on in their head

To me his friend is simply showing respect. Trying to make a good first impression. That isn't trying to be someone they're not. If he's great the VC's will know five minutes into his pitch.

He basically said that if you're a little awkward, you have no business wearing a polo. Even when it's perfectly acceptable to. Even expected.

Are you doing business? Wear at least business-casual! I believe it shows disrespect if you don't. As if this meeting isn't important enough to you to change out of your every day t-shirt.

Serious question - how and why do you think it shows disrespect, and for what? The only thing I can think of is tradition.

I think it shows disrespect because they will most likely be dressed up and you won't. And I'm talking about the situation when you need something from them, like a job offer or investment. It doesn't take any more effort to throw a polo on as it does a t-shirt, so the fact that you chose the t-shirt, I believe that's disrespect.

Just tradition? Yes. But traditions exist for a reason. Sure some people in Silicon Valley may be cool and just care about your brain, but the rest of the world doesn't work that way. Try going to an interview wearing a Simpsons t-shirt and shorts and just try to get treated the same way as if you were in a suit.

With all due respect, I don't think you've offered any kind of explanation here.

Why is it more respectful to be dressed up if they are? You've simply restated that it is without explanation. What makes a polo shirt more respectful than a t-shirt?

You say there are reasons for the tradition, but you don't say what they are. Traditions may have reasons but they aren't automatically good so it would help the debate to actually know what you thought they were. Note that I didn't say anything to minimize the importance of tradition in general.

Nobody is disputing that people do treat each other differently because of how they dress. The question is, what's behind it?

Actually, most people aren't that interested in the 'latest in fashion' either. If fashion is what turns you on.. then don't let the computer geeks turn you off ;).. unless they turn you on as well.. in that case how you doin'? points and winks

The steve and woz picture reminded me of this scene:


I think it depends upon where you are in the process. If you find yourself in the fortunate (and rare) situation where you have investors competing to hear you, then wear whatever you want. Go in a bathrobe if it makes you happy.

If you are trying to sell something, your job is to make the person you are selling to like you and then forget about you because of what you are showing.

I do think there is a point to be made here, but in a more abstract sense than business presentations. Apple is actually a poor example because in their early days Jobs was often seen making presentations in suits.

I think, the best "suit" for the pitch is a t-shirt with your project logo. Well, in fact it's a best everyday clothes too. ;)

Hmmh, confusing title and article. Don't you want abnormal returns? Normal is average and average for most people is mediocre.

What would lead you to interpret that title as confusing?

People make themselves unique through their work and vision. Not solely through their external appearance.

You always need to dress to impress, sometimes others but yourself first!

Some of this is also cultural. Foreign investors might feel they're being slighted if you show up in jeans and a t-shirt while they're wearing suits.

Foreign investors who do not first research the region and culture they are investing in deserve to be insulted, they've conclusively demonstrated incompetence.

This is wrong. Nice sentiment that makes all us awkward people feel better but still wrong and strangely reminds me of America's obsession with self-esteem over real achievement.

I'm a fucking weirdo. I own it. When I'm alone or by people who get me I look and act just how I am and it's perfectly acceptable. But that won't fly with people I need to sell to or make a good impression on.

When I go to meetings or anywhere where I'll be networking or generally need to make a good impression I ditch my usual attire and put on the nice clothes, I don't talk as casually as usual, etc. am I faking it? Absolutely not! I'm sincere and polite. I make my good impression and as any relationship matures with these people I slowly introduce them to my eccentricities. It's a lot like dating. I think it was an episode of Seinfeld (or some sitcom) where one of the characters goes on a date, it goes bad, and the character remarks that you have to let the crazy out little by little, not all at once on the first meeting. It's kind of like that.

As humans we play a variety of different roles in our lives. We're girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, fathers, students, teachers, grand kids, grandparents, friends, acquaintances, patients, etc. Each role requires us to behave differently. Being able to slip in and out of each role when appropriate is very healthy and far from insincere. You can play a role and still be yourself.

I get the nice sentiment of this article and it seems innocent and nice enough but I think it's just misguided. Being yourself doesn't mean you act the same in all your roles. You can meet with VCs in a nice suit and still be your same friendly, eccentric self. It's not about trying to be so,etching you're not, it's about showing respect for the guys you're meeting, showing that you want to be taken seriously, that you care, and that you take the meeting seriously.

I feel like many times when people advocate for "being yourself" it's not so much about advising someone to be true to themselves but instead another form of this self esteem movement that pretty much feels that you're born great and you don't need to change a thing. Wrong! We all have things we need to work on. It's good to fit in with society. The fact is, there are actually very few people who are true eccentrics like Steve Jobs who meet with important people wearing no shoes and smelling like patchouli. Most people who do that are actually the ones who are faking it the most and trying to be different for the sake of being different.

I'm eccentric but you'd never know it. I fit in when I have to and it serves me well. I'm myself whether I fit in or not. And if there's one thing I've learned in my life as it relates to this, it's that it you're conscious of "being yourself" in any way at all you're probably not being yourself at all.

Great, insightful comment.

Most people who do that are actually the ones who are faking it the most and trying to be different for the sake of being different.

This reminds me of something my very brilliant uncle often says: "When one cannot stand out, one makes oneself unique"

(my translation makes it lose a lot in subtlety, but there are no real equivalents for the verbs used— it sounds much better in the original French: "Quand on ne peut pas se démarquer, on se distingue")

I like this.

There is something to be said for building relationships through a gradual process of learning the eccentricities of the other person (over time).

How does dressing up in a suit make you any better of a person?

Where did he say it does? As best I can tell, he was arguing that a suit is appropriate in some situations in much the same way showering, deodorant and combing your hair is appropriate in some situations- and detracts from your identity no more than showering et al does, either.

Or are you staunchly against those things, too?

"...this self esteem movement that pretty much feels that you're born great and you don't need to change a thing. Wrong! We all have things we need to work on. It's good to fit in with society."

You have to understand the geniuses who see things in new light, those who are doing things in a new but better way will always differ from the mainstream. If we establish a culture that encourages conformity--to ANY degree--then we'd be doing a disservice to innovative culture.

That is, being "weird" or different to ANY degree is NEVER bad so long as you aren't hurting anyone. But the weird guy might be on to something and you don't want to ever miss out on that.

So we should encourage people to be themselves because being themselves could mean the difference between being awesome or being normal.

Smelling bad and looking bad are quite different things. When you smell back you are actually negatively physically affect those around you. Just like being a psychopath isn't mainstream and would be considered weird, but obviously that affects others in a negative way.

I'll eat my candy with the pork and beans... not because I'm trying to make a statement, but because that's how I've always been doing it, even if it's different from how you do it. No one has the right to tell me the way I've been doing things is inferior or bad. Only reality can decide that.

>Or are you staunchly against those things, too?

I'm not staunchly against those things and I never said I am. I'm simply staunchly for people being who they are and never faking to fit in. It never helps, and only hurts.

Showering and deodorant is a distracting straw man. Nobody is talking about being dirty or smelly.

The interesting question is why is wearing a suit appropriate, other than because it's traditional?

Are those advocating wearing suits really saying anything more than "we prefer to stick with tradition"?

This is the argument I usually take. WHY is it better to wear a suit besides the investors want to see you in one? If someone willing to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into my business won't do so because I don't wear what's effectively a costume, what's going to stop them being capricious about future issues?

I don't find the suit thing any less ridiculous then if an investor specified that they wanted all board minutes printed in Tahoma because it "sharpens the mind".

Showering and deodorant is a distracting straw man.

It certainly is, and the fact that people go there shows how empty the argument is.

I'm still surprised at the consensus in this thread. Hopefully it's a random blip and not the white blood cells finally figuring out where we've all been :)

I'm not ready to conclude that the argument is empty, but I do think it's interesting that instead of presenting actual arguments, people seem to be getting defensive.

To me that suggests that whatever the real reason is, people aren't comfortable with it. We won't know until someone actually gives a reason though.

I believe in the context of his statement:

"... it's about showing respect for the guys you're meeting, showing that you want to be taken seriously, that you care, and that you take the meeting seriously..."

I may be interpreting this incorrectly, but those qualify as things that may make you a better person (in said situation) as you are showing respect for the other individual.

You can show respect by taking people seriously, being on time, putting in effort, and countless other objectively practical things.

Wearing a suit is only considered by some to be respectful because of cultural conditioning. Unfortunately cultural norms are not objective.

I am 21. I have never worn a suit before and it's not because I actively choose not to or oppose it. I simply have never come to a situation where I was told why I needed to wear a suit. Therefore I have never been conditioned to do so as the norm.

But I can understand that if I do not show up on time, if I ignore or talk over others that these are objectively disrespectful actions because they negatively affect others.

If anyone is still stuck in the thinking that dressing up in a suit (which has no practical consequences to any matters on hand) then they are completely missing the point.

I'll show my fucking respect by doing my best, not being a dick, taking people seriously, and if people refuse to recognize that true respect simply because I didn't dress up nicely to conform to their cultural standards then it's their loss.

> Unfortunately cultural norms are not objective.

Unfortunately cultural norms are very strong.

> then it's their loss.

Sure, it is their loss. But if they're giving you a job, or giving you money, then you're losing out too. And there are a lot of social routines where certain costumes are expected - funerals, weddings, etc.

Good luck, because the clothes thing is infuriating. Just remember that a lot of people are stupid.

Keeping your integrity is a gain, not a loss. There are other ways to find jobs and money.

It's fun to play thought experiments. Imagine you didn't want to work on weapons, but those employers had casual dress policy, versus the socially aware company which needs you to wear a suit. Which bit of integrity would you abandon?

Er.. if you wanted to keep your integrity you could work at neither.

Your hypothetical situation is contrived. Plus you can always start your own company.

There are very few situations where your only option to keep your integrity boiled down to death and even then people have chosen death over giving up their integrity.

Not for me - I hate that desert island moral dilemma thing. Inevitably, what is really being asked is "What would a person in a contrived puzzle situation say"?

> Unfortunately cultural norms are very strong.

Racism was once the norm in the US. And yes it was deeply ingrained in society but it only came down because people started opposing it.

Quite the contrary. It shows disrespect to assume that they would judge you based on dress rather than merit.

This. I've never understood why people aren't offended by obvious attempts to manipulate them using something as shallow as a costume. It's a dead giveaway that I'm expecting to meet at least one person I haven't begun taking seriously. (Which is not to say I'm above doing that to people who I believe will expect it.)

When in doubt... Tuxedo t-shirt! It's the best of both worlds.

I find that many people will put more trust in a scruffy programmer over one in a suit, purely because it fits their own mental image of how a hacker should look.

Stereotypes can cut both ways on stuff like this.

the reason you can get away with sneakers and jeans is that we are in a bubble. it won't always be that way.

The reason you can get away with sneakers and jeans is that how you look doesn't matter, what you have to say and what you do is what matters. Investors aren't giving you money because of your fashion sense, they're giving you money so that they can get money back.

You both haven't hit it on the head.

People have to trust what you say and what you do. How you present yourself partly determines how people perceive and trust you.

Are people who dress in spiffy clothing more likely to be trustworthy?

I know this might sound shallow but the first time I meet someone, I actually judge that person based on the way he or she dresses (if I suspect that he could afford dressing properly). It tells me whether they care about themselves, whether they have a good taste. Ultimately yes, in my experience, there's a correlation between "spiffy clothing" and "trustworthiness".

And I'm convinced that most people do the same, whether they admit it or not.

Presumably this means that bankers are, for the most part more trustworthy than programmers.

"Properly"... What is "properly"? How was "properly" determined? What qualifies you to judge whether someone is dressed "properly"?

Fashion is clearly very subjective but it is also a visual language. If the way you dress within a context is communicating that you don't care about yourself, you aren't dressed properly.

I wear what is comfortable precisely because I care about myself. By your logic, dressing in any manner other than shorts and t-shirts would either be communicating that I don't care about myself, or would be a lie.

See how ridiculous this is?

Not necessarily. But people who look good benefit from the halo effect. So they get the trait of trustworthiness attributed to them.

Ah, so it's a trick to exploit people's unreasoning instincts to your own ends. Cool!

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