Suits you sir: business wear vs. casual

22 Sep
Ooh, suits you sir!

Ooh, suits you sir!

I’ll be going to my first SBS event on Monday – a finance careers bootcamp. I got the logistics email yesterday and for the dress code it says: “We strongly advise smart business wear. There will be Alumni present at this event and you should present yourself appropriately.

For day-to-day lectures at school we can wear what we want, but I’m told that the general advice is that if any event involves jobs and networking, then you should wear a suit.

That got me thinking – why are we so obsessed with the old “tin flute” and what does it say about our innovation culture?

There are a couple of examples of this that I can think of that confuse me. Take the TV show Dragon’s Den: Peter Jones has said on more than one occasion that he expects participants on Dragon’s Den  to be dressed in a suit and he looks badly on those that are not dressed smartly. Also, I was recently invited to pitch my start-up at a UK Y combinator-like seed fund. The instructions for the event specified that the dress code was again business smart.

The seed fund instructions really struck me as strange. These types of funds are meant to be competing with the likes of San Francisco-based Y Combinator itself – I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul Graham himself didn’t even own a suit! They encourage people to turn up in as comfortable clothes as possible. I pitched at Y Combinator last year and I felt conspicuously over-dressed when I went to their offices wearing cream chinos and a tucked in shirt (yeah, cream chinos – I though it gave me a “West coast” look!).

I actually went to a lot of start-up/innovation/pitching events last year and it was interesting to see the differences in what people wore at these events. At Tech Media Invest it was all suits and at TechCrunch London it certainly wasn’t (yeah that’s me!).

There was an interesting story around the recent merger between Roche – an old guard Swiss pharmaceutical company – and Genentech – a relatively young California-based biotechnology company. When the Roche and Genentech executives held their first joint investor day conference the Roche executives went without their ties – which was somewhat of a first. One of the Genentech executives mentioned that he does not even own a tie and the Roche executives did not want to make the Genentech guys look out of place. To many industry observers it was seen as evidence of Roche’s desire to maintain the dynamic innovation culture at the younger biotech – quite a considerable challenge when merging two such contrasting companies.

When I was working in a lab I wore jeans and a t-shirt everyday. It was quite a shift for me when I started working in consulting and I was expected to wear smart clothes and a tie (but not a full suit) to work. I can’t imagine Google or Genentech would have got very far if they’d required people to wear a tie to work. So, if we aspire to Californian levels of innovation perhaps we might improve the UK innovation culture if we all just… loosened up a bit.

And what shall I wear on Monday? Well of course I will obey the instructions and wear my suit like a good little MBA student, but if I’m feeling brave I might indulge my rebellious streak by unbuttoning my collar…

4 Responses to “Suits you sir: business wear vs. casual”

  1. Andrew September 26, 2010 at 11:31 am #

    I put a little thought into my attire for my recent attendance at the Future Entrepreneurs Network in Edinburgh. Did not really know what to expect but I went fairly casual compared with how I dress at work. Work wear – suit trousers, black dress shoes and shirt no tie. Networking event – blue chinos (I will never wear cream!), stripe shirt, light brown shoes. The safe bet would have been the usual work wear but I thought I looked equally smart in my fairly casual threads. Result – I blended in very well with the norm of the evening!!

    • Steven September 26, 2010 at 9:56 pm #

      I think really when you’re more or less the business owner you can wear what you want. In fact the more casual you are, the more successful people probably think you are because you have nothing to prove.

  2. Duncan Preneur September 27, 2010 at 8:35 pm #

    As a well respected entrpreneur I’m a great believer in BOSS or Armani teeshirts with jeans/chinos.However,I did buy a nice suit when I raised my money on Dragons Den – which my business Angel (Angus) kindly funded.

    You can find out how I landed my money on DD here:

    As I think its important to share my experience.

    Duncan Preneur


  1. The impudence of youth « The wannabe VC - September 27, 2010

    […] Today at SBS we had the first day of the financial careers bootcamp. One of the presenters reeled off the list of jobs he had had since he graduated from business school. It was the most amazing list of positions in investment banking-type positions – almost all at a very senior level. In fact it was so amazing that there was some subdued laughter around the lecture theatre as we realised just how ridiculously  badass this guy’s career was. What also got some of us was that this guy looked really quite young – maybe around 40. Amazing! (I also note that this guy was the only presenter not to wear a tie. Proof, surely, that when you are that successful you can wear whatever the hell you want!). […]

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