Working in Your Bathrobe
by Rob Spiegel
Working at home definitely has its benefits, and being able to set your own dress code is one of them. But though you can make client phone calls in your PJs and slippers, appropriate business attire is still expected when you meet clients face to face.
When my first home business book came out, a reader sent me a cartoon about business dress. It showed various forms of attire. First was business-dress Monday, and the character was dressed in a suit. The next character represented relaxed Wednesday – he was tie-less in a sweater vest. Next was dress-down Thursday – the character is in a short sleeve shirt, without a tie. Then came Freelancer Friday. The character, who hadn’t shaved for a couple weeks, was in rumpled pajamas and a beat-up open bathrobe.
I spend the first half of each workday in my bathrobe. In fact I have three bathrobes, two flannel for cool mornings and a light cotton robe for the brief period of warm mornings. All three are a bit frayed at the bottom from the days the puppy was teething. I switch to sweat-pants and a tee-shirt around noon. I’d stay in my bathrobe all day, but I have to walk to the street to get my mail, and unlike Tony Soprano, I’m too self conscious to make the trek in my bathrobe.
When I have to meet a client, I get dressed up. But the meaning of dressed-up changes all the time. In 1999 and 2000 I wrote heavily about the emerging dot com revolution. When I attended my first Internet business conference, my editor told me I didn’t need to wear a tie. I didn’t believe him. The conference was a San Francisco gathering of dot com CEOs as well as highly-placed executives from large corporations who were trying to figure out what was going on.
When I dressed the first morning of the conference, I just couldn’t leave the hotel room without a tie. So it put one on and headed down to the conference. I took one look at the crowd and headed back to my room, taking off my tie on the way. Not one attendee was wearing a tie. Man, this was great.
In 2001 the experience was reversed. The dot com generation not only failed, they took the world economy down as they crashed. The antipathy to that young crowd was thick across all business sectors. Business people put their ties back on. By 2001, my dot com editor was out of the job as the magazine company pulled the plug on an ecommerce publication. Now I had a new editor at an old-economy magazine. When I headed to my first conference, my boss told me ties were needed. I didn’t believe her. I strolled down to the gathering tie-less, took one look around and headed right back to my room for a tie.
How should you dress when you run a home business? In an earlier column I made fun of the notion that at-home sales people should dress up just as if they were going out on an appointment because the formality produces confidence. Apparently sharp clothes make you sound professional over the phone. I don’t know about you, but I don’t necessarily feel more confident when I’m in a suit and tie. I do, however, feel very confident when I’m in my bathrobe and there’s kids playing with a yapping puppy in the background.
When you go to a conference or meet a client outside – or even inside – your home, business attire rules do come into play. But your attire needs to be adjusted depending on who you’re about to meet. If you’re speaking before a group, dress one notch of formality higher than the group dresses. If you’re trying to sell something to someone over lunch, you have to dress up in a suit or at least a jacket and try your best to keep from splashing red chili on your tie and white shirt. If the person you’re meeting is a peer – as in you’re neither trying to sell nor are you buying – you can dress informally. The sweater vest. If you’re meeting someone who is trying to sell you something, you can show up unshaven in sweats.