Skip to main content
Visit our new News website at
Friday, August 23, 2013 - 3:37am

WORKING: Dress 'Code'

The old saying goes, “Dress for success.”

Some folks are taking that all the way to the corner office – or at least taking their style cues from the occupant of that office.

It might sound crazy to dress like your boss or your organization’s CEO/president/executive director. It’s not, says Brandon Smith, our regular commentator on workplace and career issues.

“The way they dress is sending a couple of really important messages,” he says. “It’s first telling you, ‘here’s what I expect of the culture of the place, the formality or informality.’

“They also are signaling to us what they want the brand or the image of the organization to be,” Smith says. “Are we a blue-collar, kind of get-our-hands-dirty, get-stuff-done kind of group? Are we more of a white-collar, formal, this-is-serious, professional, we’re-dealing-with-important-things kind of group? How do we want the world to see us?”

Smith says the boss is also watching to see who “gets it” and is on board with projecting the kind of culture and image he wants.

So, the key is to take style points from your CEO without flat-out copying her clothes exactly. Smith says to label the boss – formal, business casual, or “IT-startup-firm casual where it’s like a Motley Crue T-shirt and cut-up jeans” – and then incorporate some of that style into your own wardrobe.

The risks of ignoring this?

“You’re going to stand out like a sore thumb and they’re going to say, ‘Gosh, he just doesn’t get it.’ And likely, you’re going to end up looking like you’re just not at the right level.”

Brandon Smith teaches about leadership, communication, and workplace culture at Emory University's Goizueta Business School. More of his advice is on his blog and at While you’re there, ask him your workplace or career question. We might answer you in a future radio segment.