By Don Francis
Startup Fashion, How I Learned to Stop Caring and Embrace Denim

I understand everybody has different fashion tastes. I’ve worked with Hipsters, trendsetters, fashionistas, and all manner of engineers who prefer shorts over pants, but in the Bay Area, never have I received a colder welcome than for my favorite clothes: Corduroy.

In the year 2000 I pretty much got rid of all my denim and adopted corduroy as my fabric of choice. I don’t think it has anything to do with the stuffed bear, my adolescent years in the 80s, or the fact that some have called me a bit of a nonconformist. Before you judge me too hard, think about how many disruptive innovators you know that are excellent conformists.

Now that you’re back from that mental exercise, we all know being disruptive in a market is a great thing for a startup, but being disruptive in the office really hampers the progress of labor. In 2010 I was working in a startup and was catching a lot of flack from my coworkers for my ensemble. Slacks were too corporate, so I opted for corduroys. I worked with a lot of up-and-coming people that thought corduroy and collared shirts were still too buttoned up.

The company didn’t have a dress code, didn’t state any requirements up front, but the onslaught of comments communicated business casual was still too formal for business. So, in the interest of conformity and positive human relations, I bought a pair of jeans at an outlet mall. While rotating them into my wardrobe didn’t change anything overnight, it showed I could dress down to accommodate their desired casual atmosphere.

When a startup forms the culture, it is in part decided by the founders, but ultimately rejected or reinforced by the behavior of the employees. This bias doesn’t just affect the guys, I’ve been told it can be a bigger deal for the ladies in the office. In another startup, I remember we had one a lot of men in the developer-driven office. I was building out a Community team and a candidate had come in with a very revealing outfit. The recruiter that screened her was embarrassed, but after a few interviews we understood it wasn’t a statement, it was her style. She was hired, contributed to the team, but was always getting more attention from the men in the office than the other female team members.

From the bias I’ve gotten, I’d like to think now I better respect personal style, but what do you think:

  • Should dress styles matter for employees in a startup?
  • What is the right style for your office?
  • Does clothing play a part in the culture of the office?
  • Does corduroy make you uncomfortable?

Weigh in by leaving your comments below.