Barbie is an entrepreneur.
Without any sarcasm whatsoever, seriously, good for her.
When you think of Barbie, you likely think of the outfits. The fashion. The accessories.
Which triggered a discussion in our office recently--what do entrepreneurs wear?
It's tricky because the entrepreneurs in our mental images are sporting hoddies and black v-necks and squishy running shoes. Sometimes all at the same time.
Tom Tancredi, Co-Founder Dom & Tom, Inc., a recent addition to the Inc 500 list, illustrated the issue nicely. "A client recently walked into a proposal meeting and looked around saying 'I can't figure out your culture where the CEO is in flannel shirt and jeans, and the Account Manager is wearing a three-piece suit with a bow-tie and pocket insert.'" "Frankly," Tom told me, "the dress code in the tech industry tends to change from role to role, department to department and office to office."
The idea of what entrepreneurs do or should wear is becoming so locked-in that Banana Republic recently launched a entrepreneur clothing line. And another company is selling the black v-neck--as in ONLY the black v-neck. There's even an official entrepreneur hoodie.
The discussion is tricky though because so many of today's entrepreneurs got that way being--or at least presenting the image of being--mavericks. That is to say, not doing things they way they had been done before, including the way they dressed.
For many entrepreneurs, they started their own ventures in part because they didn't want to do the 'suit-and-tie' office thing.
In entrepreneur culture, it became perfectly acceptable to don a hoodie and ironic t-shirt to board meeting or to pitch investors. It was its own kind of rebellion and non-status status. But now, with companies literally selling that non-conformity, has it lost that value?
And do we now expect start-up entrepreneurs to wear the 'uniform?' Would we take a tech pitch less seriously if the presenter wore a suit?
Or has the rebellion symbolism of entrepreneurship fashion left nowhere to go but beachwear? Will our next tech titans be unveiling their new products in flip flops?
Before we have meltdown over what entrepreneurs can and cannot wear, let me offer my personal rules-of-thumb on high-tech couture.
In the office. Be comfortable. If it's your company and your office, wear what makes you most at ease. Running a company is hard enough--don't add to the stress by being uncomfortable. Whether that's jeans or heels, go with what suits you (no pun intended).
But remember, if you're the founder and/or CEO, your employees will look to you for leadership and what you wear will be the floor, not the ceiling, of their attire. There's value in looking the part and setting an in-office standard for what people wear.
At a meeting. Dress better. Keep in mind that you represent your company and your product. Even though you're most comfortable in sweat pants and your college sorority shirt, the people you're meeting are probably expecting something different. Don't let your comfort cause them to be uncomfortable. Dressing better also says you take the meeting, and those you're meeting, seriously. That's especially important if they are potential investors or customers.
The bottom line is that I don't believe there is an entrepreneurship uniform--or should be. But don't let what you choose to wear trip-up your business goals.
"The most important thing is to dress for your environment--if I am in a meeting with an investor, I wear a dress and heels. If I am in one of our factories, I wear jeans and a t-shirt," said Heather Hasson, CEO of medical uniform FIGS. "Our customers wear scrubs to work. It is important to understand your surroundings and wear what makes sense without losing your identity and individuality."
Most entrepreneurs I know would wear a purple toga and hot pink fedora if they thought it would get them the investment, sale or new relationship. Keep your business and personal goals, as well as your audience, in mind. Leave the office or the meeting with them talking about your vision and your product--not your socks.