Help me help other architects! This blog is an excerpt from the first draft of my book: Breaking the Box: Explode out of Architecture School to a Successful Career as an Architect. You can help me make it better by leaving a critique in the comment section below. Thx you rock! -Steve
My First Day
In March of 2008, I made the move to Charleston, South Carolina to begin work with LS3P. I left Princeton, New Jersey on a Friday morning and arrived late Friday night in Charleston. I began work at LS3P that following Monday.
In preparation for my first day of work, I put careful thought into my outfit. I picked out my favorite pair of slacks, a fitted oxford shirt and spent 30 minutes ironing them to perfection. I was going to look good!
When I showed up for work on Monday, my new studio leader David greeted me in the lobby. Something was strange about David. He was wearing a necktie. “Do architects wear neckties? He must be pretty important,” I thought.
As we ascended the metal and wood staircase, I noticed another guy enter the building wearing a necktie. “Hmm, another important guy,” I thought.
David then gave me a tour around the 3-story office, stopping at each desk to introduce me. I noticed another guy wearing a tie, and then another guy.
“I notice people wearing ties. Is that a requirement?” I asked.
“Yes. The men here wear ties. Except for casual Fridays when ties aren’t required.” David answered.
“Whoops!” I thought. This meant that I was underdressed on my first day of work. So much for first impressions.
The day I had interviewed at LS3P was a Friday, which makes sense because I did not see any ties during my interview. I didn’t even know that architects wore ties except for on special occasions or in those old black and white photos from my architectural history books. At Michael Graves & Associates we were pretty casual, in fact some folks wore jeans every day.
Still a Kid
The funny thing is that at age 26 I did not even know how to properly tie a tie. I was that person who kept his neckties tied after someone else tied it for him. That evening I enlisted my younger brother and some British guy on YouTube to help me learn how to tie a tie. After thirty-five minutes, I had a basic understanding of the art. Thus began my career of wearing ties.
My tie wearing career only lasted about 2 years. In the summer of 2010, an email went out announcing a new summer dress code policy. The men could take of their ties during the summer months. This was a great thing because Charleston summers are brutal. 90-degree days with 100% humidity are the norm. I always wear an undershirt in Charleston so that I do not sweat through my dress shirt.
When September rolled around I expected to get an email that the summer dress code had ended and it was time to be ‘tied’ back up. But that email never came. 7 years later, I am still waiting on that email but instead have a large collection of neckties collecting dust.
No Big Deal
In hindsight, showing up on the first day without a tie was not a big deal. It was actually funny. It also opened my eyes to two things:
#1All architecture firms are different.
At Michael Graves & Associates the office environment was very casual. We rarely had clients in the office, which contributed to the loose dress code. At LS3P, we have clients in the office everyday which necessitates a more formal polished environment.
#2Appearances are Important.
Appearances are especially important for architects. Architecture is a visual profession. We are hired to design functional and attractive spaces. Your physical appearance is an opportunity to convey confidence as well as a sense of style.
Think about Steve Jobs. Jobs wore the same black mock turtleneck, blue jeans and New Balance sneakers every day. This choice was a reflection of his minimal design preferences that have guided the design and success of Apple for 3 decades.
So how should you dress in an architecture office?
I am certainly no fashionista, but I do have three helpful tips for architects.
Rule #1 – Dress for your office.
If people in your office wear a tie, then you should wear a tie. If you hate wearing a tie, then don’t work for that office. If everyone wears jeans then don’t wear a suit. That would be weird. You get the picture right?
This is a cliché but it is true. Dress for the job you want. If you want to be the boss one day, then you should strive to be as polished as your boss. When people are thinking about who should be promoted they will visualize that person in the role. It is human nature. Make it easy for them to visualize you as a leader.
Rule #2 – Dress for your clients.
If I have an in-person client meeting, then I will kick it up a notch. They are paying a lot of money for my services and I want to convey confidence.
I also want my clients to see my as an equal because people want to work with people that are like them.
Rule #3 – Dress for you.
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” – Dr. Seuss
You are a brand and your image is the biggest conveyer of that brand. It is the first thing people experience when they meet you. The last thing you want is for your image to convey your brand of ‘that dude that doesn’t own an ironing board.’ Think of your clothing as a way to convey both confidence and style.
If you look great in a bow-tie then wear a bow-tie. If you can rock a beard, then rock on.
Do all Three!
The important thing is to follow all three rules: dress for your office, dress for your clients and dress for you. This small but important step will help you gain the confidence of your clients and colleagues by broadcasting ‘the brand of you.’ And you rock!
On the contrary, if your personal style does clashes with a professional environment then you are going to have challenges. I would encourage you to tweak your style for the job or find another job.
Do not underestimate the importance of appearance.