I am still asked from time to time by curious and perhaps self-conscious men questions like, “do you wear cowboy boots to the office?” or “how do you get by wearing cowboy boots at the office?” or “you’re a manager of other people. Don’t you think wearing cowboy boots to work sets a bad example?”
This blog post came to light when I found a discussion on the professional social network “LinkedIn” titled, “Do you wear cowboy boots to the office”. The responses on that discussion were about as I expected: a few respondents said, “yes, I do,” but most said that they did not, or do not recommend doing so, with a few having very strong opinions about it.
I agree, there are some industries and office environments where the dress code means quite a bit, and people make judgments based on how one complies with a stated or unstated dress code.
While my office work environment has a written dress code, the dress code is fairly relaxed. Essentially, if you are wearing a shirt with a collar, pants made of cloth but not denim, and closed-toe footwear, then you are in compliance with the dress code. No ties are required, much less suits. However, men wear suits when they have out-of-office meetings. Otherwise, we can relax and remove the noose from the neck.
It’s that “unstated” dress code, though, that people worry about. Some people who want to get promoted, be recognized by the boss for his work, or otherwise want to be judged as an person worth of considering, tend to worry about what he wears, down to his footwear. I have one of those in my office. This kid wears a suit almost every day, even though he has no reason to do so. I sense he is a bit insecure, but he’s new. He will figure it out eventually.
Yes, I have supervised and managed people — all while wearing cowboy or nice-looking patrol boots. They may initially have some questions about “who’s the cowboy who is now my boss?” but when they work with me, they realize it’s what I know, not what I wear, that matters.
If I were one to be ultrasensitive to the conservative nature of men’s style and clothing choices in Washington, DC, then certainly I wouldn’t wear casual clothing, open-collared shirt, and cowboy boots to work. I probably would dress up more. But I have learned that I can succeed without worrying about other people’s opinions, stated or unstated. I have moved up in my career regardless of the boots on my feet. I have also left or lost jobs based on factors unrelated to my clothing, but more related to the funding for my work. That’s the challenge of working in a non-profit field. Sometimes, the money isn’t there.
As I am looking for another job, then sure — I will wear a suit to the interviews. However, I will have dress cowboy boots on my feet. Why? I don’t own shoes and have no intention of lowering my personal standards by buying and wearing a pair of dress shoes.
Lowering standards? Yep… you read that right. To me, shoes do not represent the standard by which I hold myself. That is my choice, and not a reflection on yours or any others’ choices.
My first days or weeks into a new job — yeah, I’ll probably wear a tie, too. But only unless absolutely required will I wear a suit. And all the while, I will have my boots on.
Life is short: don’t let petty fears bred by misguided “norms” to dictate what you wear on your feet.