Scruffiness Privilege

When I was at school, we had to wear a uniform. Black trousers, white shirt, brown blazer, brown tie. Coincidentally, it was more-or-less the same uniform as the local supermarket.

On the last day of school, I ripped off my tie and vowed never to wear one again. And, aside from the occasional wedding and funeral, I've kept my promise.

Which leads me to this 100% true story.

I work with computers. It is an in-demand profession and I'm pretty good at it. So much so that I can turn up to work in jeans and a free hackathon t-shirt, sporting ridiculous facial hair, and still get paid. I've been told - several times - "you look like a real hacker! I wouldn't be able to wear that in the office! Hahaha!"

As the old meme goes:
Web Developer with a job (has a great big beard). Web Developer without a job (is clean shaven).
(Actually that's a journalist who wrote a book about not shaving.)

But, of course, not everyone can grow a beard as fabulous as mine. Some disadvantaged people can't grow any beard at all!!!

Some people dress-down and then get stopped by security when they try to enter the building. Or, worse, have authorities think they're a ne'er-do-well.

Some people in the computer industry need to dress for the job they have because, otherwise, no one takes them seriously.

As a kid, I used to argue that school uniforms were inhumane. Now I see that they do a very good job of erasing some of the sartorial choices that only the privileged have. Sure, there were rich kids and poor kids at my school. But money simply can't buy you a better class of crappy brown blazer.

Recently I argued that schools could at least do away with ties. No one wears a tie for work any more, right?! Turns out I was wrong. Lots of people have to make an effort to look smart for their job. Weird.

So what am I getting at? I'm not saying that scruffy devs should get a shave and a proper suit. Nor that there's a right or wrong way to dress for work.

You can computer in a Vera Wang dress just as well an old Nirvana t-shirt.

If you think that someone doesn't look like a real hacker because of the clothes they wear, or the colour of their hair, GTFO.

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5 thoughts on “Scruffiness Privilege”

  1. Phil Cowhig says:

    Hi Terry. I once was given the same advice in similar circumstances. It was at a startup and I had got into scruffy habits but this guy was always in a suit and tie. And as he was in Sales, it was a bit flash and not to my taste. Anyway, he said “dress for the job you want”, etc, and I said “what, floor manager at Burtons?” He avoided me after that.

  2. Charlie says:

    I remember the crappy brown blazer well, hats off to you. Funny thing is I’m so used to wearing a shirt and tie for work I don’t feel engaged unless I’m wearing it. Should we have a dress down day I think you’d find me twiddling my thumbs, drinking coffee and helping myself to muffins. I also find a beard really really itchy and my kids give me grief if I have stubble. Dear GOD what have I become??

  3. says:

    True story: My first tech job, my family went all-out helping me prepare. I got lots of free business attire, either handed down or bought as a gift. I had more than enough for my first ‘real’ job. Being someone who actually enjoys dresses and cute tops and blazers, I was in heaven.

    Week two into the gig, I was pulled into my manager’s office. “You know you don’t need to dress so nice. You’re on the dev team.”

    “It’s okay! I like wearing this stuff!”

    “Yeah, but… you look like upper management.”


    Finally, the truth came out: He wanted me to dress down because I looked like I was dressing ‘above’ my station. I was told to start wearing jeans and t-shirts.

    I did so (again, first job), but these days I make a point of dressing up when I go to tech conferences.

  4. Kay Sackey says:

    Sadly, I’m the opposite. I also went to a uniform school but I liked it. Blazers are dress pants look nice, feel great, and have deep pockets to easily put all my things. Anytime I wear jeans and a t-shirt, I either have to leave things at home, or add a bag to my ensemble in order to carry them.

    As a dev though, this means I’m mildly ostracized because I don’t look quite as scruffy as I’m supposed to.

  5. Tony Hoyle says:

    If I put on a suit I look like a scruffy guy in a suit. I look a bit ridiculous. I've tried.. weddings, funerals, but it just doesn't work.

    A note with uniforms.. we absolutely knew who were the poorer pupils - the ones who could only afford one set which was washed once a week vs. the ones with a different shirt every day, the one wearing shoes that had seen better days.. Uniforms were eyewateringly expensive since the only way you could get one was the approved shop - so much so they had to make blazers optional due to the number that couldn't afford one - which also led to only rich kids having blazers.. I personally know of people that missed school because they didn't have anything to wear. As a result I'm 100% against uniforms.


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