Dress code

Flares and beards used to be the uniform of the IT profession, but as technology has moved on, so have the people who work with...

Flares and beards used to be the uniform of the IT profession, but as technology has moved on, so have the people who work with it. Nathalie Towner finds out what today's fashionable ITer is wearing.

There was a time when the stereotype of the geeky nerd with ill-fitting jeans, long, greasy ponytail and an overgrown beard was hard to shift but as the profile of the IT profession has risen it has become far harder to identify ITers by their appearance. Xtra! has been investigating the fashion preferences of the 21st century IT professional to see just how hot their dress sense is.

Jeans and T-shirts still feature widely, but then so do suits in the more conservative working environments. But whatever the office dress code there is always scope to add that individual touch.

"Clothes do make a statement, it is important to project a certain image. It may sound superficial but you can tell a lot about someone from what they wear," says fashion designer Rachel Boyle. "I have to know who my customer is when I am designing their clothes because I have to design for their lifestyle."

So how does an ITer need to look for work? The average ITer has to carry out a range of functions in their job and needs to be able to dress accordingly for each one. As a result, many ITers have adopted a range of dress codes depending on the day's requirements.

"If I know I might be crawling around on the floor cabling or setting up computers then I will dress in jeans and T-shirt. I also have my favourite ties and shirts that I schedule in for certain meetings, depending on whether I feel like power dressing," says IT manager Leonard Powers.

IT consultant Cameron Bradbury works to the same philosophy. "My choice of clothes depends on what I have planned for that day or week. If I have a meeting, either internal or external, I will come to work in a suit. If I have an easy day of sitting at my desk I go for the dress-down option," he says.

Of course some ITers do not need to worry about what they are doing on a given day and go casual all the time.

IT manager Espen Skogen describes his typical outfit for work as jeans and T-shirt, with the rest of the IT department dressing the same. Unsurprisingly, his non-work clothes are not that much different from what he wears during the nine-to-five.

"There is increasingly a cross-over between casual and work clothes, so more and more people don't have a separate wardrobe for the two," says Boyle.

But with recent trends veering towards the ultra-casual this need not mean being unfashionable.

Surfwear
IT manager Prudence Smith describes the typical outfit in her IT department as surfwear alongside the more usual trousers and shirt. "My typical outfit for work is O'Neill, Mambo or Billabong trousers and a trendy top but it varies according to whether a meeting is planned - trousers/skirt and shirt if I have a meeting, casual if not," she says.

Smith believes that her IT department is, on the whole, more casually dressed than the rest of the company. But this is not the case in every company.

Business analyst James Hird works for a high street retailer and he is expected to wear a suit, shirt and tie every day, regardless of what he has planned. "We have to dress very smartly, it is part of the company ethos that we have to look like the partners in the branches," he explains.

But when ITers do have the freedom to choose how they dress, from where do they get their inspiration?

Personal shopper
A few who have the money and the motivation will turn to a personal shopper for help.

"Normally people come to me because they hate shopping or they just don't have a clue," says fashion consultant Olivia Davidson."First I like to meet the person for a two-hour consultation. I mostly go and see them at home, I go through their wardrobe, I discard stuff that is wrong for them and team up items that they have never previously considered putting together."

Davidson cites typical blunders among women as dressing too conservatively and too old for their age, whereas men seem to have particular difficulty when it comes to colour co-ordination. "Pink shirts, red ties, ill-fitting suits, these are all really common," she says.

As tempting as it might be to employ someone else to do the shopping, this is not an option open to us all. And not everyone lacks the confidence to pick out what is best suited to them.

"Buying clothes is not a pain for me, but then I know exactly what I want," says Bradbury. "I try to buy non-standard work colours and if I wear a standard work colour I ensure that my shirt is not white. A bit of colour is always needed. Anyway, it is not the clothes that set you apart from the rest of the crowd, it is the accessories. Co-ordination is the key and makes an outfit."

Most of the ITers interviewed by Xtra! say they prefer to spend their clothes budget on their out-of-work wardrobe, although those obliged to wear suits find that they burn a big hole in the budget. Ted Baker suits, Prada shoes and handmade suits inevitably take a chunk out of the wallet but there is still room for those less conventional items.

"I have a genuine South American poncho which is very thick and warm but totally impractical to wear. It is like a massive duvet hanging on my shoulders and it has nice Lama pictures on it," says Powers.

Despite the odd fashion faux pas, today's ITers generally seem to be well aware of the importance of looking good. However, clothes shopping is not their pastime of choice. "I don't mind when I have something to buy for, but if I am just browsing I would rather be looking for the latest Dolby Digital Amp, PC motherboard or video card," says Powers.

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