The dress code for software engineers generally flys in the face of the decades-old corporate mantra of a shirt and tie. Knowing what to wear as a software engineer can be difficult because most of us were told we should always wear a shirt and tie to work. However, attitudes to dress codes have relaxed significantly over the past few decades.
Software engineers dress very casually. A t-shirt and jeans are common amongst most members of the tech team, with a few stretching to a casual open-button shirt. A shirt and tie is an incredibly rare sight in a dev team. You’ll only see people wearing these in a high-level client meeting or at a job interview.
With the rules around dress codes relaxing so much it can be difficult to know where you stand when starting a new job or going in for an interview. There are times when formal wear is more appropriate and understanding when will save you a lot of embarrassment. The expectations of an office have changed a lot in the last two decades and even tattoos among software developers have become the norm.
Let’s take a comprehensive look at the appropriate dress code for software engineers and look at the situations that require you to dress more or less formally.
What is the dress code for software engineers?
Most companies don’t have a specific dress code for software engineers. The general consensus is to dress appropriately. That can be left open to interpretation but avoid wearing anything unprofessional or revealing. Male and female software engineers can both opt for a t-shirt and jeans and expect to fit right in with their employees.
However, different industries and companies do have different dress code requirements for their software engineers and other employees. It is always best to ask about the dress code prior to your first interview as it can vary depending on the company culture. But let’s take a close look at how the dress code for programmers can vary depending on the company.
Professional services companies
Unfortunately, if you work in an industry like finance or law you are still going to have to get suited and booted every day. The culture surrounding these industries hasn’t shifted as quickly as others and it means they are stuck in the past. They are going to be far more conservative in the way they operate and how their employees are allowed to dress is impacted by this.
The client-facing nature of professional services means formality seeps into every aspect of the work culture. As a software engineer, you are unlikely to get away with a shirt and jeans or other moe casual clothing. Even though your role may involve speaking to clients, if everyone else in the office is wearing a shirt and tie, it is likely you will have to. Some companies will have this written in their contracts, others will use a quiet nudge from management to keep people in line.
With software engineering being a creative endeavor a stuffy dress code can negatively impact how teams operate. But nevertheless, these industries haven’t modernized just yet. As a male engineer you should expect to wear:
- Dress pants
- Dress shoes
- Tie (optional in some workplaces)
- Jacket (optional in some workplaces)
As a female engineer you should expect to wear:
Whether you are client-facing or not will have a big impact on how formally you have to dress day-to-day. However, most companies in finance or law will expect a shirt and trousers as a bare minimum.
The corporate world has moved on from requiring everyone to wear suits. Aside from financial and legal institutions most workplaces no longer require formal dress wear. The specifics of what you will have to wear are going to depend entirely on the company culture and size.
However, smaller companies tend to have a more relaxed working environment than bigger businesses. This is reflected in what they expect their employees to wear. Most businesses allow people to wear whatever they want within reason. The exact limits of this can vary.
For software engineers at non-tech companies, your best bet is to dress smart for your first few days and then adjust accordingly. First impressions are important and even if you dress super smart in your first week, you can still tone it down later on. However, if you go in wearing something too casual like flip-flops on your first day, it is likely to be frowned upon. Generally speaking, your best bet is to wear:
- Smart jeans, pants, or chinos
- A dress or pants
- Smart casual or formal shirt
- Smart shoes
- Tie and jacket (optional)
One of the difficult things about office jobs, in general, is that there can be such a wide variety of expectations depending on the business. Different regions and countries expect different things from their employees. If you aren’t sure, ask the recruiter prior to going in for an interview, or just check with someone in HR. Always overdress in the early stages rather than underdress.
Google made headlines years ago with the culture it built. Their idea was to create a fun place to work and allow employees to express themselves creatively. The Googleplex had indoor slides, video games, and napping rooms. They pretty much invented the way modern tech companies treat their software engineers.
Thanks to silicon valley tech companies employ a very relaxed dress code regime for their employees. The specifics of the dress codes vary from company to company, but they all tend to be informal. Unlike in a general office job, wearing flip flops to work wouldn’t be out of the question at a tech startup. More outlandish styles aren’t frowned upon, they are actively encouraged. Startups and tech companies want to inspire innovation and allowing employees to be themselves come as part of this.
Generally, you can wear whatever you want when working for a tech company as long as it fits within the bounds of the company’s culture. Bikinis and boardshorts may be too much at one company but perfectly fine at others, so just make sure to check.
When should programmers dress formally?
Programmers should dress formally when they are going to meet a client, interviewing for a new role, or meeting high-level stakeholders. It’s important to dress appropriately. Meetings with other people wearing smart attire are a perfect opportunity for developers to bust out their best clothes.
Long gone are the days of office workers having to put on a shirt and tie every morning. Jackets, dresses, and slacks are now almost exclusively reserved for government workers, bankers, lawyers, and detectives. However, it can’t always be sweat pants and flip-flops for software engineers. In any job, it is important that you dress for the right occasion.
I wouldn’t recommend wearing a full suit to a software engineering interview. They are more interested in the programming languages you know, rather than what you are wearing. But you should still dress for the occasion. You want to make a good first impression so learning on the formal side when it comes to the dress code is never a bad thing.
For an interview, you want to wear a nice pair of jeans and an open buttoned shirt as a minimum. For female developers, a nice blouse should be more than enough. It’s only my personal opinion but you’d rather be overdressed for an interview. You don’t get to make a first impression twice and being sloppily dressed can count against you.
The only other time a company may require a programmer to dress formal is when they are attending an in-person client meeting. If you work for an agency that is building a product for a financial institution you will probably have to match the dress code of the customer. It won’t look great if you are the only person in the boardroom wearing a t-shirt.
Having to dress formally for clients will depend solely on the industry that they operate in. If they don’t wear a shirt and tie to work, it is unlikely you will have to when visiting their offices. Dressing to match the client is good a way to build rapport and ensures the working relationship gets off to a great start.
When should software engineers wear casual clothes?
Software engineers should generally wear casual clothes most of the time. With more than 55% of the IT industry working remotely from home, it doesn’t make sense to dress up in front of your computer screen. In the office, the dress code for developers is almost as relaxed as if you were working from home.
Everyone’s definition of casual is slightly different. But for the sake of this article, we will define it as a t-shirt, jeans, and pumps, or similar. As a software engineer, you could get away with wear that attire every day, and it wouldn’t be frowned upon. You may raise some eyebrows if you come into work wearing a vest, swim shorts, and flip-flops. But that depends entirely on the company you work for. Facebook’s dress code allows for pretty much anything and their programmers often come into work in super casual clothing.
Remote working is common among software developers. One of the many benefits is that you get to wear what you want. If your company doesn’t require you to use a camera during meetings you can literally wear anything or nothing at all. Plenty of people will wear smart clothes on their top half and then be sitting in just their underwear. It is uncommon for tech companies to layout strict dress code guidelines in the office, let alone at home. You pretty much have free reign to wear what you want, as long as the camera stays off.
Some developers will stick to business casual as their default when going into the office and it’s not a bad idea. Depending on the size of your team and the overall culture, being smartly dressed is a major positive and can get you a long way.
It comes down to your personal preference and what you feel comfortable wearing, and what will help you be the most productive.
Do tech companies have a dress code?
It is generally unheard of for tech companies to have a dress code policy. Instead, they use the “dress appropriately” mantra. It gives you the choice to wear what you think is right and allows for teams to get their own standards. Having a dress code is seen by many tech companies as unnecessary and likely to restrict creativity.
Tech companies view their software engineers as major assets. They are the people who will develop the next generation of the company’s innovative products. Creativity is seen as a major positive in the industry and helps people solve difficult problems in novel ways. Companies like Google and Facebook view a dress code as an unnecessary rule. These can make employees feel like they are back at school and prevent creativity. It provides one less barrier to helping employees perform at their best. Getting people firing on all cylinders is important for long-term success.
It’s widely reported that Facebook and Google let their employees wear pretty much whatever they want. What you wear is viewed by many as a form of self-expression. Limiting this sense of expression can make people feel uncomfortable which results in underperformance.
However, remember that not every company is Amazon or Netflix. These are the giants of the industry and trendsetters. It can often take quite a while for the cultures they create to trickle down to the wider industry. Just because the biggest tech companies have no dress code requirements, it doesn’t mean they are all this way. Small or local tech companies based in more conservative areas may want their employees to dress up for work.
If you are applying for a role at a smaller tech company the dress code likely won’t be online. To get a general idea of the type of clothes you’ll need to wear to work you can:
- Reach out to HR prior to the first in-person interview
- Discuss the dress code with current employees on LinkedIn
- Look through the employee handbook or the documents you are sent in the first few stages
Whichever option you choose, make sure to get an understanding of what you need to wear before going in for your first day.
Dress code for a software developer interview
You should dress slightly more formally for a software developer interview. Never wear a t-shirt even if you see existing employees sporting them. It’s important not to ruin first impressions by underdressing in the interview, so stick to a more formal dress code.
Regardless of what you decide to wear, there are a few golden rules you should follow. It doesn’t matter if you opt for a t-shirt, suit, or polo shirt you should:
- Wear clean and stain-free clothes
- Make sure your clothes are ironed
- Wear clothes that are well-fitting
Simply having clothes that fit correctly and are clean gets you a long way.
In terms of what to wear, aim to dress a few notches above what the current employees are wearing. If the people who already work there are wearing a shirt and jeans. You should opt for a suit in the interview. If everyone is wearing a suit, don’t get too ahead of yourself and wear a tuxedo. That would be overdoing it. Just wear a nice suit.
To get a gauge of what you should be wearing, you can use LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or the company website useful resources. If everyone on the business website is wearing a suit, you should definitely opt for formal wear.
The best thing you can do for a software interview is to go slightly overdressed. With most outfits, you can adjust accordingly once you arrive. If your wearing a suit and tie you could always take off the tie. For female developers, it’s slightly more difficult to change midway through the interview. But it is possible if you wear a blazer or a jumper.
Remember coding can be hard, so don’t stress about the interview stage. It’s just a way for you to demonstrate your skills. The most important thing is to understand the company’s culture and show off your abilities. Dress appropriately but don’t make your outfit the cornerstone of your appeal.
Dress code for a female software engineer
More than 92% of software engineers are male, so it can be hard for females developers to get an understanding of what they should wear to work. The female dress code is less well defined simply because there are fewer female software engineers. Women can often find it difficult to break into senior roles as the cards are stacked against them. So dressing inappropriately in a male-dominated industry can be difficult.
Let’s take a look at the ideal dress code for female engineers. It is different for when they are at work and before they get the job, during the interview.
The same dress code applies to sexes in a development environment. Most female software engineers can get away with wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and pumps in the office. For a more formal approach, you could try a blouse with some slacks or a pair of dark jeans.
However, you should wear what makes you feel comfortable. As long as it is appropriate. Tech jobs are creative and creativity requires a relaxed workforce. Adding arbitrary dress code rules to a workplace isn’t conducive to a high-performing team. Being yourself at work is important. The way you dress is a reflection of your personality so you don’t want to change who you are just to fit in.
As long as it fits in with the company culture you can pretty much dress how you want without worrying. Wearing skirts, pants, shorts, blouses, jeans, tops, and sweaters all work alongside flats or high heels. It’s best to avoid showing any cleavage or wearing spaghetti-strapped tops. Crop tops and short skirts are also a no-go for the office environment, they are unprofessional and coworkers will judge you.
Dressing up for an interview is an important way to signify to your employer that you are serious about the job. Most tech companies have moved towards a casual dress code or no specific dress code at all. Always dress professionally for an interview. Even if you know the current employees can wear a t-shirt, your best is to wear a top with a blazer or something similarly professional looking. Always go a few levels above what the existing employers are wearing. Underdressing for an interview isn’t a good idea.
Your best bet is to overdress and then mellow out if you get the job or as time passes. Avoid wearing anything that shows some cleavage or has thin straps. Crop tops, anything see-through, and short skirts are a big no for interviews. They give off the wrong impression.
Can you overdress for a software engineering interview?
Generally speaking, you can’t overdress for most software engineering interviews because being well-dressed reflects well on you. However, there is no need to overdo it if the company has explicitly said not to go too formal in the interview. Otherwise, it’s always best to overdo it slightly in the interview.
The tech industry is renowned for having a relaxed dress code so it’s perfectly normal to worry about overdressing for an interview. Companies like Google have no dress code at all because they want a relaxed working environment. Relaxed and passionate employees produce better work so casually dressed employees are the norm.
Even still, you should dress reasonably smart for an interview. You can wear a nice shirt or polo shirt without going over the top. Dressing slightly above the company standard is a perfect way to make a good impression without standing out in a bad way. You have to pass the interview to earn the right to dress casually day-to-day.
It’s rare that an employer would look down on you for pulling out the stops and trying to impress during your interview. You’re always better to overdress than underdress. You can always make adjustments during the second round of interviews or once you get the role.
Understanding the specifics of how to dress as a software engineer can be the crucial first step in landing your dream job. The industry is incredibly relaxed in terms of dress code but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t dress to impress for the interview. Making sure you look sharp during the interview is the perfect way to leave a good first impression.
Day to day you can relax and wear whatever you like. But there will be certain times, like when meeting clients or executives, when dressing formally is incredibly important. Don’t be caught short in the most important moments.
Nathan Britten, the founder and editor of Developer Pitstop, is a self-taught software engineer with nearly five years of experience in front-end technologies. Nathan created the site to provide simple, straightforward knowledge to those interested in technology, helping them navigate the industry and better understand their day-to-day roles.