back to article The business mullet: Cool or tool?

Silicon Valley is notoriously casual in its dress and business demeanor. In a culture that celebrates every day as Casual Friday, it's hard to get the tech crowd to dress up. Which is why it's so painful when techie types try to dress up. Maybe they need to pitch a VC. Maybe they have an important sales meeting with a …


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  1. Russ Tarbox
    Thumb Up

    Nothing wrong with it if you get it right.

    It works best with DARK jeans (black or very dark blue) and a decent t-shirt or shirt. It's better than just wearing a full suit on a night out but makes you stand out from the standard shirt/jeans of the rest of the crowd. But it needs to co-ordinate...

    It's fine for at work too. However if you are trying to look smart for a business meeting, nothing but a suit will suffice, or at least smart trousers and shirt. You wouldn't wear jeans to a job interview...

    I would post a pic but my self esteem can't take the beating right now ;)

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Nothing wrong with it if you get it right.

      The well-tempered jacket-and-jeans look (dark-wash jeans, as you say, in good fit and condition - and I'd restrict it to a dress shirt) is quite common on men presenting at academic conferences and that sort of thing, as well as in business.

      Academic conferences[1] tend to be semi-formal affairs at best, though. While many of the old guard and the more-nervous (as well as the rare fashionable types) men wear suits, they're often outdated and of questionable style. The brown corduroy jacket with leather elbow patches really is a staple at gatherings like the Modern Language Association's annual hootenanny (one of the larger events of the type). And that's if you're lucky - I was on an elevator at MLA once with a guy preparing a talk; his suit jacket was so frayed at the bottom that several inches of thread were hanging down. The Homeless Professor look is not terribly cool.

      So at that sort of event, high-quality jeans plus, say, a black velvet blazer over a good designer shirt is rather a breath of fresh air.

      I wouldn't break that outfit out for a chat with investors, though.

      [1] At least in my fields - computer science, software development, English literature, rhetoric, and, when I'm so inclined, technical writing.

  2. jai

    The inverse mullet for the fashionably adventurous?

    Suit trousers and a hoodie?

    Sure, people will scoff, but that's only because you're at the cutting edge of business fashion. Plus, hoodies always have those big pockets on the belly, the perfect size for carrying around your tablet of choice.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: The inverse mullet for the fashionably adventurous?

      Suit trousers and a hoodie?

      Note, though, that a hoodie is only considered formal if the hood is up. When it's hanging down your back and draped in ugly folds about your shoulders, it's just gauche.

      To perk this look up, try adding tooled cowboy boots!

  3. Huw D

    If you wear a business mullet...

    ... what you're saying to me is that you want to be Jeremy Clarkson. Especially if you turn up in an expensive car.

  4. WonkoTheSane

    Jacket & Jeans?

    Gotta be Jeremy Clarkson.

  5. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    for business only?

    I've occasionally seen the sports jacket with jeans look for about 35 years now. I have occasionally committed it myself, but never that I remember for business settings.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not cool, definitely tool

    It's one thing to dress casual with jeans and a sport coat, not a suit coat, for a night out. It's completely different to dress that way for a Biz meeting, especially an important meeting with traditional business people. You would definitely look like a tool and lose all credibility with any professional.

    As far as Hoodies, they are for ghetto rats only.

    1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

      Re: Not cool, definitely tool

      Hey, Bill Belichick wears a hoodie to work...

    2. hplasm Silver badge

      Re: Not cool, definitely tool

      'Professionals' - credible? Give it a rest.

      Professional is as professional does.

      "Business" suits mean "I am going to rip you off, or order you about" Nothing else.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Professional"

        I haven't worn a suit or even a shirt with a collar for work in four years!

        I have never found any problems with my consultancy clients taking me seriously when offering them both business and technical advice.

    3. Captain Underpants

      Re: Not cool, definitely tool

      There's some value to personal presentation, but if you're dealing with people who decide entirely based on personal presentation then you're going to have problems. (Though this does, to some extent, assume that you can differentiate yourself from the competition on purely technical grounds...)

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Not cool, definitely tool

        There's some value to personal presentation

        Appearance is rhetorical...

        but if you're dealing with people who decide entirely based on personal presentation then you're going to have problems

        ... but it's not the whole of rhetoric, so anyone who's persuaded entirely by it is clearly incapable of critical thought. If you're dealing with people who can't think critically, then yes, you're going to have problems. But then everyone who can think critically knows that already.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Steve Jobs

    The archetypal techie trying to look cool, and failing badly (or should that be failing very successfully)

    There is the same awkwardness the other way too though, when the 'management' try to dress down.

    Let's face it, the area between the techie and management really is no-mans land (and neither side should venture there).

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Steve Jobs

      I don't think he tried to look cool, I think he just wasn't going to wear what someone else wanted him to.

    2. Irongut

      Re: Steve Jobs

      I always thought Jobs was the archetypal management type trying to look cool. And, just ending up looking like Jeff Goldblum's uncool brother.

      1. JDX Gold badge

        Re: Steve Jobs

        I don't believe he gave a toss after reading his biography.

  8. ratfox Silver badge


    You mean other people actually notice the clothes that I'm wearing?

    1. disgruntled yank Silver badge

      Re: Wait

      Well, sure. How else will they know what you had for lunch?

    2. Anonymous Coward

      I'm not even going to pretend to care.

      I stopped caring what other people think before I turned 30.

      It's a suitcoat, I'll wear it if I like.

      1. Tom Maddox Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: I'm not even going to pretend to care.

        If you had $30 million in VC money riding on what someone else thought of your attire, I'm willing to bet you'd learn to care.

      2. JDX Gold badge

        Re: I'm not even going to pretend to care.

        Yes theodore that's what all the nerds say. Nobody is buying it.

  9. danolds

    Can't pull it off

    It IS possible to pull off the business mullet (jeans + sport or suit jacket) and look good, but I've only seen it done once or twice. I'd never attempt it myself - just don't have the stones. But I did draw a line in the sand years ago when I decided to only wear ties for funerals or formal weddings. For business meetings, the most formal I'll go is a dress shirt, suit coat, and Dockers.

    1. ChrisBedford

      Re: Can't pull it off

      A dress shirt looks stoopid or at best incomplete without a tie, like someone snatched your clip-on on the tube. If you are going to go open-neck then wear a shirt that was made to be worn open-neck.

    2. Orv Silver badge

      Re: Can't pull it off

      I used to work for a bank that insisted everyone wear a suit and tie at all times. It was fun trying to install cards in desktops while simultaneously trying to keep my tie from falling into the dusty guts.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Inappropriate attire

        One of the silliest situations I found myself in was wiring up some infrastructure cabling - clambering around in a false ceiling with a massive SDS drill.

        Immaculate light-grey suit was slightly less immaculate afterwards.

      2. REGriff

        Re: Can't pull it off

        Bow tie, it also stays out of the lunch.

  10. YesBut

    Pictures? Got any pictures?

  11. phunter

    Invest in the right clothes

    What it really means: "I'm too cheap to buy a proper navy sport coat". Buy a good one, it will last you a decade. And get some nice white shirts while you are at it, ditch the logo polos.

    1. wrong

      Re: Invest in the right clothes

      Polos! If there's anything that's a business mullet - and there is - it's polos! The suit coat and jeans is more like Too-Much-Product-Man.

  12. bag o' spanners

    Bow tie and a denim jacket. With off-white chinos and brown desert wellies.

  13. skeptical i

    If everyone's sitting at a conference table, they'll only see the jacket, right?


  14. Corinne

    There's jeans, and then there's jeans......

    Skin tight "look you can see the outline of my tackle" jeans should NEVER be worn in the office in ANY circumstances (shudder).

    Really baggy jeans or those drainpipe ones that seem to be favoured by young skinny guys can be worn in the typical informal atmosphere of a highly technical area but never in a more business aligned environment, well cut jeans not too tight or too loose are OK in general.

    But for pitching to a VC, presenting to customers etc, jeans always make me feel that either they can't be bothered or just don't own anything decent - neither of these are good impressions to make to important non-tech people. Casual trousers (e.g. chinos type thing, NOT combats!), open necked reasonably plain shirt & smart-ish (but not suit) jacket is acceptable, though unless you need to give a very specific casual impression I really can't see why techys can't own one decent suit.

    1. plrndl

      Re: There's jeans, and then there's jeans......

      For the price of a decent suit, I could buy a laptop, a fondleslab and a decent phone, and take them down the pub with the change.

      1. Corinne

        Re: There's jeans, and then there's jeans......

        No plrngl, you can do that for the price of a VERY GOOD suit. You can get a decent wool suit from M&S for around £200 - tell me which laptop, fondleslab AND phone you can buy for that?

        1. plrndl

          Re: There's jeans, and then there's jeans......

          You may be able to get a suit off the peg. I'm tall and skinny. Anything that fits my waist stops around mid calf. If it fits my legs, it goes 1½ times round my waist.

          1. plrndl

            Re: There's jeans, and then there's jeans......

            Also a £200 M&S suit is NOT a good suit in the City.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sometimes it's like punkrock never happened!

    How sad that we still live in a world where so many people still judge someone's ability, worth and morality by whether or not they have matching jacket & trousers and a length of stripy cloth tied round their necks. Personally, when I see someone in a suit, I see someone wearing a sandwich board reading "Trust me on sight" and it usually makes me do the opposite.

    An old one which admittedly works better in visual form:

    Picture of Jesus next to a picture of Adolf Hitler. Which one of these would get let into <insert name of local high class venue> for being smartly dressed and which would get barred for wearing sandals and having long hair?"

    1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Sometimes it's like punkrock never happened!

      people still judge someone's ability, worth and morality by whether or not they have matching jacket & trousers

      In most cases people don't do anything as simple as this. What they do is judge your sense of what is appropriate to the occasion. You'd make at least as bad an impression attending a business meeting in white tie and tails as you would in jeans.

      The problem is that people's sense of what is appropriate differs. So what you're really being judged on is the quality of your risk assessment, particularly when you stand to gain or lose significantly by the outcome of the meeting.

      It's significant that the people who claim their personal appearance is unimportant rarely think the same about the appearance of the devices and UIs that they produce.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Sometimes it's like punkrock never happened!

      Hmm. What was I saying about the ability to think critically?

      The failure to grasp that appearance is rhetorical (or naively moaning about it) is just as bad as elevating appearance to a fetish.

  16. Adam White

    It worked for Hank Scorpio

    Or was it Larry Ellison? I always get those two mixed up...

  17. Unlimited

    trousers are more comfy anyway

    Funny thing is, a proper pair of trousers, quality wool and either made to measure or altered to fit is way more comfortable than some denim jeans.

    1. Gavin King

      Re: trousers are more comfy anyway

      Even properly fitting cotton trousers can be more comfortable than jeans. This can be in many ways: they are cooler, they can flex more readily, if you get caught in the rain they will dry in a reasonable amount of time.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: trousers are more comfy anyway

        Even modern synthetic-fiber textiles can be extremely comfortable (and attractive). I have a very nice pair of pants made from a micropolyester cloth, and they're positively luxurious. They're not formal, because of the cut, but they do fine for semi-formal and I'm sure I could find dress trousers made from the same stuff.

        And linen may wrinkle as soon as you look at it, but it can be quite pleasant too, for a summer-weight pant. (And the great thing about linen is that everyone who knows anything about fashion knows it wrinkles, and so it's supposed to be a bit rumpled. That's part of its charm.)

        Denim is fine for daily wear, but it's certainly not the last word in comfort.

    2. Orv Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: trousers are more comfy anyway

      The problem is, if I spent a big stack of cash on custom-tailored trousers, I'd feel very reluctant to crawl under people's desks in them. Wearing expensive pants in an IT environment is like using an iPad as a doorstop.

  18. bustab

    depends on the jeans

    If they're a decent cut it's fine. But never with light blue denim.

  19. jeremy1967

    Seriously, who cares?

    People that concern themselves with what others are wearing to work need to sort out their priorities. Above all else, I prefer be comfortable while working rather than worrying about whether or not I meet someone else's expectation of what is acceptable dress. If you are more concerned about what I wear than my job output, your's is probably not a company I am interested in working for. That's why most in the tech industry dress casual; we understand this simple concept that comfort lends itself to a more productive work environment. If I'm constantly tugging at the tie that's constricting blood flow to my head, you can be certain that my work is going to suffer as a result. I'm not going to a GQ shoot; I'm going to be sitting at a computer writing software all day. But by all means, be sure to point out what a snappy dresser you are on your resume if that's what's important to you.

    1. Belgarion

      Re: Seriously, who cares?

      Sorry dude. I may have no dress sense, but I always try to look my best at work. Those in charge DO notice. And so do those members of the opposite sex whose eyes I'm trying to catch.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Appropriate Atire

    In business.

    If buying then fleece, jeans and steelies

    if selling then suit that cost at least a months gross

    Know your place and act accordingly.

    (Bieber can wear that clown suit because he's in advertising and it gets him columns)

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ok for clubbing, not so for work

    I wouldn't be caught dead in jeans and a sports jacket at work. Come to think of it, I can't imagine ever even owning a sports jacket. Something about them screams 'used car salesman'. I have some nice linen jackets that work well in a variety of situations and the odd blazer for when linen won't do, but for work I confess to wearing a suit. It's part of my morning ritual that reminds me to swap out my private pages and swap in my working set.


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