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While many of the old guard and the more-nervous (as well as the rare fashionable types) men wear suits, they're often outdated and of questionable style.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 Silver badge
    Alert

    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 Silver badge
    Coat

    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
      Stop

      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

    Wait

    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
      Coat

      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
    Coat

    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
    Facepalm

    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?

    n/p

  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
      Coat

      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
        FAIL

        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
    Linux

    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.

  22. Belgarion
    Meh

    I'm useless with fashion...

    ...and this comment

    "jeans with a sports jacket or, worse yet, a suit jacket. (Yes, there is a difference.)" is useless without pics. I DON'T know the difference between a sports jacket and a suit jacket.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: I'm useless with fashion...

      It's not just me, then!

      I do have a suit that was made to measure well over a decade ago (probably closer to two now) and still fits, but my wife keeps telling me that I should have a new one because it looks dated. Why that should matter for the two times a year (maximum) that I wear it is beyond me! I also have a wool jacket in a warm shade of rusty reddy brown that is slightly older than the suit, but I'm not allowed to wear it because it is "so 1980s". It still has another three decades of wear in it, at least, so I don't understand the issue. What is the point of buying quality when someone randomly decides it isn't "cool" to wear that any more?

      That reminds me - the twenty-year-old pair of dress shoes I have need repairing ...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Sports jacket"

        I always thought this was an American thing - I have never heard anyone in the UK talk about one.

        What kind of jacket is suitable for doing sports in, I wonder? I am thinking about something with Adidas stripes on it or something.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: "Sports jacket"

          I always thought this was an American thing - I have never heard anyone in the UK talk about one.

          "Blazer" describes roughly the same thing in the UK, though the cultural histories are different.

          What kind of jacket is suitable for doing sports in, I wonder?

          The kind made for wearing while riding a horse. Some of the "sports" in question are things like fox-hunting and polo. That's why sports jackets have "vents" - slits that let the back of the jacket split around the horse's back (single vent) or sit on the horse's back without pulling the sides of the jacket up (double vent). The various nautical sports, particularly sailing, also once called for a sports jacket. Blazers in the UK were traditionally made in the colors of one's yachting club, so that one might be more easily cut by one's betters.

          Vents eventually contaminated suit jackets, but if you look around you can find unvented suit jackets. Particularly recommended if you are not overly wide, and can wear a jacket with some decent tapering at the waist, rather than having to buy one that hangs straight down and makes you look like a barrel with legs.

          (By the way, to those wondering about the difference between suit jackets and sports jackets: The short answer is that a suit jacket comes as part of a suit. Traditionally, suit jackets are more restricted in choice of fabric and style of cut than sports jackets, for the fairly obvious reason that the fabric also must be suitable for trousers and has to look of a piece with their construction. When sports jackets are made from a fabric that would be suitable for a suit jacket, they're often cut in a way that wouldn't go with suit pants, so that people can tell that you're not some barbarian wearing a suit jacket with the wrong pants.)

  23. Jamesonian

    Are you kidding?

    The reason we dress that way is because we recognize that the clothes we wear should not be at issue, and anyone who has an issue with it is obviously not worth our time.

  24. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Wouldn't be caught dead in one...

    Well, I wouldn't be caught dead in one. To me this comes off either as

    a) somebody who is uptight as all hell thinking if they put some pants with that business clothing they are "casual". I'll tell you right now, you're not pulling it off and to me you just look like a suit.

    b) Someone like me who was told they MUST "dress up" or "wear a suit" for something or other and actually believed it. I feel bad for you for having to wear that stuff. Also, joke's on you! If I saw you to begin with, you are probably there to meet with me, and you could have worn normal clothes.

    I have a few nice gray or black (and a black with white stripe) button down shirt as needed, for meeting someone who might not like Hawaiiain prints and bright colors. But I impress people by discussing what problem they need solved and being able to actually solve it, not by dressing up.

  25. cosymart
    FAIL

    How not to impress

    Would you take seriously someone who wears old trainers with a smart suit? Mixed messages isn't the half of it!

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: How not to impress

      Used to have a professor that did exactly that. The looks on the faces of the local dignitaries at a reception in a certain Scandinavian city we had organised the conference in was priceless!!

  26. Orv Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Meh

    The problem with suits is you have to spend a LOT of money to get a good one, and if you buy a cheap one you look like a used car salesman. And then a few years later it's out of style because the lapels are 5mm too wide or it has four buttons on the cuffs instead of three. I feel like they're a result of management who get five times our salary thinking we should be spending as much money on clothes as they do.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Meh

      you have to spend a LOT of money to get a good one

      Perhaps in Europe, or if you're of extremely unusual dimensions. Here in the States, a tailored suit from a decent label need not be particularly expensive. I have a very nice black summer-weight wool Jones New York suit that cost maybe $300 fitted. Now this was some years ago, but a quick check online suggests prices have not gone up very much, if you buy on sale.

      Yes, if you work in the City of London or some other niches where people pay a great deal of attention to dress, folks might well expect a more-expensive suit. But in the vast majority of cases a few hundred dollars will set you up with a good tailored suit.

      I recall a bit from Esquire where the editors opined that every well-dressed man should eventually own one bespoke suit, because there's nothing else quite like it; but only one, because a good tailored suit off the rack is nearly indistinguishable from it.

  27. lyredragon

    Actually, the costume of business is important

    Unless you are a sportscaster at a remote, I would not care to see jeans and a sports jacket at all. It's conflicting and kind of silly.

    first, there is the matter of the fabric. Jeans are either leisure wear or manual labor wear. The idea of denim is that it its thick, rugged, and durable, so you can mow the lawn, work on a ship, play rough in the mud, and that kind of thing. It's cotton canvas. It's designed to take everything. The use of denim is for things that you do that would be very hard on more delicate fabric.

    Business pants are made thin so that a businessman can do his job of sitting all day without the pants getting all bunched up in uncomfortable ways. A well tailored pair should move with the person and should not be uncomfortable at all. The fabric should not make big creases the way denim does, because big creases are a sign of cheap fabric and lazy or generic fitting. It should take a pressing, and have a crisp line

    second, there's the idea of business costume. It gives fellow humans a measure of overall intent and status. by wearing jeans with a sports jacket, you're really saying "I might talk a good line, but I'm goofing off under the table" It's a confusing and conflicting message, and that spells a lack of trust.

  28. beep54
    Devil

    The suit??

    Really, if you think about it, the business suit makes zero sense. Totally non-functional. Then again, I developed the concept of "Fashion is what I happen to be wearing at the moment. Biatch!" and it has served me well.

    1. plrndl

      Re: The suit??

      This ridiculous garment is only good for two things in my observation.

      1. Countless years of tailoring expertise mean that it's the best garment to mimimise a huge paunch.

      2. It's and effective uniform for conmen.

      I'm with the brain workers myself.

  29. nijam

    As a techie, I'm employed for what's in my head, not what's in my wardrobe. I naturally feel some level of contempt for anyone who can't understand that. The fact that managers, administrators, etc. all dress as if they've just popped in from their main job as a used-car salesman in no way implies I should.

  30. Harman Mogul

    Shoes -- the foundation of the look. To anyone that cares, the shoes tell them what's what. Always chrome leather, and of good quality -- Church's, Lobb, or even M&S. And properly polished, please!

    Nothing gives you away as a no-hoper so much as those ghastly mud-coloured cornish-pasty shoes.

  31. Richard 120

    Leave me alone.

    The servers don't judge me.

  32. Tex Arcana
    Facepalm

    It never ceases to amaze me...

    ...how vain and superficial humans can be.

    Suits are what the old monarchies/religions/tyrranies made us all think we should wear: "dress to impress".

    GAG.

    If you can't see past the surface trappings, and see the real reason you're there in the first place, then you shouldn't be there; nor should you be handling anything more responsible than the fryer in a McDonalds.

    Small-minded people use conformity and "dress standards" as yet another way to discriminate. Sad thing is, it seems we keep letting these idiots run things, while the really smart people get stuck getting bvttfvkked by these psychosociopaths on a regular basis.

    In conclusion: I don't give a fukk what you're wearing. Make the presentation good, give me solid facts, and don't try to blow me into buyiing your sh!t, and we'll get along fine. blow in here in your $1000 suit and your Chinese-slave-labor-made crap, and I'm shoving you out the window for that sudden stop at the bottom, just to shut you the fvkk up.

  33. philby

    Some success in USA politics

    With a mustache and cowboy boots it worked for John Kitzhaber, MD:

    http://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/entry/view/kitzhaber_john_1947_/

  34. bag o' spanners
    Pint

    pulling power

    I have a couple of bespoke wool pinstripe suits that appear to possess magical powers. They intimidate the hell out of crumple-suited middle managers, and charm the pants off the laydeez. I also possess a couple of very funky vintage penguin suits with haute couture labels that fell out of charity shops. On the rare occasions that I get invited to black tie bashes, I have no problem yacking and shmoozing with the veeps whose ears I want to bend.

    At the coalface in my bunker, I'm all hoodies, baggy combats and steely toecaps. Getting a sharp suit shredded for the sake of pissy company protocol is not my idea of sensible. If you ain't customer facing, dress codes are pointless afflictions. If people take you for granted because you don't dress up for work, they tend to implode when you turn up in a sharp whistle, looking like an expensive hitman. Treble smirks all round.

    In my experience, wonks and consultants tend to pay attention if you're better dressed than they are, which helps if you're the person they're there to listen to.. If an organisation makes the effort to hire a decent venue and put on a useful event, while attending to your every need, a little sartorial reciprocity is just good manners.

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