My friend recently went on this tirade at FloorSweepings: Efficiency and Trust about ceremony and dress code. Though I should probably be chopping it up about ceremony with him, the dress code part ignited some emotions.
I've always thought that people shouldn't judge you based on what you wear. Instead, they should look at the work you perform, and the value that you bring to your team and your organization. Unfortunately, people aren't so rational.
I've been reading Influence by Robert Cialdini. It's chock full of anecdotes, backed up by real research, about why people act the way they do. It's been quite eye-opening. In particular, one area of research deals with how people respond to others "in uniform". His examples include people posing as security guards, priests, and businessmen in pinstripes. In every case, people are able to exert significantly more influence when the look the part. That is to say, "customers" and "suckers" are more likely to believe your message when your clothes match your role.
Back to my friends rant, I don't think that his consulting manager is out to get him four days a week by asking him to dress no jeans, no sneakers, with dress shirt. Nor is it declaring itself "Old Biz" or non-"Agile" by requesting a certain level of dress. This company understands that most people aren't so enlightened as to focus on the work you do and the value, and is playing it safe by dressing "one-level up". Add to it that most consultancies should be called what they are -- staff augmentation firms -- and you can see why consulting managers want to do everything they can to exert any influence possible on an organization.
So, do you prefer your shirts on hangers or boxed?