Should VCs Have a Dress Code?

An article in today’s NY Times got me thinking: Should VCs have a dress code? The article cited a 2005 paper in the American Journal of Medicine that showed patients responded better (and confided more) to doctors dressed in traditional white coats than to doctors dressed in business attire, or jeans and a t-shirt.

Does something similar hold in venture capital? Okay, cynics might argue there already is a dress code in venture capital — blue oxford cloth shirt and beige khakis — but there is a huge variance. Some East Coast VCs tending to show up in shirt and tie, and some West Coast VCs (yo, Brad!) showing up in a t-shirt and jeans. And some, entertainingly enough, change what they’re wearing depending on which portfolio company they’re meeting with.

So, does any of this matter? Do entrepreneurs disclosure more and accept direction better if VCs dress like them, or if they dress more formally? Are you better to show up at a startup’s board meetings dressed in jeans a t-shirt, or in a power suit, or in something inbetween? Inquiring minds want to know.

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Comments

  1. Eric N. says:

    I thought it was just the entrepreneur side dressing up for the role based on who they’re meeting.

  2. franklin stubbs says:

    Most people don’t know their doctors personally, and only vaguely by professional reputation — and so the lab coat acts as a sort of proxy. We are trained to lend respect to the uniform as a sort of shorthand for not knowing the person.
    A doctor wearing a business suit or jeans and t-shirt also gives the wrong psychological impression… of a corporate player in the case of a suit, or a guy just hanging out in the case of jeans. Neither fits the situation.
    As far as VCs go, the standards probably vary by situation. A tie might be weird in California, or a knit polo shirt weird in Chicago, but not vice versa. Overall, it’s probably not the best thing for a VC to overdress or underdress — the tie seems too formal for the silicon valley ethos, while t-shirt and jeans is more insouciant whiz kid attire. Past a certain age, ‘hip’ turns into ‘hipster doofus.’
    Khakis and a button-down shirt seems like just the right compromise between professionalism and relaxed confidence. Also, because the combo is so expected, there are psychological links to it. In a way, the VC uniform *is* a uniform, in the same manner of a lab coat or a highway patrol outfit.
    Disclaimer: I’m a total outsider to the VC industry. This stuff just seems like common sense to me.

  3. For your sake I sure hope VCs don’t have to adopt a dress code, Paul. You’d have to find a new gig.

  4. David Beisel asked this question of entrepreneurs this summer in a post titled “Do the best entrepreneurs wear jeans?”
    http://www.genuinevc.com/archives/2006/05/three_things_iv.htm

  5. /pd says:

    Is not the dress code for formal business a suit or at least dress shirt +tie ?
    John, above made the right point. find the balance and “compromise between professionalism and relaxed confidence” – that is the way to go.. !!

  6. Jeff Clavier says:

    Dress code is typically “classy” – though some get to better results than others. And you can have class whilst wearing worn jeans and a t-shirt.

  7. try guessing how corporate clients/prospects will dress… NYC used to be safe – suits. Bay area used to be safe – no suits. I have gussed wrong recently in both cities…

  8. Hi, Paul. You don’t see the Dallas Cowboys putting on different uniforms for different opponents (colors aside). Your uniform is your identity. Decide on it and stick with it.
    The worst thing you can do is start meeting someone with a suit on and gradually dress down until you get to jeans/golf shirt. Mind you, we husbands have been guilty of that for generations now!