I grew up on the East Coast; New Jersey, to be specific. After high school, I attended an East Coast university in buttoned-down New Hampshire. And after I graduated, I worked for four months as an intern at a magazine in the financial-capital of New York City. On top of all that, my Father is English, and he wore a suit and tie to work virtually every day of his 33-year career.
Growing up, my idea of what people wore in the office came straight out of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. And the thought that I’d be wearing a suit, tie and brightly polished—and uncomfortable—dress shoes to work for the rest of my life was the source of many, many a nightmare.
But the combination of the focus of my education (journalism and environmental studies), burgeoning professional skills (journalism and writing), personal passions (the outdoors and outdoor sports) and a hefty dose of amazing luck led me west, a part of the country that better suited my professional style … or lack thereof. Gradually, by degrees, I ended up on the West Coast, in Seattle, Washington. And, as I quickly learned, it’s a place where—with a few industry-based exceptions—jeans, a T-shirt and flip-flops qualify as “business casual.”
And I couldn’t be happier.
Where Are Dress Codes Most Relaxed?
Turns out, my experience on each coast isn’t unique. According to PayScale’s report, Style vs. Salary: Does Your Appearance Impact Your Career?, the odds of working for an employer that prefers a casual dress code—meaning anything goes, within reason—or has no dress code policy whatsoever, grow as you move east to west. In fact, when it comes to work apparel, nine of the top ten most-casually dressed states lie west of the Mississippi. The outlier? Our Birkenstock- and tie-die-loving friends in Vermont; The Green Mountain State sneaks in at number ten.
When it comes to work apparel, 9 of the 10 most-casually dressed states lie west of the Mississippi.
The reason for this geographic trend? It could be as simple as a more relaxed attitude toward professional attire aligning with the famously relaxed West-Coast-attitude. It could be related to the rise of the West Coast tech industry, and the fact that many a trend-setting titan of Silicon Valley fills her or his closet with hoodies and T-shirts. The truth is, I have no idea. And style is most certainly not a subject on which I’m qualified to muse. But our data shows the trend exists.
Business Formal Dress Codes Can Mean Big Bucks
On the other hand, my dreams of a Thomas-Crown-style, billionaire-playboy lifestyle have taken a hit with the publication of this report; the percentage of workers who can skate by with a “casual” dress code is smallest in the “More Than $160,000” income bracket, the highest bracket in our survey. Odds are better that you’re rocking a “business casual” (no jeans, sneakers, flip-flops, etc.) or even “business formal” (tie and jacket for men, pant- or skirt-suit for women) look if you’re comfortably pulling down six figures or more.
Still, even though my distaste for suits means I might never be accepted into the Forbes Billionaires’ Club, I can always kick off my flip-flops, sit back, and dream.
Tell Us What You Think
Does your company enforce a strict dress code, or are you able to look how you want to at work? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.