Is There a Dress Code for Freelancers?

Dress Code sign - The Tap & Spile - Gas Street...

Freelancing is awesome.

You are your own boss, there is no daily commute, you avoid the office politics and drama…there are so many benefits of working for yourself. However, that also means you have to learn things the hard way, and without a safety net. Accepting full responsibility for mistakes and your actions comes with the territory of being a freelancer.

Some of those mistakes are big ones, and everyone will suffer at least a slight setback during their freelancing career. But most are small things we might not even realize are hurting our productivity or reputation. One of the most common ‘little things’ is dress code.

Now, I know what you are thinking: Dress code? At home? How could that possibly make a difference to how I work?! After all, the standard of dress in the workplace is usually a corporate concept used to help maintain the status quo on a massive scale.

You will probably be surprised to find it matter much more than you might expect.

Getting In The Mindset

For me, the most important reason to make sure I am dressed properly is hacking my own brain into being ready to work.

Yes, it is very comfortable to stay in my pajamas all day. In fact, for the first two years that is pretty much what I did…I lived in sweatpants and tshirts, and I could count on one hand the number of times I got dressed in anything more unless I was going out the front door. Even then, I might wear my PJ’s to get the mail. It was not a good time.

What I never took into account was how lazy this made me feel. Our brains react to all sorts of environments and factors. Being in my pajamas or sweats seemed to tell my mind that I was preparing for a day of nothing to do. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. I had a busier schedule freelancing than I did working in an actual office.

Getting dressed in something professional – I prefer business casual – means you are telling your mind to behave and focus. It says that you have a long day ahead. Which in turn can actively improve your productivity. Just like having an office where you specifically do your work, rather than doing it around the house.

Being Ready For Anything

A couple of months ago I got a call from a client. He was in town for the next hour before heading back to his home about three hours away from my city. While he was down there, he wanted to hurry and meet at a point between where I was and he was, to drop off some important documents.

Thankfully, I looked good that day. I was dressed, my hair was neat and I was bright eyed. Had it been like one of my early freelancing days, I would have been disheveled, in my pajamas and appearing more like a zombie than a reliable contact for professional work.

You have to be ready for anything that might come up. A Skype call or video conference, a meeting in person, and even a Google Plus Hangout session. Failing to be ready could mean delays that make you look unprofessional, and lose opportunities for advancement.

Dress Code Finder

Dress Code Fiinder

Of course, it isn’t always easy to know what you should dress up in. Conferences, meetings at restaurants and similar situations don’t always come with a set dress code. Even major event invitations might not be forthcoming about how you are expected to look. Which can lead to a lot of embarrassment later.

I like using Dress Code Finder, a useful fashion tool for smart casual dress code search, to double check. It has more than 72,000 venues listed at the time of this writing, all restaurants, bars and clubs. These listings have pictures, as well as a description of the type of place based on tags.

You can look at photos of the place to see how others dress, find out the general setting and see comments by people who have been there to find out what they would suggest.


Just because we are freelancers doesn’t mean we have to be slobs. We take as much pride in our work as the corporate sect, and it is time we showed it. Dressing professionally, even if it is a more business casual look, is an important part of the day. Don’t make the mistake of choosing comfort over practicality.

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4 responses
  1. PH Avatar

    I completely agree with this. It does make you feel rather lazy – and it does interfere with how you perceive yourself (that matters much more than what others think of you). Plus, looking good feels great.. it’s totally worth it!

  2. John Soares Avatar

    Very good advice. I also find that when I dress more professionally I often feel more professional, which means I focus more on my writing projects.

    I’m also a proponent of “business casual” dress. I don’t always dress that way, but when I do, I where clothes that look good but are comfortable (and that includes the shoes).

  3. Damien Avatar

    Completely agree, Angus. Never know when one will be called on to jump on webcam for a conference, and having a robe on does not make a good first impression!

    But more importantly, one’s mindset and feelings are affected by the clothes we wear, so it makes perfect sense in terms of productivity.

  4. Patti Podnar Avatar

    I’ve never been able to function without a shower, makeup, and “ready for public viewing” clothes. Even when I was home with three toddlers all day, I had to “fix myself up.” Otherwise I just can’t get going.

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