Silicon Allee is the mecca of retro-grunge. Unlike the Silicon Alley in NYC or Silicon Valley in San Francisco, it is rare to come across someone channeling their inner Carrie Bradshaw or Danny Tanner on the streets of Berlin. How often do you see the average Berliner dressing as fresh as either of these two?:
Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City
Danny Tanner in Full House
Rather, it is much more common to find the average Berlin-based adult dressed more like Tai Frasier, pre-makeover:
Tai Frasier in Clueless
It is a widely accepted fact that you have more social capital in Berlin dressing as though you had nowhere to sleep and no access to a washing machine (also known as the key to getting into Berghain). Be it an advantage or disadvantage, Berlin work culture embraces the city’s penchant for grunge-chic attire, making it indiscernible whether someone is headed to the office, or attending a rave at a nearby open air. Not being bound by a strict dress code can also be a good thing because your boss will never know if you’re getting that productivity-inducing shut eye or raging all night long.
The new norms around business-casual apparel in the start-up workplace, coupled with the fashion statements of wildly attired Berliners, can be distressing for any millennial trying to get dressed in the morning (and even for Janice in accounting who DGAF). To help answer the eternal question of ‘what do I wear’, ask yourself these critical questions:
First, one must consider: is my start-up really a start-up? Or are we approaching our 10th or 15th birthday? If so, you may want to reconsider your options and read about the purpose of office dress codes, because let’s be honest–you’re at least a small or medium sized business by now.
Second, you’ll want to determine what type of vibe and tone your start-up emits in order to understand the limits of how much you can explore various styles.
Is your team like the one in “The Office”?
If so, then GOTCHYA! You’re not a startup, nice try. Again, please read some articles focused on general office dress code. This is in your best interests–we don’t want you showing up to your workplace ready for a slip n’ slide party as soon as it’s 25 degrees outside, which is debatably acceptable in some early-stage startups.
The best way to tackle startup dress code is to use real examples, such as these successful startups gracing Berlin’s very own Silicon Allee:
Notice any trends?
Of course! All startups are similar in their approach–no-nonsense, functional, and undoubtedly cool.
Before we dive into the details, first things first: YES, it was picture day, and all kids tend to wear their Sunday best for the special occasion. Overall though, you will notice overlapping trends in the style of each team, and the biggest one that shines through is everyone’s lax and nonchalant attitude.
A big factor that is absent from start-ups, yet tends to dominate larger firms and corporations, is the banal concept of the politics of respectability, which perpetuates superficial expectations in the public sphere. One aspect of the politics of respectability is the idea that an outfit is representative of one’s capabilities and ambition; that one is deserving of respect and success just by his or her dress. Most founders today are confident in their capacity and vision, and know that their garb will not determine their performance, and they propagate this value within their teams. However, at the same time, they do recognize that for specific occasions, such as important pitches or funding meetings, it is imperative to make a positive impression because they can be taken at face value.
Another major theme is the mixing and matching of formal and casual. In startups, it is common to dress up one’s outfit with a blouse or button-down, and dress it down with jeans, khakis, leggings, tights, and the occasional pencil skirt for the ladies. Fortunately, due to Berlin’s notoriously sunny and warm weather, offices here rarely have to worry about employees showing too much skin.
Next, comes the choice of color palette. You’ll notice a lot of basic, neutral tones with blues, greys, whites, and denim dominating the pictures. Especially at early-stage startups, quick decision-making is key, and it’s much easier to make a decision on what to wear in the morning when all of your clothes can be mix-and-matched with each other. Or, to make it even simpler, you can never go wrong with the color of Berlin’s soul–black of course–because the spirit of the Grimm Brothers lives on.
Beyond minimizing decision-fatigue, start-up fashion embodies comfort and ease, visible in the fabrics preferred. Cotton, flannel, and denim are breathable, easy to take care of, and hard to determine whether a stain is fresh or from 3 days prior.
Finally, to complete the whole look is the choice of footwear (or lack thereof, because in Berlin you never know). Sandals in the summer are necessary–feet want to breathe! Loafers are an easy go-to to complete the ‘start-up bro’ uniform, and ladies are advised to refrain from heels unless they are for a pitch, presentation, speech, or panel. Sneakers are also totally acceptable–because who doesn’t love comfort, or just knowing that you can break into a sprint at any moment to chase those startup dreams…
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