I am a male software engineer that works for a small technology firm. Next week (mid October) I will be heading to California (Bay area) to train on a software product we use in our company and to meet some engineers from their company.

I have not been to California on business before and am unsure of how California culture would require me to dress. The company I will be visiting is a small technology company, like ours. We would like to establish a better relationship with this company and do more business with them in the future.

I do not want to give off the wrong impression and in some places, overdressing can be as big of a detriment as under dressing. At my company, we regularly dress in casual clothes and walking in wearing a suit might make you look a little awkward.

I would like advice on the common clothing culture is in the California bay area. Specifically, I would like advice on clothing for attending training at technology companies in California. For example, would it be odd to wear jeans and a button up shirt? Should I be wearing a suit? Is a hoodie OK?

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    This question would be better on The Workplace, since it's not really travel related. – CGCampbell Oct 14 '14 at 17:58
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    I would respectfully disagree. There are a number of questions regarding cultural dress codes in various places on the Travel Stack Exchange. This has to do with the culture of a particular area and it makes sense to be part of the travel section. – Terry Oct 14 '14 at 18:01
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    I agree with CGCampbell. How you dress really depends on the company. If in doubt you could ask them. – neubert Oct 14 '14 at 18:15
  • @Terry There is no real way to answer the question here or anywhere else. The dress code is a function of an individual company or training facility and the function you perform within the company. – Karlson Oct 14 '14 at 19:11

Some general advice that might apply anywhere, except that in general a suit is "fail safe" and I think for the bay area you should aim for something less formal:

  • Be sure you are comfortable with what you choose (you want to exude confidence and not be distracted in any way by something as mundane as clothing).
  • If in doubt, dress casual. As a traveller you have some excuse and even if the company you visit is formal the staff would probably envy, possibly respect, your choice.
  • Be smart. So perhaps buy new, quality, clothes specially for the visit.
  • Don’t wear anything that is associated with your origin – it would only serve to reinforce any preconceptions (ie don’t wear camouflage if you come from a hunting area!) Better be seen as (slightly) eccentric than a caricature of your origins.
  • If visiting for more than a day make sure you have a change of clothes that would allow you, on subsequent days, to blend in and, hopefully, dissipate any unfavourable impression from the first day.
  • I’d suggest something like a jacket, white shirt and black jeans/chinos to start with. That can easily be made formal by keeping the jacket on, or (the next day) less with a coloured shirt and hanging up the jacket.
  • Carry a tie on you. It might not be too late to put it on if you find that seems to be the dress code and you find you are about to be presented to a bigwig or taken to a fancy restaurant.
  • Check out the company's web site. If they have pictures of the Board anything less than suits and ties is a sign that casual is "the way to go". (Any chance you know someone who knows someone who has visited there recently?)
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  • Thank you so much. Are you from the Bay area (or spent time there)? To answer your question, I do not know anyone personally from their, I've just emailed and spoke over the phone frequently... and I think for the bay area you should aim for something less formal was exactly the kind of advice I was looking for (along with the rest of the advice too of course!). – Terry Oct 14 '14 at 19:53

Although I'm not living there now, I spent 25 years in the Bay Area. Although in a number of companies like Google and Facebook, I am sure there are lots of programmers wearing T-shirts and jeans, I think it would be safer to wear chinos/khakis and either a polo shirt or a buttoned shirt, but probably not white. With latter, I would think a sweater would be too formal.

No suits. Not even a sport coat.

For shoes, you can either wear traditional leather loafers (certainly not wingtips) or non-athletic sneakers (sort of a contradiction in terms, but I'm sure you know what I mean).

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    I'm currently working for a startup company in Arizona which I believe has similar dress standards as California -- even the 50-something CEO wears jeans sometimes when he is not going to be meeting someone. There is one fellow that wears either a vest or a sweater every day of the year, and boy does he stand out - he gets kidded about it some, but keeps wearing them. It really does look much more formal than the rest of us in our polos and regular (button) shirts. – tcrosley Oct 15 '14 at 1:10

I mainly agree with @pnuts answer but feel that points 2 (dress casual) and 6 (jacket, white shirt, and chinos/black jeans) are in conflict. So some things to think about

Because you are not going there for training only, but to meet other software engineers and foster a stronger relationship between the two companies, I believe you should dress in business casual. Another way to look at this--if you were representing the company in a booth at a conference, what would you wear? Probably not jeans and a t-shirt that advertises your favorite band. Chinos/dockers, not jeans, a polo (at minimum) or button-down shirt, not a t-shirt.

If you feel comfortable with one or more of the other software engineers already, ask what their boss wears--not what they wear.

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    The way people dress for a booth at a conference varies wildly per company. Here are Googler's at a booth: cs.vt.edu/files/images/S11Google_1.JPG They're wearing t-shirts (company branded) and jeans. – neubert Oct 14 '14 at 21:42
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    @neubert I think that's a booth at a university's career fair, not at an industry conference. Slightly different context...! – mkennedy Oct 14 '14 at 22:03
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    SXSW: blog.makingsense.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/… Honestly, in my experience with tech conferences it's very laid back. The US Democratic National Convention / Republican National Convention are all suit and tie as are, in my experience, anything having to do with the government, but it really depends. – neubert Oct 14 '14 at 22:40

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