The Perils Of Being The Office Hipster And Other Bad Labels At Work


There’s a saying in corporate America that you should dress for the job you want.

You’ve probably heard it before, but the office hipster hasn’t. He’s too busy shunning this soul-sucking hell, escaping into the first Arcade Fire album and/or hiding behind his skinny jeans and snap-front plaid shirt to notice–or so your manager might assume. 

As you exchange morning greetings, you can feel the hipster sizing you up from across the Keurig. Yup, he’s sizing you up alright, but you’re sizing him up too, and you know what you’re thinking? You’re wondering how a responsible, educated, mortgage-holding mother/husband/best soccer player ever wound up in an office with such a moron.

Here’s the thing: Before the passage of time caught up with us, my friends and I sort of (OK, definitely) looked like office hipsters. Now that I’m older, I realise the label–or any label for that matter–does more harm than good.

Good-natured teasing from colleagues aside, our preferred mode of dress made us the unwitting targets of a lot of mean-spirited “jokes” and awkward run-ins with higher-ups who seemed to view us as the poster kids for parties and recreational drugs. 

See that faint trace of a nose piercing in my profile picture? What my Dad called the “nail in the coffin of my career” attracted more than a few withering glances from a boss–months later, I took it out.

There was the friend whose boss asked him to “cover up” his arm tattoo for clients, and still another who brandished her beloved thrifted cowboy boots in a job interview–only to lose the offer.

But the worst moment by far had to be getting stuck in an elevator with a particularly onerous colleague, who conspiratorially asked, “So, Krasny. Know where I can score some pot around here?” Imagine my non-relief when the doors pulled open to reveal our manager standing in the hall.

I won’t sugarcoat it: How you present yourself at work still matters, especially when you’re looking to get promoted, according to a Career Builder survey taken in 2008. Yes, you will (and should) be judged on the merits of your work, and some industries are admittedly more conservative than others, but believe me when I say you are not making things easier on yourself when you go on a job interview or show up to work behaving and dressing like the real-life version of an Urban Outfitters catalogue.

As obvious as this sounds, you wouldn’t believe how many people fight me on it:

“But my job is creative.”

“Everyone wears jeans in my office.”

“My boss doesn’t care.”

“I never see anybody all day–why does it matter?”

Alexandra Levitt, a career expert and author of They Don’t Teach Corporate in College, insists it does.

“You want to avoid having any kind of label in the office,” she said over email. “Some labels seem innocuous like the hipster one, ‘office mum,’ or ‘office comic.’ But if you’re busy being everybody’s mum, for example, you’re not focusing as much on your work, and consciously or unconsciously, your managers might take you less seriously.”

Couple that with the fact most sane people find hipsters deplorable, ignorant brats, and your disdain for “corporate attire” or even putting yourself together at all, can speak volumes about how you perceive yourself, the job, your career, even your peers. If you care, you’ll put in the effort. And if you don’t, well … woe unto you.

“Your goal should be to assimilate,” Levitt adds. “Look and behave like other successful employees. Hipsters, for instance, can include a few wardrobe gems, but shouldn’t stop hallway traffic with the fashion of the day.”

Your sartorial choices should reflect who you are, and the quality of your work should stand for itself. So don’t let your sleeve tattoo or lifestyle choice stand in the way of that next promotion.