should I have told my coworker his outfit made it look like he was going to a job interview?

A reader writes:

I ultimately decided to do nothing in this situation, but I’m curious to hear what you think. I have a coworker, let’s call him Keith, who is in his early to mid 20s and joined my company about six months ago. Keith is fresh out of college and very bright and eager. Our office of about 12-15 people is fairly casual — most people wear jeans on our in-office days, but Keith usually wears khakis, a button-down, and a tie.

Anyways, one day recently he showed up to our office in a dark suit and tie. This was surprising, so one coworker asked why he looked so nice. Keith replied that he “just felt like it.” Now, knowing what I know of Keith this is entirely possible, that he just decided to wear a suit on a random office day. However, it of course looks like he was going to a job interview. I know I’m not the only one who thought so — another colleague shared with me that they had the same thought and I heard several colleagues remark on his outfit in a way that made it sound like they were puzzled and suspicious, too.

Should I have said anything to him privately about how it looked? Is there ever a situation where that would be okay? I ask because Keith is really nice, but also still figuring out workplace norms. I think it’s totally possible this wouldn’t have occurred to him, and while it could be an awkward or embarrassing conversation for him, I think it would be helpful for him to know that people notice these things. I’ve been in this office a lot longer than Keith and have given him and other new, younger hires lots of (solicited) advice about our office and its culture and a lot of my colleagues (including Keith) trust my opinion and look to me for advice about all manner of work-related things. Furthermore, our CEO can run hot and cold with some colleagues, including Keith, and having worked under this CEO so long I have no doubt that they noticed his attire and jumped to the same conclusion I did. If the CEO thinks someone is looking to leave, they often get extra prickly with them.

So, what do you think? While I ultimately decided after chatting with a (non-work) friend to do nothing (as she rightfully told me it was NOT my problem), would it have been bad if I did gently pull him aside and give him some well-meaning advice? I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

I don’t disagree with your friend that this isn’t your problem … but I feel bad for Keith, who’s new and eager and trying to make a good impression and might have no idea about the impression he was giving people! And that goes double in light of what you said about your CEO potentially getting extra prickly with him if they assume he’s job-searching.

A lot of people — especially younger people who are new to professional work — assume a suit always reads as appropriate (probably because a lot of us are raised to believe that wearing a suit shows you care about making a good impression), without realizing there are contexts where it can send different messages.

So while you don’t have to say something — it’s totally acceptable to just mind your own business and leave this alone — it sounds like Keith might appreciate a discreet heads-up, especially if you have a good relationship with him, which it sounds like you do.

It doesn’t need to be a big, serious talk. It could just be, “Hey, you might not know this, but there’s a whole trope about how when someone suddenly shows up to work in a suit, it’s because they have a job interview that day. Obviously that’s not always the case and it’s no one’s business anyway, but that assumption is so ingrained in professional culture that I thought I should mention it in case it’s something you’d want to know.”

Interestingly (to me, anyway), I would not say this if I were Keith’s manager. The power dynamics would give the conversation a different feel, with too much risk of him reading it as an attempt to intimidate him if he were job-searching. But you’re not his boss and it sounds like you’re well positioned as a mentor-type figure, so you’re clear to tip him off if you think he’d appreciate it.

{ 216 comments… read them below }

  1. Jodi*

    Lol this reminds me of a fellow I worked with years ago. He’d wear a suit to work every Wednesday ( instead of his regular jeans) and announce to everyone that he was dressing up for his last day of work as he was going to win the lottery that night. He’d make a big production of saying goodbye and wishing everyone well as worker bees as he left each Wednesday , then naturally be back at work in his jeans the next day. The manager finally told him to knock it off as it wore thin! He kept it up though.

    1. grocerystore*

      I had a co-worker once that wore a suit everday, despite the business casual dress code at our office. Everyone knew he did, and he had been there for 25-30 years so people knew its just what Dave did. He also was quite active in his church and went often after work. I assume he felt more comfortable attending church events in a suit and tie.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        Oh, that was a whole THING in college–you always knew when a guy had gone through his entire wardrobe when he was wearing nice pants and a button down shirt!

        1. Lcsa99*

          I had a colleague wear a super fancy sparkly dress to work (it was apparently one she had gotten as a bridesmaid) because she needed to do laundry.

          1. Just Another Fed*

            A phrase that has stuck in my mind more than a decade, since a friend used it to explain why she’d shown up for work in skin-tight leather pants, is “You can’t call in pantsless to work.” (I think her washing machine had broken mid-load the night before.)

            1. icedcoffee*

              A coworker, heavily pregnant with twins, called out of work one day because she had ripped her last pair of pants

              My entire team was like yup, no worries, see you when we see you.

              1. WS*

                Same for one of my co-workers calling in late – she’d tried wearing her husband’s pants but they were very much the wrong shape. She did later show up in a skirt that her mother had worn when pregnant with her!

            2. Wes*

              With the advent of online meetings and WFH, you absolutely can call in pantsless to work (I’m doing it right now!)

      2. Shira VonDoom*


        years ago I was working in a very casual office (any kind of nice top/shirt, just not a graphic tee, and jeans, was the usual), and came into work one day wearing some dressier dry clean only clothes. as I was walking in the door, a coworker I was friendly with looked me up and down and asked if it was laundry day. she was right too, LOL.

      3. PheePhee*

        My work attire is business casual, and I like to have a minimalist wardrobe with few timeless staple items which I can mix & match or dress up or down.
        However, this has backfired on me twice when I let my work clothes accumulate then forgot to do laundry.
        So once I turned up to work in leggings and a sweater, my supervisor asked if I was ill, hence the comfy attire.
        The second time I turned up wearing a bright floral dress. My co-workers asked if I was going to a wedding!.

    2. Lauren*

      I would wear nice clothes and people would comment. After a few ‘going to a wake’ responses, I started saying ‘laundry day’. It worked so well that the office manager would comment ‘ jeez, how can you go so many weeks without doing laundry?’. I never went to client meetings so it was the easiest way to shut down any talk. I knew others were interviewing when they showed up in nice pants – so I would smirk and say ‘what up laundry day?’

  2. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

    Aww poor Kieth. I hope the OP does let him know what the thoughts of his coworkers were and that it could have a negative impact with the CEO.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      I went back and forth on letting him know about the CEO. I think ultimately I would tell him but I’d have to find a way to phrase it so it didn’t come across as bad mouthing or come back on me I somehow, or demoralize poor bright and shiny Keith.

      But I think having someone set the example for workplace norms, so he didn’t start to think that a CEO acting like that is normal or healthy, would be important.

    2. Knope Knope Knope*

      I think I would just say “nice suit! Going on a job interview or something?” And let him figure it out from there

      1. funeral*

        I said this thing exactly to a coworker I was friendly with….

        He was going to a funeral.

  3. Bookartist*

    Poor kid, trying to step it up sartorially and not realizing the additional rules around dressier outfits. I agree it would be a kindness to give him a heads up.

    1. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

      I also wonder if Keith has a parent or someone in his life who saw him wearing the more casual stuff and kept telling him that he HAS to wear a suit because that “just how things are in business.” And if he’s young he might just take that advice not realizing that the rule are different.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        yeah I remember my Dad saying to my BF on a Sunday night “back to wearing your suit tomorrow right” and my BF looking blank because he dressed exactly the same (badly) at the weekend and at work.
        For the next BF, I told him to wear a shirt and tie to meet my parents and make a good first impression. It worked somewhat.

    2. E*

      Yeah, I feel for him. I (a woman) *LOVED* dressing up for my first post college job, which was in a business casual office. I put so much attention and thought into my outfits and coordinated shoes and jewellery. And one day, after I’d been there for a couple of years, an older guy asked me how long I had been an intern there. It was honestly pretty upsetting and after that I was too embarrassed to wear anything other than nondescript business casual.

      1. Lydia*

        One of the things I loved about my last job was that I had to wear nicer clothes as part of the dress code/work we did, so nobody, absolutely nobody, could tell if you were taking the afternoon off to interview. In my current role it’s pretty casual, but I try to keep people guessing by dressing up randomly. :)

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I dress up randomly too. It’s fun! I don’t want to waste my nice clothes, especially not my nice-ISH clothes that could totally pass as just felt-nice-today. But I’m sure it keeps people on their toes.

        2. Alice*

          My old mentor told me to show up to work once in a while dressed in a suit to keep my boss on his toes- with the thought process if he thought I was on the verge of leaving it would increase my value and he would treat me better and increase my wages. I very occasionally switch out my trainers (long since changed jobs) and someone always comments that I’m wearing my “interview shoes”. It’s definitely more a lighthearted joke in some offices and not a mortal sin to dress smartly.

          1. Momma Bear*


            My response to someone like Keith would depend on our professional relationship. Sometimes people just like to dress nice and it’s not my business. Maybe he DID want to give the impression he was interviewing. If I had a good casual relationship with a colleague I might say, “You look nice. Any occasion?” and see if they want to tell me about an after work event, funeral, etc.

        3. Anon for this*

          I work in a job where we all dress very grubby. I occasionally wear coveralls, even if I’m not planning to do something particularly grimy that day. If I’m wearing nice interview clothes under the covvies every so often, no one’s the wiser…

      2. Random Dice*

        Did he specifically link your clothes to assuming you to be an intern? I would have defaulted to having a baby face, not clothes.

        1. E*

          Nope. I’m one of those people who has always been mistaken for 4-5 years older than I really am. It was a quiet office and most people wore things like black trousers with a neutral coloured top. Whereas my outfits … the one I remember most really loving was pink slacks with palm trees on them, an oversized pink and white cowl-neck sweater, pink and gold heels, and (small) gold stud earrings in the shape of seahorses.

      3. Springtime*

        I’ve always felt that being able to afford the clothes I like and have a place to wear them was part of the reason to work.

        1. Goldenrod*

          “I’ve always felt that being able to afford the clothes I like and have a place to wear them was part of the reason to work.”

          YES, this!

        2. GrowthOpportunity*

          And jewelry! My extensive necklace and earring collection has been much neglected during the pandemic.

          1. pandop*

            I found it helpful to distinguish between work time and not work time by making sure I had earrings on for work – also I didn’t want to get out of the habit and have the holes close up

      4. BluRae*

        Urkk. The death stare I would have given that guy.

        I also like to dress up and wear a skirt or dress every day. I don’t think even my partner has seen me in hard pants (I wear leggings sometimes, but not to the office). A comment like that would make me so mad.

    3. The New Wanderer*

      I remember my first week on the job in my first post-college position. I showed up on Friday in my normal business casual clothes, and my supervisor and another coworker pulled me aside to let me know Fridays were casual so I could wear jeans. The weird part was that they apparently felt so strongly that I shouldn’t miss out that they encouraged me to go home right away, change into jeans, and come back. I lived 5 min away so I did, but at the time I felt it was so odd that they treated “wearing jeans to work” as the special thing whereas I treated wearing “grown-up business clothes” as the special thing.

    4. A Poster Has No Name*

      Or he’s clever enough to start establishing himself as “suit because I felt like it” guy so no one questions when he’s dressed up for a job interview.

  4. Well Dressed*

    I work for a large international company and am a young professional in leadership – Never would have crossed my mind that someone wearing a suit would indicate they were headed towards a job interview. Our office has a jeans casual dress code but that had only been implemented since COVID, so there are still just as many people in formal work wear that are in casual.

    1. Arq*

      It definitely depends on the industry, the company, the individual office, even what state you live in. I live in a pretty rural state currently where “business casual” can include jeans and your nicest practical shoes/boots. But back in New Jersey “business casual” for men really just means not wearing a suit jacket and MAYBE foregoing the tie.

      1. Anony4884*

        This is very true depending on geographic location. Northeast is definitely more business -like than the rest of the country.

    2. amoeba*

      I think it’s also about the sudden change though? If I had a coworker that showed up every day in a suit, OK, a bit unusual, but guess that’s just his thing.
      If somebody usually dresses much more casually and then suddenly shows up in a suit, I’d also assume they have some kind of special occasion. (Probably not job interview, as in my field these generally take all day, so you’d just take the day off for that… more on the lines of fancy dinner/talk at a conference/whatever)

      1. Antilles*

        It’s more about dressing up on one specific day that reads as “hm, something happening here”. If he wore a suit to work every day, it’d just be his thing.

        In my first job, the typical dress code was business casual with a polo/button-ups and nobody ever wore a tie, sport coat, or suit jacket unless you were going to a major client dinner or a conference. My officemate decided that as a New Year’s Resolution, he wanted to bring back ties (why? idk), so he started wearing a full dress shirt and tie every day to work.

        Day 1, everybody noticed. A bunch of people asked about it, others visibly slowed down and you could see the wheel spinning, and we had more visitors than usual to our office. By Day 5, literally nobody cared, it was just oh yeah Bob wears ties.

      2. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Exactly, if someone dresses up all the time, that’s just their preference and people usually figure it out pretty quickly and don’t pay it any mind. If someone normally doesn’t dress up and suddenly today they do, people naturally tend to wonder what’s different about today, and job interviews are a common possibility many will consider.

        I used to serve on the board of a tiny, young nonprofit while working in a mid-level role at a large, established one with a “business casual + jeans” dress code. I usually wore dark jeans in the winter and smart skirts in the summer (DC humidity makes jeans a non-starter) with a nice top. One autumn day, I had plans to attend an evening happy hour fundraising event as a board member, so instead of wearing a light jacket that I’d have to check, or keep track of if there wasn’t a coat check at the venue, I wore a blazer over my jeans-and-nice-top outfit that would keep me warm on the walk over and help me project more of an “I’m on the BOD” professional vibe (I was barely 30 and looked younger). I got a handful of bewildered/amused comments from people asking if my upper body had an job interview – this was long before Zoom interviewing was a normal thing, of course.

  5. Love to WFH*

    A coworker once showed up in a suit, and when people teased him about going to an interview, explained that he was going to his grandmother’s funeral that afternoon.

    1. rayray*

      This is why I think people should mind their own business. You don’t know exactly what someone is going through, and some people might not feel up to talking about a death in the family, even though they may discuss it privately with management in order to get bereavement leave or time off to attend the funeral.

      I occasionally wear dresses to work because I like to go to my church’s temple on my way home as it’s on my way. I’m not opposed to discussing it and have mentioned it casually, but it’s really no one’s business what I do after work. People can make all the assumptions they want, but they may be very very wrong about someone’s intent behind why they dressed up that day.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Plus–what if they *were* actually going to an interview later? How are they supposed to respond? There’s zero upside to speculating why someone is wearing a nice outfit and infinite opportunities for awkwardness.

      2. Jelizabug*

        My husband and I do the same (temple visit), and he gets the interview question a lot in his casual office. It’s just easier to dress up than bother about changing clothes!

    2. Olive*

      I was about to tell this exact story – about someone else in a different office no doubt.

    3. GrowthOpportunity*

      Yes, I very nearly teased a coworker about going to an interview because he was in a suit. Moments later, he posted on our chat that he would be out for a long lunch for a funeral. So glad that I bit my tongue!

      1. Be kind, rewind*

        Me too! In my more clueless past, I almost (but didn’t) jokingly ask if my manager was going to a funeral when she showed up one day dressed in all black. She mentioned unprompted that she was, in fact, going to a wake after work. Glad I bit my tongue!

    4. Kelly*

      That happened to a classmate of mine in grad school with a big mouth. I was wearing a black suit for my grandmother’s funeral (unlike my usual jeans and t-shirt) and she loudly asked me “Who died?” while laughing like it was the funniest joke ever. I told her my grandmother and she backpedaled quite spectacularly.

      1. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

        I just read something, I think it was Reddit, that this person was taking her driver’s test and when the DMV person got in the car he looked at this young 16 year old girl in all black and said Gosh who died? (this took place when Goth and Emo were popular). The op was tired and said, My grandpa, I came from his funeral. Guy shut up and it was a really fast test

    5. GammaGirl1908*

      There is a long list of reasons he might have been dressed up. A funeral. A date. A speech at Toastmasters. Laundry day. His engagement photo shoot. A class presentation. A sudden allergy to denim.

      LW’s heart is in the right place? Kinda? But LW would be better off noting to colleagues that a suit isn’t automatically a big red flag.

      1. Molly Millions*

        I agree this is possible, but I’ve also known enthusiastic young people who genuinely think they look more impressive/professional in a suit and don’t realize it can come across oddly in a casual workplace.

        And I think there’s a difference between teasing someone and giving the kind of gentle advice the LW is considering. (The fact that her office seems to have a paranoid dynamic about people leaving tipped the scales for me).

        1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

          Me too on the tipper scale. It would be a kindness so he knows in the future to either arrange time to change or casually drop in that Great Aunt Eglantine is taking him to dinner at the country club and insists he dress up (or whatever is true or will get people to knock it off). Especially with the dynamics of that particular workplace.

        2. Cruffin*

          My mother re-entered the workforce when my siblings and I reached our teen years but she had no idea how much the office culture had changed since she last worked in the late 80s.
          She began working again doing data entry for a large company but was shocked that hardly any of her work peers, or her manager for that matter, wore suits. Even the CEO himself wore chinos and a collard shirt and sweater but didnt suit up unless it was a very important meeting.

      2. Roland*

        LW should definitely tell him. I agree these coworkers are overly gossipy, but LW cannot force them to change, and she can’t change every coworker Keith might ever have, so Keith deserves to know. Fwiw I think private speculation is fine but the fact that LW knows about multiple people (?) who were discussing a new guy wearing a suit makes this workplace sound really gossipy.

        1. Roland*

          “should” in the hypothetical case that we time travel to when she was considering it, anyway, the fact that time has passed changes things ofc.

    6. Coverage Associate*

      Was about to comment something similar. A senior attorney in a casual office once commented that I was going to an interview because I was wearing a black suit. I was going to a funeral.

    7. Sunny days are better*

      Yup – that was my first thought too. I’ve seen it happen at my place a few times.
      And some people may not want to say that they are going to a funeral, and will try and shrug it off.

    8. Not Australian*

      Yep, similar thing happened to a friend of mine – smart suit, dark tie, everyone teasing him about it; turned out he was off to a funeral later in the day. We should leave people’s clothing choices to them and not comment unless we can be positive.

    9. Kit*

      A dress for me – given that my usual work attire was khakis and a polo, this also elicited comments, and then backpedalling when I explained it was for my grandmother’s funeral… and then more confusion when I was quite casual about it, because at that point she’d been in decline for months and we all knew it was coming, so I’d sort of front-loaded my grief processing during her time in hospice.

      It’s a good reminder that we just don’t know what’s going on in other people’s personal lives most of the time, really.

      1. AnonORama*

        Not a funeral, but I was asked if I had an interview when I was dressed more nicely than usual at work…because I had to leave to testify in a friend’s court case. You really never know!

        To avoid further mystery with respect to Keith’s clothes, a short comment to Keith would be helpful.

    10. icedcoffee*

      Ooooph. I once lightheartedly (but not teasingly I hope?) asked a coworker if he had a special occasion for his tie. He had his mother’s funeral later on.

      He took it pretty well and I apologized profusely but OH my GOD that was a misstep on my part

    11. Polly Hedron*

      Many years ago when I was a young manager being treated cavalierly by my boss, I read The Woman’s Dress for Success Book and invested in several skirt suits to see if that would help. It did help, and, as a bonus, I then had the perfect wardrobe for interviews, weddings, and funerals. I found it interesting that such disparate events required the same look.

    12. Zeus*

      I was going to share a story about the exact same thing happening to my director a couple of years ago. He showed up in a suit, someone jokingly asked, “Bank manager or job interview?” and it turned out he was going to a funeral.

    13. baby pterodactyl*

      This exact scenario happened at my old workplace. I wasn’t even involved and I still cringe thinking about it.

  6. Gizmo's Mom*

    A few years back, my manager came to work in a (not-typical-for-him). Someone jokingly asked if he had a job interview. Turned out he had just come from a funeral. That was the last time that question got asked!

  7. MissMeghan*

    I wonder if there’s a nonchalant way to key Keith in that the boss can be prickly about that.

    I must be morbid, as my thought was either job interview or funeral/wake.

  8. letter carrier*

    Sounds like a work culture where coworkers have so little to do, they have tons of time to gossip about what a new eager coworker is wearing. Sad.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I’ve got to say, this is my reaction too! “puzzled and suspicious”, blimey. It’s not actually an offence to look for another job!

      LW, if your CEO or other people in more senior positions start treating badly based on the assumption that they’re job-seeking, you can share that information. But you should do so in the context of, “this is a major flaw of Bob’s”, not, “you‘re done something wrong.” And if people at your level or below are speculating about it, you should tell them they’re being weird and to knock it off!

      1. OP*

        OP here, totally agree it’s not a crime to look for another job and I agree it’s a problem with the CEO. I think the anxiety I sensed from my coworkers is that Keith’s job is very integral and one we’ve had a hard time filling due to special skill sets. For a lot of reasons it would be a huge pain in the ass if he left that position. But it’s totally his right to leave if he wishes!

    2. rayray*

      It also makes you wonder if it’s just a bad place to work if everyone immediately assumes someone is going to a job interview. It must be something on the forefront of their mind.

    3. OrdinaryJoe*

      Really? That’s interesting – I didn’t think that at all. I picture it being the ‘in passing’ kind of comments shared in a break room or between friends. No different than noticing if someone gets a major hair cut or tries a new restaurant for take out at lunch, really. In my office, we’re all busy but we all chat with each other too.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, it’s really really really cliche, like a job-searching archetype; that’s why it’s associated with job searching in everyone’s mind. Yes, it’s silly and people should mind their own business but it’s so common in many offices that OP would be doing him a favor by letting him know since he’s so new to the workforce. Then he can decide with full info whether he cares or not.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        You’re right that it’s a cliche, but the difference here is that the CEO seems to be taking it seriously (to the point where Keith has to be warned) where usually it’s just a joke and nobody really thinks that

        If the CEO is like this about other things, Keith may want to keep that suit handy

        1. KatEnigma*

          That’s what I was thinking. Plus the language LW used was “puzzled and suspicious” puzzled okay, but suspicious is more weighted than would be normal in most offices.

          On top of the “prickly” CEO, it sounds toxic.

    5. Jane Air Jordans*

      I think this is a little harsh but I generally agree with the sentiment. If a coworker asked me why another coworker was dressed up I wouldn’t engage. I’d wonder to myself if the coworker was going on a job interview but I would keep it to myself.

    6. Springtime*

      I worked in a business casual (tending business formal in a few cases) office that decided to make the dress casual. It soon became apparent which employees had better places to go in a given day than the office. (In our area, commutes tend to be longer so anyone with evening plans tends not to go home first.)

      So Keith may have dressed for his dressiest part of the day, but it could be a variety of things. And nothing’s worse than hearing 17 times in a day, “Nice suit! Job interview?” so I’m glad the OP kept quiet. It sucks to have to tell every random coworker that you have a wake or a blind date, or–worse–having to find a way to say that you like looking better without inadvertently insulting the other person’s choice. (I think Keith did a pretty admirable job.)

    7. My own boss*

      Eh, this has been a thing everywhere I’ve worked, and I’ve mostly worked in busy, fast-paced environments. I used to work in a fabrication shop, and if you came in with a shirt that didn’t have any holes or paint stains, people’d make the joke. It can be irritating and unreasonably nosy, but it’s also kinda human nature.

      1. Vaguely Saunters*

        The other mentor advice the OP could give Keith is that if he ever is job hunting, switching his outfits up every so often beforehand will make the odd interview suiting less notable.

        Also the company does sound a bit gossipy if personal clothing choices are observed and commented that much…

  9. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

    When I was deep into my job search last year and doing many virtual interviews a week I’d quickly put a blouse on, do my hair and makeup. As soon as it was over, sweatshirt was back on, my hair was pulled back and obvious make up removed so I looked how I always did. People always got asked “so you have a job interview” if they looked at all more pulled together than very casual. Sometimes you could say “oh I’m meeting people later”, but that didn’t work so well during the height of the pandemic.

    I think it’s good to give him a gentle heads up that upgrading one’s usual look people will assume he has an interview, but also make it clear if he likes wearing a suit then have at it.

    1. Longtime Lurker*

      Also a great idea for people to just randomly dress up every once in a while, just to throw the nosy parkers off the trail….

      1. doreen*

        My job generally had a pretty flexible dress code – there were always some people wearing suits and always some people wearing jeans and sneakers and most people were somewhere in between. But if you always wore jeans and sneakers and suddenly came in more dressed up one day , everybody would know you had an interview. Maybe within the same agency, but an interview. So what lots of people did was randomly dress up one day every week or two – if I’ve been wearing a suit every week or two for the last three years people long ago stopped assuming it was for an interview.

      2. rew123*

        I did this once. Was feeling dressier that day and went to work. Got the weird looks and direct and indirect interview questions. Then the following week made point to dress up and make a big point of having to leave early. Just to give something to gossip.

      3. J*

        I can confirm this is an effective strategy, especially if you just have one interview but want to appear more in demand for a week or so. Changing near the end of day (but at least an hour before most depart) and saying things like “oh there’s a dinner event with some folks in my industry” is also a good power move to throw in. It made my jerk boss very annoyed that after a “promotion” without a raise (but triple the work) that I immediately had “interviews” (and I did! they were just phone interviews at first) and he stopped making my life a living hell during those days because he got nervous I might leave (and it only took 3 weeks to have a new role so it worked out well for me).

    2. Wonderer*

      When I got the “So you have a job interview?” comment, I used to just firmly declare with a big smile that I have a “doctor’s appointment” at lunch. I sometimes even used airquotes. It seemed to really confuse people about whether I had a job interview, or some sort of weird medical appointment, or if I was just a weirdo. You have to know your office culture though, because things like this particular CEO’s attitude are very important.

    3. nobadcats*

      I deployed this strategically. Before the pandemic, when we were still in the office (jeans and t-shirts casual), we went through a lean period which required everyone to go to half-time. So from 40 hours to 20 hours per week.

      I started coming in “dressed up” about once or twice every two weeks. My nice Old Navy shirt dress with one of my silk scarves and my “good” boots. Oh, and that nice silk blouse, with my tartan skirt. Leggings with that tunic dress and the good boots. Fancy scarves, lots more jewelry, and make up every day.

      They caught on real quick. Even though I hadn’t had a nibble … I was the first one put back on FTE. I’m sure that single-handily pulling a project out of a ditch didn’t hurt either. But I’m pretty sure my boss and grand-boss had a “oh, we gotta fix this quick” meeting with the higher ups.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      You’d think wedding? I don’t generally associate weddings with workdays I guess.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Lol, I was about to comment something similar, that that would be an odd conclusion to draw as I’ve never heard of someone popping over to a wedding real quick after work… but then the very next comment is about someone doing exactly that so I guess I’m off to go eat my words.

      2. allathian*

        I got married in the middle of the week at the registry office. They aren’t open on weekends. Granted, I was 8 months pregnant and had just gone on maternity leave, which most pregnant people here do 30 days before their due date, so my coworkers didn’t even know about it. I told my then-boss when we discussed my return to work about two years later, and that was mainly because I took my husband’s last name.

        But I work in a casual environment and definitely noticed when a former coworker started dressing up. I knew she was unhappy at work so it didn’t suprise me when she left.

  10. JD2023*

    A similar situation happened to me when I was first starting out. I was wearing a nicer dress to work though nothing over the top and the head of my department at the time stopped me and told me I looked nice and asked if I was interviewing. It was extremely uncomfortable and the honest truth which I told her was I was going to a wedding after work that was an hour and a half drive away so didn’t want to have to change. I knew it was odd because it was a Tuesday (the couple had chosen to get married on a very specific date – 11/12/13. I feel like it would have made me uncomfortable if anyone else pointed it out. He could have a million reasons for wanting to wear a suit – maybe he was going to an event or had a funeral or something else that really isn’t anyone’s business. I’d almost call out more the bias to automatically think it’s an interview and just keep it to yourself.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I agree with this take on it – it’s best to call in those who are gossiping about the suit, reminding them that there are other reasons for someone to dress up more than normal, and suggest they leave it alone.

  11. The Eye of Argon*

    I can remember one day my senior year in college when a classmate came into an 8 am class wearing khaki slacks, a button-down shirt, and nice shoes. It was very much not the norm, especially for early classes, where people tended to show up looking like walking rummage sales. Everyone was really curious and kept asking him if he had an interview, was he going to an event or something, asking what he was dressed up for.

    He finally had enough and admitted that he didn’t have any quarters for the laundry room and they were the only clean clothes he had.

    Maybe Keith’s putting his suit into the rotation so he doesn’t have to do laundry as often :D

    1. A Bug*

      When I look nicer than usual and I’m asked if I have an interview, I always say, “No, I need to do laundry,” whether or not I have an interview. It’s no one’s business.

    2. Afac*

      Lots of fraternities have days where their members (or a certain subset thereof) are required* to wear suits and ties to class. Here at least if they don’t have clean laundry, I think they just don’t come to class.

      (*I think in some cases you can ‘buy’ your way out of the requirement, which adds yet another dimension to what is already an expensive membership.)

    3. The Eye of Argon*

      This was a very small school and everyone in our major (6 of us by senior year) was pretty friendly with each other. I think he really was just out of clean clothes and he was too good a student to cut class. Plus, this was 25 years ago (ouch) and I’ve learned to mind my own beeswax since then; if one of my coworkers showed up dressed up I wouldn’t say a word.

  12. Book lover*

    Hah. Jokes on you. Keith is mixing in the occasional dark suit day so that when he IS going to a job interview, you’ll never know.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      That’s actually what I recommend. Dress up at least occasionally, just because. Maybe dress up fairly often. And then, when you do have an interview, no-one will notice.

      1. A Girl Named Fred*

        Agreed, I thought this was fairly common advice to avoid this exact situation, and if he already tends to dress a step up from everyone else anyway I’m not sure why it actually raised eyebrows. But maybe I just pay way too little attention to what my colleagues wear.

    2. Aarti*

      This is what I started doing years ago. Not a suit, but dressing sharply upwards so when I needed to go to an interview it was easy to leave the jacket in my car or some such. I even occasionally wear a suit to work for a board meeting or what not.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        It’s hard to do past a certain level, though, depending on your workplace. I work in a call center and the rule is basically be bathed and no stains or holes. Tees and jeans are the basic order of the day. Even the office staff is mostly at that level. Nobody would notice, probably, if you upgraded to nice sweater or something, but a full on suit would look like a costume and everyone there would be wondering what was up.

    3. DataSci*

      A former co-worker at a tech startup (so the usual dress code was “no large holes in anything, and no swear words on the T-shirts”) did what he called “Fancy Friday” for awhile where he’d wear a suit. Everyone thought it was clever, occasionally complimented him on his attire, and if he’d ever had an interview on one of those Fridays nobody would have known.

    4. CheeryO*

      My first thought was that he very well may have been going to a job interview and just didn’t want to tell the LW…

  13. Green*

    My dad told me how there was a period of time when he was working when, in our very big family, a bunch of family members died one after another. Like four or six in as many months. So he’d show up to work in a suit because he’d come from a funeral or was leaving early for one. It had nothing to do with job interviews.

  14. Not Alison*

    Maybe instead of telling Keith not to wear the suit, the advice should be to add it to the rotation so that it becomes a regular piece of his wardrobe. The CEO shouldn’t get his nose out of joint for someone who wears nicer clothes all the time and chooses to wear a suit every couple weeks or so. After all, it would be odd for anyone to think that Keith is having an interview every other week.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Honestly, if the CEO has that much time to note employee wardrobe rotation I would wonder what he/she was being paid for.

    2. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      I dunno, when I was last interviewing that’s about how often I had them. It works in the long run, but it could backfire on the short term in this particular office.

  15. GamesWithoutFrontiers*

    Last time I went to work extra smart and someone commented it looked like I was dressed for an interview I had actually just been to a funeral

    1. The OG Sleepless*

      If I saw someone dressed up at work, I would assume they were going to a funeral, and I wouldn’t comment on it if they didn’t bring it up.

  16. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I once came to work in a nicer than usual skirt and a white blouse and my boss asked me if I was interviewing. Her tone suggested a joke, so I totally could have just laughed it off. But I went into her office, shut the door behind me and said yes, I was (my suit jacket was in my tote bag). She made a phone call that afternoon and I was promoted a week later– several months after I had asked to be promoted.

  17. Sariel*

    When I worked in a business-casual organization years ago, I would occasionally dress up because 1) I had plans after work that were more dressy or 2) I just felt like it. Inevitably, I would get asked “Oh, do you have an interview?” It’s not the kind of attention that feels good.

    Sometimes, people just dress up. It can be to make a good impression at work, but it can be for all kinds of reasons. Why not just compliment Keith instead and say “You look nice today!”

    1. morethantired*

      If I did wear interview clothes to work and was asked why I was dressed up, I would always say I was going to a nice dinner after work or a party. And there were plenty of times. was dressed up at work because I really was going out afterwards. It’s nuts to me that people actually ask “oh are you going to a job interview?” It’s so incredibly presumptuous and rude.

  18. Day job haver*

    I had a related situation early in my professional/office career, having moved from retail maybe a year prior. The office was very business casual, and I happened to wear a jacket and tie, kind of out of nowhere. I knew that it was only because I was going right from the office to the opera, but I didn’t volunteer that.

    20+ years later would I have necessarily worn a coat and tie for that reason? Honestly, probably not, but at the time I treated highbrow cultural events as “dress up” occasions.

    At any rate, nobody asked me about it directly, but my boss/grandboss called me in a few days later and gave me what must have about a 5% raise–I’m convinced that

    a)I had not negotiated when I was hired and was likely being paid under market and
    b)they were convinced I was going to a job interview at lunch.

    So while it’s not a strategy I’d suggest people try, deploying it totally unintentionally worked to my benefit.

  19. Office Manager Extraordinaire*

    I work in a fairly casual small office and any time I just feel like wearing a skirt or dress, I get comments. Nice comments, like “You look nice, what’s the occasion?” But a bit exasperating after the 50th time. So I started responding with, “Thanks, I have a job interview later!” Which always gets laughs since I am the office manager and my spouse is a partner.

  20. SleeplessKJ*

    It’s also entirely possible that Keith had something going on after work that he needed to “dress” for and didn’t have time to go home and change in between. Several of my daughter’s friends have had small weeknight weddings because they’re cheaper.

  21. Goldenrod*

    This is different from Keith’s situation – because wearing a suit was unusual for him, and therefore would naturally invite speculation – BUT. I am hear to say that in general, I think it’s quite rude to say “going to a funeral?” or “going to an interview?” if someone happens to enjoy dressing more formally.

    Believe me, they’ve heard it 10 million times and it’s not funny. My husband used to wear a tie most days in an office where that was not the norm. Why? Because he has a strong sense of personal style! And as a twenty-something, dressing up was actually non-conformist when most of his peers looked like slobs. :D

    No one has to dress casually if they don’t want to!

  22. That Lady in HR*

    At my first office job, anytime someone wore a suit (or similar formal dress), people would just bluntly ask, “Oh, are you interviewing somewhere today?” I got the message very quickly!

  23. Parenthesis Guy*

    My first day at a real job, I wore a tie because I wanted to make sure professional. The big boss comes to meet me, sees my tie and tells me to take that off right now. He meant it as a joke, but definitely not the way I wanted to find out I was overdressed.

    It can be a kindness to bring something like that up tactfully.

    1. SurlyAF*

      I got my first “real” job through a temp agency, and the agency told me to wear a suit my first day. One of the first things my new boss did was to laugh at me while telling me I didn’t have to dress up so much. I was so embarrassed. This was a corporate office so I didn’t look completely out of place, but my department was two men who dressed on the low end of business casual. I was from a rural area where some people would wear jeans to weddings, and I was clueless on how to dress for work in this upper class suburb.

  24. Love to WFH*

    A woman showed up to work in a silk dress, and her job was doing assembling electronic equipment. She did not reveal why.

    Turns out that she was going to her friend Julianne Phillips’ wedding — to Bruce Springsteen. Guests were sworn to secrecy to avoid paparazzi.

    1. Bob-White of the Glen*

      Don’t ever tell your coworker how much I hated her friend back in the 80’s. :)

      If it’s any consolation I like Julianne better now. Taking the 5th on Patti.

  25. just talk to people*

    As someone who doesn’t pick up on subtext easily, if I were Keith, I’d want somebody to give me a heads-up. Politely, in case it turns out (as other commenters suggest) that the suit is due to a funeral or court date.

    1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      Yep! This is a case where letting someone know how it might be perceived is a kindness, along with mitigation strategies if they are interested. But it doesn’t have to tbe A Thing.

  26. Jane*

    As a younger woman, I liked occasionally dressing a bit nicer one day for no particular reason. My logic was that it was fun occasionally, and what is wrong with looking nice when you feel like it? Not to mention getting some use out of dressier clothes once in a while? Now I’m much older and I’d never tell a co-worker they were dressed ‘wrong’ for any reason, and certainly not if the reason was that they felt like dressing nicer for once as a pleasant change of pace. Let gossipy people speculate about job interviews. It’s none of their business. It comes across to me like someone is determined to turn something nice into something nefarious.

    1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      While I agree in principle, when that gossipy culture can cause real professional repercussions, it’s good to take preventative measures.

  27. Prod Mgr*

    This is still a thing? The last few times I was interviewing in the late 2010s, tech recruiters would often say things like “you don’t need to wear a suit for the interview, that can be tricky if you are going to your current job before or after the interview.” As a hiring manager, I had plenty of candidates show up in slacks and a nice shirt. And the occasional guy who showed up in jeans, but we didn’t hire him.

  28. higheredadmin*

    When I started in the work world I didn’t have a lot of business casual clothes, and was working in finance, so I started wearing the suits I had bought to interview in as part of my clothing rotation – basically so I could make it to five days per week in adult clothes. Like a lot of commenters said, if you wear a suit(s) in regular rotation eventually nobody will notice. About a year into this, one of the very senior partners walks onto our floor and yells out – is anybody here wearing a suit? I was the only person, so off I went to a very senior client meeting with the very senior partner, who at the last minute realized/decided he needed someone to accompany him. I got put on the project, and my career really took off from there. I’ve been very intentional about what I wear to work since then.

    1. Wonderer*

      Similar thing happened to me – I was the only one in the office with a tie, so I was nominated to host an important customer!

      1. JustAnotherKate*

        When I practiced law, we were business casual if we didn’t have a court date or a client meeting, but everyone had “court clothes” — at least a blazer/jacket and a nice pair of shoes — hung on the back of their door and otherwise stashed in the office. (I had a more formal dress just in case; male colleagues had a tie.) I only ever had to change the shoes, but some people wound up doing a full-on outfit change because a judge demanded a last-minute meeting or a client showed up unexpectedly. I’m not sure what would’ve happened if one of us associates was caught without our fancy stuff!

    2. TeaCoziesRUs*

      Back in the early to mid 90s (old enough to be unaccompanied, young enough is a pretty rust memory), I was traveling stand-by at an airport thanks to a family member in the industry. The gate agent not only selected me over paying passengers but upgraded me to first-class for free! Why? Because as a nerdy teenager who followed rules, I had heeded my family member and worn dress slacks, a nice sweater, and flats. I looked presentable enough to BE in first class. :D Ahh, the waning days of dressing up to travel…

    3. Trillian (the original)*

      There was a time when people were advised to dress for the position they aspire to.

  29. play it to your advantage*

    A friend of mine worked at a pretty casual-dress workplace. She wore a suit one day because she had a court date in the afternoon, and was out of the office from 2pm to EOD. No one asked her why she wore a suit that day, but she got a raise a week later, and always suspected it was because her boss was afraid she was interviewing.

  30. MicroManagered*

    So what if Keith was dressed up for a job interview? I say let people think that if they think it.

    Personally I think it’s a sign of dysfunction when coworkers & management are overly interested in what someone wore to work today, lest it be a sign that they’re job searching… People have job interviews. Or a court appearance or a meeting with the bank to try to get a loan or a cousin’s baptism or… I dunno! They woke up feeling fancy.

    It’s a big huge red flag when everyone assumes every dentist appointment or tie = job interview. Tells me more about OP’s company than Keith’s naïveté.

    I had a job once where people totally fixated on whether someone was dressed for a job interview. I started dressing up at random times just to keep them talking/guessing. Who cares?

    1. irene adler*

      Back a few years ago, I slowly dropped a major amount of weight. Some folks noticed, some didn’t.

      One day I decided to take the afternoon off. So, I used some of my PTO to do just that (completely allowed here; everyone does this from time to time.). I went home and spent a lazy afternoon reading and puttering around the house.

      Apparently, my leaving caught the eye of our CFO who went ’round the building asking anyone she could find why I’d taken the afternoon off. No one had any definitive answers.

      This was very concerning to her. She confided in one or two people that she suspected, that in conjunction with the weight loss, I was quite possibly out job interviewing that afternoon.

      1. BubbleTea*

        Did she think that weight loss was a side effect of job hunting, or that job hunting was a side effect of weight loss…?

  31. Yellow*

    Any chance he could have been going to a funeral or something similar after work? That’s what I pretty much always assume when someone shows up overdressed these days.

  32. Not THAT Karen*

    This reminds me of the story my brother tells about his interview for the first job he got out of college. He wore a suit. Turned out the company culture was VERY casual, and they hired him – if he promised never to wear a suit again!

  33. Dilly*

    I would occasionally wear a suit to work on a random day and then take a long lunch (workplace was flexible enough that no one really cared if you took a long lunch and stayed late as long as you weren’t missing any meetings) or take a few hours leave just so people wouldn’t think much of it if I wore a suite. I’d always joke that I was down to formal wear as far as clean clothes went (and this wasn’t necessarily too far from the truth). Now, the rest of the time I was always in nice slacks, skirts, or dresses so it wasn’t like I was going from jeans to full on business formal.

  34. bighairnoheart*

    OP, I would mention it to Keith, highlighting the comment you made about the CEO *specifically* because of that. If dressing up could harm his reputation at the company in a real way, it would be a kindness to tell him that.

    But at any other workplace, I wouldn’t say anything because it just doesn’t rise to that level of importance, imo.

  35. Ed123*

    If there was no reason to believe that the CEO will punish Keith then I’d suggest the LW to mind their own business. But in this case it is worth mentioning it to Keith and concentrate on the CEO so Keith will know to get dressed up elsewhere when he does have an interview (or another reason to wear a suit) and that nicer clothing is not for this place.

    I hate the weird looks and questions about after work plans when I wear a blazer or something. I just wanted to wear something nice. It’s ridiculous that it’s a conversation

  36. Didi*

    When this happened to me in the past, I told people I had a wake to attend after work – that shuts people up quickly.

  37. BellyButton*

    There are unwritten rules and culture norms unique to every workplace. The way we learn those is experience, observation, and someone taking mercy on us and telling us. When those unwritten rules are not spelled out to people it can cause issues in their relationships and how they are perceived within the company.

    Tell someone these things, and don’t make it such a big deal. “Hey, since we don’t wear suits people start to gossip that you have a job interview.”

  38. John Smith*

    One person I used to work with turned up in a suit (casual clothes) and was asked if they had an interview, half jokingly. He had just been to his grandmother’s funeral and his boss insisted he turn up for work afterwards. Appalled, a colleague drove him home (well, to the wake) and publicly gave his boss (not hers) an explitive-laden piece of her mind on her return. The boss at least had the decency to resign afterwards, because everyone refused to work with him.

  39. This Old House*

    I’ll always be grateful to the older colleague who asked if I had a job interview when I one day showed up to work in a nice outfit at my student job in college. I did have an interview. And since this was a student job, that was totally normal and nothing to hide – but it clued me in very early on that people can tell!

  40. Bast*

    As someone who has worked in a company where people were heckled and outright fired for applying for other jobs, I feel badly for Keith. I think it should casually be mentioned, but without any hint as to him having to explain himself, because there frankly are many reasons that have been listed as to why he wore a suit. The company I worked for would start a witch hunt that would start with something innocent like this, and then one week later — “So and so called out sick today, do you think they are really sick? Or did they have an interview?” They’d hunt down people who worked with you closely to see if they knew if you were “really” sick, try to see your Facebook posts, etc. It got you really paranoid to do ANYTHING hence a witch hunt commence.

  41. Strict Extension*

    I have never worked anywhere that suits were normal for the dress code. Reasons my colleagues and I have worn dressier-than-the-norm outfits:

    –Taking a half-day for a funeral
    –Miscalculated appropriate dress code for a meeting with external parties
    –Wore a suit to dinner last night and didn’t make it home to change before work
    –Coming in late after a weirdly-timed midweek morning award ceremony for another organization they are affiliated with
    –Has a lunch related to a side hustle
    –Running straight to an audition after work
    –Thought something they were doing might be photographed
    –Genuinely just felt like it

    I don’t know that I’ve ever learned it was for a job interview (and I’ve worked in a capacity where plenty of folks wouldn’t have had a problem telling me), and I’ve certainly never assumed it.

  42. Sad Desk Salad*

    This is so frustrating. I hate this assumption so much. I have a lot of different kinds of clothes in my closet, and I’d like to wear all of them (that are work appropriate, of course). Why should a suit hang dusty in the back of your closet, only to be dragged out for interviews, funerals, and weddings?

    We’re remote, but are on video often, and any given day you’ll find me in glasses, unwashed hair, and a hoodie, or fully made up with jewelry and regular work clothes. It doesn’t mean anything special, just was how I felt like looking that day. Once I had an issue with my camera, and my boss said not to worry about it. I replied “it’s okay, I’m turning it on, I put on makeup today so someone’s got to see me.” I was nursing a bad cold and makeup was the only thing that made me look human. There was nothing more else to it.

  43. Bird Lady*

    This is tricky. On one hand, Keith may have a perfectly valid reason to wear a suit to work that doesn’t involve interviewing. Weddings, funerals, religious commemorations, community events, court dates and yes – even a fancy date! My husband wore a suit and took me to a swanky speakeasy on our first date; men were required to wear a suit to enter. He decided it was a hassle to try to change in the office bathroom, and just wore the suit all day. I wore a suit to work the day I had to give a deposition in a civil matter and I worked in a very casual office. (Seriously, half of the office was a workshop.)

    On the other hand, if the CEO is going to view “dressing up” as a sign someone is interviewing, then perhaps a quick heads up would be appropriate. But also, why is interviewing a bad thing? I’ve often applied for potential dream jobs while perfectly content in a particular role. Interviewing is a skill you lose if you don’t use, and why pass up a potential life-changing opportunity?

  44. El l*

    Yeah, I’d tell Keith, and I’d tell it to him with the following comment/tone-setter:

    “Our clothes have associations, like it or not, and we do all have to pay a little attention to that. I heard you when you said you were just being self-expressive – which is great – but this particular choice said something opposite of what you intended. I wouldn’t do that clothing choice again unless you had a special circumstance that day like a funeral.

    “Anyway, happens to all of us now and then.”

    1. Buffy Rosenberg*

      I don’t think the LW should tell Keith not to wear a suit. Just make sure he’s aware that in this particular office people do make that unreasonable assumption, in case he didn’t realise. He can do whatever he wants with that information.

      And “it happens to all of us now and again” feels a bit patronising. Nothing has happened to Keith and he hasn’t done anything wrong!

  45. OP*

    OP here, I totally hear everyone saying “who cares” — in a perfect world, no one would notice or care. But given that it’s SO out of the norm for my very casual office, it’s kind of hard not to notice. Maybe talking about it with a colleague is “gossiping,” but whatever. Let he/she who has not gossiped about a coworker cast the first stone.

    I also agree that it sucks that my CEO is prickly with certain people — I don’t condone it, I’m just saying that that’s the way it is and that if CEO gets it in their head Keith is leaving, they’re going to be salty about it. My company has dysfunctional norms for sure, but it’s overall a good place to work and CEO is not some monster — wonderful in some situations, kind of a dick in others (like this one).

    I also hear the people saying “what if he’s going to a funeral” — not impossible, but very unlikely in this situation. He told other coworkers he was wearing a suit just because he felt like it, and it would not track given what I know about him to lie about that because he’s going to a funeral instead. He’s also worn a suit in the office for no reason since my time of writing in.

    After reading Allison’s reply I may try and say something to him if there’s an organic in. Please trust that I really do mean well and Keith of course does NOT have to take this kind of advice from me or anyone. My intention is only to be helpful and clue him into a common (unfair) assumption people might make that in this environment could unfortunately alienate him a little bit. Again, in a perfect world this doesn’t matter, but in our working world, it can!

    1. Random Dice*

      I definitely read you as trying to be helpful! It’s a mitzvah (good deed) to help the young as they learn.

    2. TeaCoziesRUs*

      I love your heart, OP! I don’t see condescension or patronizing arrogance in your question at all. I see a heart for a person whom you ALREADY mentor to make sure they understand professional norms around dress. I’ll agree to disagree with those who call your question nosey. You understand your office and your CEO better than any internet weirdo can. :)

      Yes, take Keith aside and clue him in. Be warm, non-judgmental, and as professional as you are when mentoring him in other areas. I like Allison’s script about letting him know your CEO has this quirk, too.

      Thank you for being willing to mentor others rather than keep your head down.

    3. Ellen Ripley*

      I’d hope the comment he got from the coworker today clued him in to the fact that people notice when you dress up/differently than usual but I don’t think it would hurt to mention it to him as well!

    4. Not A Manager*

      I completely agree that it’s way off-base to say “well what if he had some other reason,” or “well no one SHOULD care.” The fact is, this can have serious repercussions for him at your workplace, and he should know it.

      I wouldn’t say anything to him on the day that he wears a suit, because why make him self-conscious about something he can’t fix, but I would give him a straight-forward heads up a day or two later.

    5. Zarniwoop*

      It would make a lot more sense for the CEO to be extra nice to people who might be interviewing to persuade them to stay.

    1. OP*

      What a bad-faith reading of my letter. Were I to have spoken with him I would absolutely not solicit, want, or expect any clue as to whether he IS planning to leave. That is none of my business. I truly think that at times he can be clueless about workplace norms based on my time with him (which I totally get, I’ve been there!) and I really want him to succeed and not accidentally set himself back. I wish no one noticed or cared about this kind of thing, but they do!

  46. Good Enough For Government Work*

    I agree that it should be absolutely no-one’s business; but, unfortunately, the OP’s workplace doesn’t see it like that. I think OP should let Keith know, but it should definitely be framed as gentle advice (and a problem with the CEO), not that Keith has done anything wrong!

    (My boss always jokes (or ‘jokes’) that I’m going to a job interview if I’m wearing makeup to work. I actually just like makeup, and sometimes I feel like being fancy! I just can’t be bothered with wearing makeup all the time — then it would stop being fun.)

  47. Sick of Workplace Bullshit (she/her)*

    I went to university with a guy who regularly wore dress shirts and ties, because he liked to.

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      One of my students (university) would occasionally come to class dressed to the 9s, because he liked to look snazzy. I loved it.

  48. Buffy Rosenberg*

    Worth letting Keith know but also worth encouraging people not to make such assumptions and engage their critical thinking skills a bit more. “No, actually, I don’t think wearing a suit necessarily means someone has an interview. There could be loads of reasons. I wouldn’t want to speculate.” All said very warmly, not judgementally.

    Some people do just like to dress smart for work. I find it really quite annoying how grown adults make these kinds of assumptions.

  49. Pumpkin215*

    I don’t see what the big deal is. Maybe the simple and honest answer is the one he gave: that is he felt like it.

    I am a “seasoned” employee and I dress up sometimes! After the pandemic, I’m tired of yoga pants and T-shirts. I wore a fancier dress than normal to the office and received compliments all day. People asked if I was going somewhere special after work, to which I replied “maybe!”. I was going home for spaghetti night with my husband, but that does not matter.

    I enjoy dressing up occasionally and agree with some of the other posters that good clothes should not be wasted. If you feel like wearing it, then go for it!

    1. sysadmin*

      And if it makes people think you’re in demand, so be it! No one is explaining why this is bad.

    2. Jessica*

      If I were going to spend a cozy evening eating delicious spaghetti with someone who loved me, I’d consider that pretty special! I hope you had a lovely time.

    3. rew123*

      I in general agree that “he felt like it” is likely wha happened. I don’t think this is “poor guy unaware of professional norms”. Suits look good, so why not?! Only reason I think LW should say something is that since the CEO likes likes to draw conclusion and be vengeful based on his own assumptions. Just so the employee is aware of this and can start interviewing ;)

  50. Jessica Ganschen*

    I usually dress up a bit on Fridays (if I’m in the office, I’m heading right to services at my synagogue afterwards and it’s much easier to not have to change), but my office is sparsely populated enough that nobody has ever commented on it. Plus, I suppose doing it regularly takes the mystery out of it after people ask once or twice.

  51. What SheSaid*

    I think it would have been kindness to explain the optics and the CEO’s pattern. There could have any number of reason for dressing up. And its really no ones business why. Also, if you must wear a suit to work for an outside of work event and you’ll likely stand out doing so, leave the jacket and tie in the car if you can. When I interviewed I would leave a nice jacket and nicer shoes in my car. Easy change right before an interview and it doesn’t draw attention while at work.

    BTW I hate optics. People really need to stop assuming they know what they don’t know.

  52. ecnaseener*

    It’s the CEO part that nudges this over the edge for me, and so I would be explicit about that – “as a heads-up, something to know about CEO is he really doesn’t like the idea that anyone might be looking at other jobs – he’ll probably notice if you wear a suit and he might not take it well.”

    If you’re not going to bring up the CEO part, I’d tread verrrrry lightly.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I think this would be good to point out to Keith generally. Even if he didn’t wear a suit occasionally. It’s the kind of cultural knowledge that is very helpful to have.

      I have done this with new employees at some of my client companies – not said anything negative, but steered them to the right person to talk to, when they are finding something difficult to navigate at the organization.

  53. Shandra*

    Adding to @ Strict Extension’s list: Lunch at a membership club which has a dress code.

    Once I wore a suit for my first interview in years, and planned to just lose the jacket after I got to work. I arrived to find the place in a total uproar because of a massive IT failure, so my attire was the last thing on anyone’s mind!

  54. Just wanted to look nice*

    My boss has an annoying habit of, when complimenting someone’s outfit that day, jokingly asks if they have an interview (or says it to someone else in earshot, meant to be heard by the subject). It’s never serious, at least I assume it isn’t, but it does have the effect of making me want to put less effort into my appearance lest I be accused (even jokingly) of job searching.

  55. Flak Jacket*

    I remember the days when a suit or jacket was the norm for an interview, which was always slightly more formal than the environment I worked in. A colleague of mine had a smart idea. Once every two weeks she would wear a suit or a nice dress/jacket combo. Something that could be assumed to be interview wear. She would usually pick a day when she would be fully in the office – no off-site meetings or long lunches. All day in front of all her coworkers in her usual space in a nice outfit. Every two weeks. Then when did actually have to dress up for an interview no one would really think twice about it, because they were already used to her regularly dressing up nicely.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      When I was interviewing, I would bring my suit to the local drycleaners near my office downtown, get them to press/steam it for me for a certain time, and then change in their fitting room for my interview. If I had to go back to work afterwards, I would change again, and leave the suit with them for the rest of the day, and then pick it up on the way home.

      They were tickled to participate – they got paid for their services, and they got to help me play secret agent.

  56. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    So Keith likes to dress up a little more, how about a little sartorial diversity? We’re office casual; my counterpart usually wears slacks and tunic blouses, I usually wear a blazer over slacks and casual shirt or t shirt.

    As for the suit, yeah, maybe he felt like dressing up a little more that day. Or maybe he didn’t get his laundry done and all his khakis and jeans were rumpled and smelly at the bottom of the hamper. Or maybe he had some kind of appointment at lunch or after work that wasn’t an interview, but called for more formal business clothes.

  57. Lifelong student*

    I worked in law offices and accounting firms for many years. I like classic clothes and was never into the trendy things. I always believed in wear the clothes for the way you want to be considered. I wanted to be considered a professional so wore business clothes- suits, dresses, put together outfits. I later moved to a more casual enviornment- but still had the business wardrobe so that’s what I wore. People were so used to me no one ever said anything about my being “overdressed”. But I’ve heard many others who were more casual being asked “Got an interview today?” It’s the difference- not the wardrobe.

  58. Lifelong student*

    I worked for many years as a paralegal then became an accountant. I always subscribed to the theory – dress as you want to be seen- so wore suits etc. As times changed, my suits were out of touch- but it was my wardrobe which I had assembled over many years. So I kept wearing suits and sometimes got comments as mentioned!

  59. andy*

    If he is gonna wear it frequently and long enough, the gossipy office gossips are going to loose the wind.

  60. MillennialHR*

    When I was in a really bad place with mental health at my first job, I started wearing makeup daily because it was a nice routine that helped me feel better. The first comment I got was about a job interview – but it was really just because I needed it to feel human. I know it’s normal to think that if someone has changed something it’s because they’re “job searching”, but there’s other reasons why too! Maybe Keith just needed a pick-me-up that day to feel good about himself!

  61. Joan*

    I have intentionally done this throughout my career. Every 3-4 weeks I dressed as if I were interviewing. That way, no one ever knew when I was really interviewing.

  62. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    It’s easier for us women. I remember telling everyone when I showed up looking smart at work that I had a date straight after work.

  63. Kelly*

    Years ago a coworker gave me advice about wearing a suit to work. Wear one every now and again, and if people ask, say, “I have this expensive suit in my closet I want to get some use out of it.” After a while, no one will think anything of seeing you in a suit so you can wear one on a day when you have an interview and no one will notice.

  64. dpassage*

    Some time ago, I worked in the US office of a largish company based overseas. The office was mostly produce management and marketing, wearing Silicon Valley “nice business casual” – nice khakis/slacks with a dress shirt for men, the same for women with the occasional skirt or dress. I was on a small software engineering team based in the same office, and we dressed like software engineers – jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, etc. Which was all expected because, again, Silicon Valley.

    Once as a joke, the whole software team showed up in business formal – suits and ties for men, the one woman on our team wore a skirt suit (we didn’t even know she owned a skirt!). Our team lead had to borrow a dress shirt and tie.

    A lot of people thought we were all interviewing somewhere as a team, and sort of freaked out.

    We got asked to not do that again.

    1. dpassage*

      Should have been “product management” – no vegetables were involved in the product.

  65. Jo-El (Kryptonian Name)*

    I dress up on random days maybe once a month and leave for lunch (I always eat at my desk). I never make a big deal out of it and if asked I always say “I needed a little bit of decompression time”. I do it basically to keep management on their toes. Small and petty I know, but then again…….

  66. Greg*

    Early in my career, I worked in a super-casual office. One day, one of my coworkers — who was on the even-more-casual side — showed up in a suit and I jokingly said, “Whoa, who died?”

    Free advice to everyone: Do not ever make this joke. Sure enough, he was leaving work early that day to go to a funeral. Obviously, given that he was coming into the office, it wasn’t like an immediate family member or anything, but I still felt absolutely horrible.

  67. Earlk*

    I asked someone I managed if he had an interview one day (we got on well and I knew he was actively job searching) but it turns out he just had a date.

    Might be worth giving that to Kieth as a little excuse for next time, even if he does have an interview.

  68. The Not-A-Fed Fed*

    Last time I wore a suit at work was Halloween. It’s a “dirty job” so there’s not much chance to dress up otherwise. (It was actually my old suit that doesn’t fit well anymore, so it would have been ok to get holes in it)

  69. betty (the other betty)*

    At one of my old jobs, several people knew that one of their co-workers was going on a job interview one day. They decided to make that day “dress up day” and encouraged their whole department to wear interview-appropriate suits and dresses. They got a great group photo, all went out together for a nice lunch, and their co-worker had the ultimate interview-outfit camouflage.

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