Digital Divide?

Distinct Styles of Office Dress

Another oft-mentioned distinction is the relative informality of the West Coast workplace, in both dress and attitude. "I do think the [origin] of workplace informality is Silicon Valley," observes Oldman, alluding to not only the ripped jeans, shorts and T-shirt ensembles that populate the Silicon Valley workplace, but also to other symbols of free expression, like Supersoaker water guns, meeting rooms with quirky names and odd working hours. "In New York, there still isn't universal comfort with coming to work in your shorts or working from 4 p.m. to midnight," Oldman adds.

Sharpe says this issue can sometimes pose problems. She recalls the time she had to gulp when a vice president of sales from a West Coast company showed up at an important New York Fortune 500 company to which she was introducing him, wearing "something just north of a Hawaiian shirt."

Conversely, in West Coast start-ups, the level of informality may be a way of identifying who holds the power in the company. "People here have this joke that the person who's the most casual in the room is the most successful," says Chiruvolu. "It's the people trying to get there who dress to impress."

Oldman believes the Alley and Valley embrace two different styles. Valley techies took Bill Gates style and made it fashion. Alley techies are more apt to adopt and update a traditional New York look and attitude. "In the Valley, you have geek chic," quips Oldman. "In New York, you have chic geeks."

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This article was originally published in the December 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Digital Divide?.

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