A recruiter from a staffing agency once canceled a job interview he had scheduled for me when I told him (he asked, and I’m honest) that I wasn’t going to wear a suit to the interview. He contested that wearing a suit was a sign of respect.
– I’ll save my general objections to staffing agencies for another time. –
In this situation, what “respect” means is submission. The interviewee is expected to bow down to the interviewer. This supposed “respect” is one-sided, in favor of the interviewer, because the interviewers in my profession (software development) never wear suits. Requiring interviewees to wear suits is a mild hazing ritual designed to test whether the interviewee will submit to the interviewer’s supposed authority.
– Most companies are a hierarchy. The organization depends on each person obeying the person “above” him/her. Independent thought is not highly valued. Being “insubordinate” is even grounds for firing. As a consumer outside a company, this may simply seem like an efficient way to acquire a consistent product, but as someone creating the product inside the company it may instead seem like a form of slavery. The “employer” acts as the master, while the “employee” acts as the slave. The “employer” is even said to “own” the company, which is made up of people, and so basically the “employer” is said to own those people, at least during the time they spend at the company (and even outside of that time when there is an intellectual property agreement). –
One way to test obedience is to ask someone to do something uncomfortable and unnecessary (like wearing clothes he/she would ordinarily never wear or wearing a tie that serves absolutely no purpose other than decoration). When a person isn’t willing to do this, it’s a sign that he/she can think for him/herself and won’t blindly follow orders. Requiring people to wear suits to interviews is a way to weed out these people.
The purpose of an interview is to test someone’s ability to do a job. If the company is secure enough to disregard the interviewee’s willingness to comply with ridiculous rules, then what makes sense for a person to wear to an interview is the closest attire the person would need while doing the job.
I suppose there are some jobs where a suit is actually the standard dress while doing the job. I’ll save my comments on whether or not that makes sense, but in software development it doesn’t matter what a person wears. Clothes have no effect on a person’s ability to solve complex logic problems or communicate ideas to peers. In fact, I would even suggest that a person who emphasizes outward appearance should be suspect because he/she may be overcompensating for lack of ability.
Lastly, suppose that both the interviewee and interviewer wore suits. In this case, the word “respect” would regain it’s legitimate meaning, which is mutual respect, but I personally would still find the emphasis on pretense and outward appearance to be wrong. When I meet someone new in a work-related environment, I’m not impressed by his/her fancy clothes. The only reason I’m there is to discuss what he/she needs and what I can do for him/her. A suit is just a distraction.