Why do CPAs Seem to Only Wear White or Blue Shirts?

As part of my ongoing efforts to demystify the profession of public accounting, I’ll occasionally take some time to answer those questions you’ve always had about CPAs, but never quite got around to actually asking.

Today I’ll be telling you about the “CPA uniform,” and why it works for me.

Accountants have never really been known for their trend-setting fashion sense, and if you spend a lot of time around them, you may start to notice that they tend to wear the same couple outfits over and over again.

Is it because they only have two dress shirts and pairs of slacks? Most likely not. They’re probably just wearing the CPA uniform.

What is the CPA uniform?

Basically it consists of a blue or white dress shirt, slacks and dress shoes.

Is the CPA uniform mandatory?

No. CPAs can choose to wear whatever they want, or, at larger firms, whatever their carefully crafted dress code allows them to wear.

If it’s not mandatory, why do it?

There are a few reasons for the popularity of the CPA uniform:

It’s Flexible.

A CPA in-uniform can move from formal to informal settings without much risk of offending their clients. For CPAs that don’t live in Bend (where suits and ties seem to be unofficially forbidden), it’s really easy to add a tie and a sportcoat (or blazer) to the uniform before meeting with  corporate clients. Then just as quickly, those accessories can be removed for a meeting with a mom & pop small business client.

It’s Flexible Part II.

White shirts are really easy to match with any color of slacks that a CPA is likely to wear (navy, grey, brown). There’s almost zero risk of putting together an outfit that clashes. Blue oxford shirts are slightly trickier, but even most accountants can handle it without looking like some sort of fashion disaster.

Decision Making is Like a Muscle.

I read on the internet somewhere that making even minor decisions throughout the day will eventually sap your energy and limit your productivity (so it must be true). This is why the CEO of Facebook wears the same grey t-shirt every day (they say that he has multiple grey shirts that he rotates). Who knew that he stole that idea from CPAs that have been doing the same thing (except with attractive, professional shirts) for years?

CPAs spend all day making decisions for clients (Should this purchase be capitalized or expensed? Is the CEO’s salary likely to be viewed as reasonable by the IRS? How can we structure this proposed transaction to minimize the client’s tax bill?) If there’s only a finite amount of good decision-making energy to be spent in each day, it makes sense to limit the amount of energy a CPA will use in selecting his outfit.

CPAs Get Dressed in the Dark.

For the CPAs that prepare income taxes and are married, it’s not uncommon to spend about 1/4 of the year (or about 25%) getting dressed in the dark during tax season. If you know that you’ve only got white or blue shirts in your closet, you don’t have to worry about showing up at the office and discovering that you’re wearing a purple gingham shirt with navy blue slacks (or whatever color combination doesn’t work).

So when you see a CPA wearing what appears to be the same blue shirt for the third time this week, remember, he probably has three (or more) of the exact same shirt . . . or tax season got even crazier than normal, and he hasn’t left the office for days.

If you find out that it’s the latter, get him some more coffee, show him a picture of his family so he doesn’t forget what they look like and remind him that tax season doesn’t last forever.