Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Dressing for success

I commented to a co-worker over the summer about how some of the summer students at our office dress. One, in particular, struck me as someone who was hanging out at the beach, rather than someone who was coming to work at an office building. He had messy hair, a sports jersey, baggy low-slung shorts, and flip-flops.

Now, I should be quick to point out that our office is hardly a typical “corporate office”. It’s our company’s research division, and the level of dress is more casual than is typical for the rest of the company (and that, too, has become more casual in recent years). It’s certainly not unusual to see people in shorts, though most of us do wear long pants. Sandals are also common, though not flip-flops. And most people comb their hair, though fashions do vary.

In short, I think that summer student looked like a slob even by our relaxed standards. But I laughed at it. I thought the young man should have had more sense. I’d like to think that if I had to evaluate him, I’d do it solely on his work and wouldn’t consider how he dressed... but I can’t guarantee that it I’d succeed in that. When I started working here thirty years ago, we had an introductory class, and one of the instructors was asked if we really had to wear ties always, the standard at the time. His response was simply, “It’s your career.”

I thought about that response when I saw the student this summer. I thought that his mentor might have talked with him about that. But I never thought that he should be told what to wear, and, ultimately, it doesn’t matter: if he does an excellent job, that should stand on its own.

Then I read about the town of Stratford, CT, in which a town councilman introduced legislation to make certain sloppy attire illegal:

The elderly residents of Stratford were calling Alvin O’Neal, a town councilman, with a persistent complaint. When they went to the supermarket, the library or anywhere else about town, all they saw were teenagers with saggy pants, their underwear more than peeking out.

They asked him: Wasn’t there something he could do about it? Yes, he told them — the town could make it illegal.

And so this month, Mr. O’Neal, a Democrat, introduced an ordinance that would levy a fine of up to $250 against any youth or anyone else who gallivants around town with his pants sagging beneath his buttocks.

Happily, Councilman O’Neal got little support for his proposal: it was voted down by a 6-to-2 vote of the council.

This stuff should not be legislated. The way I dress would have been considered sloppy in my grandfather’s time, and the grandparents of today aren’t happy with how their grandkids dress. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

It may be hard for us old dogs to change our stripes, but we just have to wake up and throw the coffee out with the bathwater.


The Ridger, FCD said...

And nothing will make the fad last longer than making it illegal. And how many of those kids will land their parents with a fine to get back at them for something?

Maggie said...

Didn't I hear a story over the summer about a town where they did institute a fine? Or was it this story, and it never went through?

We already do have indecency laws. Those really should be good enough.

I think it's hilarious that old people are actually calling a government representative with this complaint. How is it hurting them to see people's underwear in the grocery store?

When I used to work full time, it was on a grant at a university, and I dressed very casually. But now that I'm teaching, I dress professionally because it sends a clear unconscious signal to the students that I am an authority figure. I wouldn't wear open-toed shoes or a tank top, that sort of thing. I see it as directly relating to my effectiveness, and therefore their ability to learn. Maybe it isn't much of an effect, but why would I intentionally short circuit my own effectiveness?

Mark Ingram said...

I hate it when people get on their high-horse about what you should wear at work. If you are in a non-customer facing role, it shouldn't matter what you were. What is the point of wearing a suit to work, when the only people who see you are your colleagues next to you? It doesn't make you comfortable and can actually have a negative affect on your work. However, going to work relaxed and comfortable only has a positive effect.

But the biggest thing is, if he works well, he works well, it has nothing to do with the clothes he wears.

Freedom for clothes I say :)