Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Clothes-ing the Door

It wasn't so long ago that "dressing for success" meant having a wardrobe that was never worn outside of the workplace. Things have changed.

A trip back in time takes me to my years as an elementary school teacher. In approximately 1971, a district wide teachers' meeting was called at which it was announced that women teachers would be permitted to wear pantsuits to work! We were wildly excited! It meant that we could stoop, bend and reach in more ease and comfort. Strict guidelines were set: matching pantsuits only, no separates, no capris and certainly no denim. Nevertheless, we were giddy about being comfortable on the job.

Workplace fashion was beginning to evolve.

After teaching, I worked in law firms from the 1970s through the 1990s. My career clothes included suits, tailored jackets and skirts, fully lined and tasteful trousers, blouses, a few cardigan sweater and pumps. Conservative and tasteful were the operative words. I paid a significant amount of money for clothes and routinely supported my local dry cleaner.

The first indication that the world was "relaxing" a bit more was the initiation of "casual Friday." In the early 1990s, a friend at another office announced that Casual Friday had arrived at his company. It was triumphant, the sign of modern thinking and the easing of the staid rules of appearance which had been in place for decades.

Business casual has now found its place and khakis and jackets are a fine compromise, although Brooks Brothers remains the staple in certain careers and locales.

I still flinch when I am greeted by someone with a face filled with piercings, each tiny opening decorated with a small dangling ornament. A few months ago while shopping at a trendy boutique in a large nearby city, a sales clerk wearing a Mohawk and large spacers in his earlobes caught my attention. It must be a generational thing. In such instances, I am struck not by the appearance of the worker, but by the fact that his supervisor/employer allows someone to meet and serve the public while looking like he ran away from the circus.

As Dorothy would say, "I guess I'm not in Kansas anymore."

It's good that our clothing requirements have eased somewhat. How liberating to toss a pair of khakis into the dryer and forego paying the cleaners to do the same thing.  But perhaps the relaxing of workplace requirements has gone about as far as it should. I believe in being comfortable, but it appears that our standards continue to slip.

In January 2012, Caddo Parish Louisiana proposed an ordinance to prohibit locals from wearing pajama pants in public. If that seems a little unnecessary, you might want to look around. Not only have I seen people in pajamas, I have seen people wearing much worse and far less. Casual is one thing. Absurd is another. We need to guard against dropping the bar too low.

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