I sparked an interesting conversation at work today. Actually, my sandals did. Apparently I'm brimming with disrespect. That's what my sandals said anyways. Or to be more to the point, that's what I was told my sandals were saying. I didn't hear them say anything.
Actually it wasn't much of a conversation. Mostly I just listened to my collegue's opinions on the subject without offering mine. I had them. I disagreed with a lot of what he said, but I couldn't really formulate them at the time. So, I decided to see if I can get my thoughts on the subject organized. Writing is another way to think out loud.
The gist of the other guy's reasoning was basically this: How you dress is a matter of respect. He then seemed (I say seemed, because I don't want to falsly attribute anything to him) to lament the decay of formality in society in general, stating that we don't dress for church, the ballet, opera, or work with as much panache as we used to. This, to him, was a bad thing.
Two qustions come to my mind regarding this line of thought. First, does the way I dress necessarily reflect my feelings towards my employeer or collegues, or the performers at an opera or ballet? Second, is it necessarily a bad thing that people are (in general) dressing more casually than ten or fifteen (or twenty or fifty) years ago?
I played the trumpet in school, grades 7 through 12. That's a total of six years. I generally sat either first, second or third chair, even where there were those a year my senior playing in the same group. I would say that I have a fairly decent understanding of what it takes to become an excellent musician. When I go to a concert, be it American Idols Live or the local symphony, I feel as though I have a basic appreciation of what it takes for a person to be able to perform to a high standard. And I respect that kind of dedication and talent. Likewise, I understand the amount of work it takes my co-workers to do a good job.
Exactly what is it then that I show my respect for when I wear the corporate uniform? Seems like a bit of empty-headed flag saluting, which to me is rather orwellian.
I respect good work. My personal choice of footwear doesn't change that fact. It is egocentric for a person to beleive that my feelings of respect wear a 3 peice suit just because his do.
But shouldn't I, understanding that it's 'normal' to wear what others expect, get in line and not rock the boat? At the risk of sounding like my three year old nephew, why? Sounds like voluntarily joinging the Borg: "We shall add your social distinctiveness to our own.' Honestly, what benefit does my employeer get from seeing me dress a certain way? Requiring certain employee dress displays more concern for the image of the company than any regard for the individual employee's personal preferences. Why should I sacrifice my preferences to those of the company. As far as I know, I've only sold them 40 hours of my time per week (more on this to come), not my personality.
I suppose it can be documented, that as a whole, we are dressing more casually than generations past, though quantifing 'casual' for the purposes of comparison would turn out to be a fruitless exercise. For the sake of argument it should to suffice to say that back in the day, people dressed more formally. The question again: is this bad?
Though the evidence isn't empirical, it can safely be said that every generation is looked upon by previous generations as having worse [insert value] than 'we did.' Everone can recall some old-timer who fondly reminices about 'the good ol' days while simultaneously lamenting the state of things today. Regarding clothing, it used to be that the accepted mode of dress for men to wear at the opera was a tuxedo. Later it was a suit, and admittedly less formal bit of apparel. Now you'll see all sorts of clothes at the opera house? Who is right, the current generation or the suits? And if the suits were right, where did the tuxedo generation go wrong?
Obviously it is hard to come to a definitive conclusion regarding the 'right' thing to wear, given that the 'right' thing to wear has differed over the course of time. And the institution that requires people to wear what is currently 'right' is the equiviant of the teenager who begs his parents to buy him the latest in fasion. My parents surely didn't buy me that $120 pair of jeans simply because that was what everyone else was wearing. Why do companies (or society in general) ask adults to do the same thing?