One of the hardest things people ask me to do is to talk to others about appropriate clothing. There are no winners in this conversation. Everyone loses, everyone is scarred. Bleh!
I don’t know why I am called upon to do this. I guess it’s my mom-li-ness. My southern upbringing may have something to do with it, but I don’t think my most recent assignment was because anyone at my office knows I was a debutante. Egad, if that ever got out…well I shutter to think about it.
Anyway, it was decided that we needed to have a conversation in the office about appropriate dress for the workplace. Of course, the men are generally pretty safe. It’s a professional office, but we’re not lawyers or bankers, so suits or even ties are not necessary except for a few high profile monthly meetings with our Board. Men are safe. They just don’t get too edgy with their clothing. The most “out there” any of the men are is wearing a Columbia shirt with their Dockers. Like I said, the men are safe. (Our former head honcho was on shaky ground with his open collared shirts showing chest hair and gold chains, but he’s gone now. Whew!)
It’s always us ladies that get in trouble in the clothing department. We express ourselves with our clothing and generally take great pride in putting together outfits that we consider to be fashionable, flattering and statement-making, no matter what our budget might be. We just are not always aware of what statement it is that we are making. And we can’t really be counseled about it because we get REAL touchy. Saying our clothes are inappropriate is saying our judgement is off.
So, I again fooled myself into thinking that I could do this with grace and tact and humor and everyone would consider my suggestions wise and cultured. I was assigned to write up a memo that summarized an informal staff meeting on appropriate dress.
At the meeting, there was a lot of common ground. There was one male colleague there and it was amazing that someone as young as he is would have such antebellum notions of how covered up women should be. He seems to really have a problem with cleavage. We covered a lot of ground and came up with some guidelines. We decided that we didn’t really need to change the policy we already had in place, we just needed to air the topic. So we put up big poster sized sticky notes and asked for comments. We added pictures cut out of magazines and catalogs and asked people what they thought was appropriate or not appropriate. We got interesting feedback that ran the gamut.
But there were three outcomes that I think are noteworthy.
- People went bananas over the memo. Even though there was good agreement at the meeting, people didn’t like seeing it in writing. Also, people who weren’t at the meeting scanned the memo, and, without reading it carefully, launched into full-blown air assaults on the parts they didn’t like. The memo specifically said that we weren’t changing any policy and that these were just the things we talked about at the meeting, but it was as if I was Moses handing down the Ten Commandments. The nerve!
- Even though we specifically said that some specific things were specifically not appropriate, like flip flops (not backless sandals, mind you) and capris, the people who wore those things before are still wearing them.
- The third thing was a funny moment of clarity. We spent some time at the meeting talking about how casual Casual Friday should be. A point of agreement among everyone, including me, was that t-shirts – the kind with printing on them, like a Hanes “Beefy-T” from the 5k you did last year, or a novelty shirt that says “Old Guys Rule” – are just too casual and should not be worn even on Casual Friday with jeans.