Business Casual

There’s nothing I hate more than dressing up.  Well, that’s probably not completely true.  I probably hate other things as much or more.  But in this moment, the Friday night before I start a new job – the first job I’ve had in ten years that requires me to dress “Business Casual”– I detest the fact that next week I will have to wear clothes that I don’t want to wear and shoes that will invariably hurt my feet.

Almost as bad as wearing the clothes, is shopping for the clothes.  I come from short stock and inherited the husky genes of the Eastern European women that came before me.  That combination precludes me from finding almost anything off the rack that fits me.  I have to hem all my pants, and even the sleeves of business suits.  Shirt length is a problem, too.  Apparently only tall persons are meant to have broad bodies.

As if that weren’t enough, I have feet that are flatter than the plains of Nebraska.  I’m supposed to wear custom orthotics to fool my feet into thinking they have an arch, but that rules out about 99% of shoes in the world.  The rigid blue plastic inserts add just enough height that my heel slips right out of the shoe with every step I take.  Add to this that the forms, made after my doctor molded “fitted polyester casting socks” to my oddly shaped feet, drop off abruptly before the ball of my foot, leaving a hard ridge that reminds me constantly of its presence via blisters.

To deal with these abhorrent problems, when I do find clothes that fit, I buy at least half a dozen of them in different colors.  Yes, I’m one of those people.  Normally, I only have to worry about buying t-shirts, jeans, and the occasional pair of sneakers, though, which is considerably more manageable than maintaining a wardrobe of Business Casual.  Years ago, when I escaped corporate America for smaller companies, I swore would never again work for anyone that forced me to dress up.  I know.  Never say never.

In high school, I played clarinet in the concert band.  Girls had to wear floor-length black polyester sleeveless dresses with a mile-long zipper up the back, underneath which were white blouses, also polyester.  We despised the puffy long sleeves and odd built-in scarf thingy that tied in a complicated way under our chins and hung like a long narrow double bib down our fronts.  Boys got to wear black pants and jackets with white button down shirts so at least they looked like they were from the century we were living in.

My sister, two years behind me, joined band when she got to high school, and when it came time for her to don the hideous outfit, she expressed her disgust like all of us had before her; she questioned why we had to wear uniforms at all.  Despite the fact that I agreed with her, in an effort to prove my superior knowledge, I answered her complaints quickly by regurgitating the reasoning I’d heard from our band director when I was a freshman.  Drum roll, please.  Uniforms create uniformity.

If we all looked alike, we would effectively disappear, and the audience would not be distracted from the music in any way.  We were not there to be individuals.  Not to mention, we were an accomplished lot for a high school band, with a director who could have wiped the floor with Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland’s Opus.  We should look the part.  Of course, I failed to acknowledge that none of these reasons explained the necessity of our particular abominable uniform.

As I write this, I have to admit that I still can’t find much fault in the reasons we had to wear uniforms in high school band, which perhaps makes the teeth of my argument against Business Casual a bit less sharp.  Nonetheless, I still seethe with irritation at the thought.

I can’t decide if being forced to dress a certain way as an adult feels more invasive than it did when I was still a teenager, or if it was just too long ago for me to recall the degree to which I felt oppressed in high school.  I do remember a sort of resignation that came with the knowledge that at least we all had to wear exactly the same thing, so I looked no worse and was no less comfortable than the person next to me.

It might not be evident based on my opinion of business dress codes, but I am actually not much of a rebel at all.  Most people that know me would say I’m quite rule-bound.  I hate being late to anything; in fact, if I’m not at least fifteen minutes early that qualifies as late.  I obey all the traffic laws and am what you would call a defensive driver.  I wait for the walk signal even when the street is empty.  I never cut in line or miss a deadline.

Early in my career, when I was first thrust into an environment in which business suits were the norm, I had the same issues with locating clothes that I do today.  I was young and fresh, though; eager to impress the experienced consultants around me, I suppressed the dress-clothes-loathing part of my personality and aimed to conform.  I even wore some sort of strap meant for people with tennis elbow to cover a tattoo on my forearm.  After I left the corporate world, I kept only one suit, and for more than a decade, it served as my all-purpose outfit for interviews, weddings, and funerals.

But, here I am, making a foray back into corporate America, forced again to comply with the policy of Business Casual.  Why, I wonder, do people still believe casual clothes aren’t appropriate for an office?  My girlfriend says dressing up shows respect for the role.  While I don’t disagree, neither do I believe dress clothes are necessary to illustrate respect.  I do understand why it makes sense in her world – the world of a public school principal.  She wants to portray authority and while formal dress cannot accomplish that alone, it can certainly bolster her image.  She also happens to be tall and thin; she can be comfortable in anything.

My issue is not with those that enjoy dressing up.  To them, I say, have at it.  But for people like me, dressing up is a form of torture.  I’m physically and mentally uncomfortable, inherently in a worse mood than I would otherwise be, and I can’t wait to get out of the office at the end of the day so I can be comfortable again.  I can guarantee Business Casual has a negative impact on my productivity, even if it is slight.

The stinger in Business Casual is, without a doubt, “Casual Friday”.  You might think it would ease the pain of having to dress up the rest of the week, but to me it simply makes an absurd rule even more preposterous.  It tells us that the corporate rule-makers acknowledge the constraint of Business Casual is loathsome; otherwise why throw in the “perk” of being able to dress down on Fridays?  Or taken another way, if the powers that be truly believe we won’t conduct ourselves appropriately in jeans, do they expect we won’t get anything done on Fridays?

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Note:  Just to clarify for regular readers that I’m not actually about to start a new job, I wrote this last summer.

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