The pithy, opinionated, and sometimes brutally frank Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke challenges average guys to live a life less ordinary and embrace classic style in the broadest sense. it's time to rise above the trite, the boring, the predictable, the mundane, the banal, and the commonplace. It's time to stop behaving like barnyard animals at the trough and leave behind the perpetually sloppy man-child aesthetic of the last two decades or so. It's time to learn once again how to present and conduct yourself like an adult with some grooming, finesse, and sophistication. And here is where you can learn how.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Problem of "Business Casual" Attire. . .

This is how it's done.  Business Casual the RIGHT way, ladies and gentlemen.  Even during the summer months.  A photograph (taken by Studio B Portraits) which appeared in 425 Business Magazine in May 2017.


 
This post on the problem of business casual dress began as a quick postscript to a previous blog entry last week but quickly grew and grew as additional thoughts occurred, were developed in more detail, and revisions made.  So much so, that it seemed, eventually, like a better idea to make the initial P.S. afterthought into its own entryAre ya ready, Freddy?  Then, here we go. . . 
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Unless you actually plan to sell beach snacks and trinkets on Cozumel, become a serial barista, or greet customers at a fancy nightclub after taking out huge student loans to attend university somewhere for four or five years, plus an MBA afterward, it's really a better idea to err on the side of (somewhat) more formal work attire any time you head into the office or meet with clients.  Not just on the day of your initial job interview.  But is that a realistic and reasonable expectation in the working world of 2018?  While the answer likely depends on a number of factors, it's generally still better to be safe rather than sorry where office-related activities and career opportunities are concerned when it comes to your appearance.

On that note,  an interesting piece on the subject of worker attire appeared in The Atlantic in May 2017.  The point made at the bottom of the fourth paragraph that cultural change occurs most quickly when it is led by the people for the people, an odd shade of collectivism if you ask me, confirms a number of things I have long suspected.  How odd, though.  As a society, we are fearful of collective ideologies like socialism and communism and, instead, place great stock in our individualism, an idea that has become something of a mantra in the United States.  

However, individualism doesn't figure into things at all if we look more realistically at the picture.  We have instead succumbed to a different kind of group think and "business casualed" ourselves right into another variation of (often bedraggled) uniform compliance all on own own.  In much the same way that the anti-establishment of the late 1960s and early 1970s rejected the gray flannel suit and suburbs for, in the end, its own brand of conformity.  Remember?  The idea of tuning in, turning on, and dropping out of mainstream society took hold.  Don't trust anyone over 30, and so on, and so forth.  Adherents to this way of thinking took on the rest of the world wearing. . .  jeans.  In hindsight, and with the perspective of almost half a century in mind, this rejection of one sort of belonging for another has an almost Orwellian ring to it.

Some years later, 'round about 1984, a much admired Sociology teacher in high school once pointed out to us during class discussion one afternoon that jeans, concert t-shirts, and athletic shoes are every bit as much of a uniform as those worn by people like, for example, military personnel, fire fighters, police, or kitchen workers in the so called hospitality and service industries.  It was certainly an eye-opening observation for the young me at the time although I grasped, somewhat begrudgingly, what ol' Mr. Y. was talking about.

Returning to the present, I'll go way out on a limb and suggest that there is much more pressure to conform to the idea of the casual workplace uniform, via often largely implicit dress codes, than people might admit to themselves.  It is couched in terms of company culture, being a team player, or being good for workplace morale.  In addition, people are always quick to trot out the term individual expression when the discussion turns to how people dress themselves for the modern office setting.  But let's think about this for a moment.  Where is the individuality that people think they now have?  


A second example of how young men, who want to be taken seriously and dress for success in the 21st century office, ought to present themselves.  Everyday.



Given the demise of heavy industry here in the United States, workers may no longer be wearing boiler suits and hardhats on the shop floor along the line.  But a roomful of wrinkled, pilled, frayed, worn, stained garments in various shades of gray and oatmeal, or stretchy, workouty, beachy, and/or dance clubby attire in black displays no more individuality, in an office appropriate sense, than a line of riveters or welders in olive green Dickies workwear.   It simply illustrates how clueless too many people are now when it comes to what is appropriate for the office, and what is better left for another time.  

In addition, the business casual conundrum throws stark light onto the fact that many, when left to their own devices, cannot make the appropriate choice regarding what they wear, when, and why.  Common sense does not seem to be part of the equation somehow.  Surely, the sort of confusion and disarray that has come about since the rise of business casual can't be the professional, cohesive image firms and companies wish to project, either internally to themselves, or to the outside world.

The answer is relatively simple.  In conjunction with HR and corporate legal council where it exists (to avoid any possible legal ramifications you understand), clearly worded and illustrated dress codes should be laid out and/or clarified and distributed via the normal channels like employee handbooks. . .  along with regular memo reminders sent out as and when seasons change.  After all, we conveniently forget little things all the time.

"But I am an individual!" you might shout at the top of your lungs an inch or two from my face.  "What about my inalienable right to dress how I want?  I DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' OFFICE DRESS COOOOOOOODE!"  

Um, right.  But hang on a second.  We're missing something here.  Most workplaces aren't hiring people for their individuality whatever the official line might be.  What they really are after is people who can fit in reasonably well and get the job done.  Besides, how is turning up for work looking like a slightly sweaty, unmade bed an expression of one's individuality? 

If someone wants to choose that kind of terminally disheveled look off the clock, in his or her private life, so be it.  But work is neither private life, nor a 24/7 Carnival Cruise, nor an extended weekend in Las Vegas (with all that implies) despite what a lot of people seem to think.  Even those office jobs that are not client-facing.  And, after getting a sense of the company culture during your research, application, and eventual interview processes, a person is always free to say, "No, thank you" should the offer of a position come from one of the few remaining places where business formal attire remains the expectation.  On a related note, there are distinct advantages to dressing more formally for work than has become the norm in the last 20-odd years



For good measure, here's something for any women who might be reading this particular post, visual advice on current business casual according to advice found at AlreadyPretty.com.



Of course, the more relaxed workplace genie is probably not going back into the bottle anytime soon, and the mess that has become business casual seems to be everywhere in 2018.  Most especially within the tech and creative sectors, where people take considerable pride in seeing and presenting themselves as individual, innovative, outside-the-box thinkers.   I'll continue in my contrarian role, however, and pose an inconvenient question.  Are they really?  

Granted, people in these sectors possess different skill sets, but so do airline pilots, doctors, attorneys, stock brokers, investment bankers, meteorologists, et al, who have their own specific varieties of education, training, and related abilities.  Contrary to how many techies and creatives might perceive themselves though, ultra casual, even slovenly dress does not mean the millions of people who perform this sort of work are, somehow, lone wolves living life out there on the bloody edge according to some unspoken outlaw code like the characters portrayed by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider.  Quite the opposite if we're honest about it.

Parenthetically, it is interesting to note that 425 Business Magazine -- you'll find a link right at the top of this post -- is based right smack in the middle of 'Techlandia' in Tacoma, Washington with a presence in nearby Bellevue, Washington.  And they certainly don't seem to advocate turning up for work in a rumpled t-shirt, cargo shorts, and flip flips based on the photograph at the top of this blog entry.

Clearly, there is a need out there for information on how to dress better for (office) work, and there is a considerable amount to be found online.  No need to buy a magazine or even crack the binding of that three-ring plastic binder employee handbook you were given five years or so ago when you were hired.  Somehow, though, people still manage to confuse slovenly appearance with actual "casual" attire.  

Look again, though, at the photograph from 1986 of the young woman, who was apparently in the tech industry at the time (click on the link to the Atlantic article here).  Her clothing is hardly business formal by any stretch, yet she looks presentable.  More than that actually.  She looks pretty damn nice.  Comfortable too.  Yet there are no sprayed on jeggings, yoga tights, bra straps, belly button, or thong in sight.  My, my.  How far we have fallen in the last 30 years.  It calls to mind this particular segment from the TV series The Office that parodies our now rigid adherence to the notion of the casual workplace



 Here is another photograph, also from AlreadyPretty.com, suggesting the kinds of items that women in Academia, my own sphere, might do well to wear.  Three of these combinations of garments might also work in all but the most formal (Boardroom Formal) business settings.
 


There are clearly some who understand what I'm talking about and advise more careful consideration, a modicum of good taste, and restraint when it comes to dressing for work.  There is even fairly recent research out there that suggests people dressed in what we call business formal attire enjoy distinct advantages when it comes to functioning seamlessly within the business world.  

Regardless of your view, and there are certainly many (if not most) nowadays, who come down on the side of the casual workplace and will take issue with the points I lay out here, people would do well to think about what their appearance suggests, and make a more consistent effort to present themselves better when it comes to dressing for public consumption.  Certainly while in the company of managers, directors, supervisors, and team leaders as well as co-workers, (potential) clients, and anyone else even remotely related to your time on the job.  And who knows?  An added benefit of dressing better for work might be that it reduces the tendency to suffer from imposter syndrome, a self-defeating state of mind to which millennials, especially, are prone.  

On that particular note, looking more like a capable white collar professional in appropriate professional clothing could actually help people, who suffer from this kind of thing, to feel more like they belong in an office setting.  You've got to dress the part, walk the walk, and talk the talk. . .  regardless of whatever impressive educational credentials you might possess.  Contrary to what so many people have been led to believe in recent decades, the office ain't the time or place to turn up looking like you plan to flop down on the floor in front of the TV on a Saturday morning to watch cartoons while you eat Honeycomb cereal straight from the box.  Save the fleeces, hoodies, pajama bottoms, fuzzy Pittsburgh Steelers slippers, and your favorite Star Wars 'binkie' for another time.  Items like these do not convey professionalism, attention to detail, or getting things done efficiently.  They don't belong at the office.

For all of that, the opportunity to turn up for work looking like a rumpled mess who rolled out of bed five minutes ago -- along with bagel crumbs down your front, cream cheese schmear still visible at the corner of your mouth, and coffee breath -- is, in many instances now, a choice you are free to make.  But is that the most informed, forward thinking course of action when it comes to your career -- or your current job at least -- and your life?  You make the call.  

-- Heinz-Ulrich



To wrap up, part of a graphic that originally appeared on the Real Men Real Style website.  Notice what's missing?  Right.  Nowhere do you see those crummy looking hoodies, flip-flops, water sandals, beanies, cargo pants/shorts, or stupid t-shirts that attempt irony.  Come on people!  Let's get our collective act together.

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