The axiom goes that “clothes make the man.” If you wish to be taken seriously in business, if you wish to be regarded as a professional, if you want to be a success, you simply must dress the part. These ideals have been repeated ad nauseum since I was a child, but they don’t seem to hold much water these days. Fashion is an industry that constantly tries to redefine itself and it does so by measuring society’s tastes. The problem is that tastes change faster than the population of rabbits. More and more styles of clothing fill more and more shops from Wal-Mart to upscale Rodeo drive boutiques as the volume of apparel continues to climb. The problem is that despite the sheer number of clothing available, no one is actually dressing well anymore.
I work in an office that has adopted the “business casual” dress code. My VP has mandated that slacks and polo style shirts for men are the minimum acceptable dress for work and, of course business suits are the model for management and senior leadership. I have suits, sports coats and a wide selection of ties that I wear to work many days of the week, but I also were polo shirts and Dockers when the mood strikes. I wear these outfits walking by other employees, typically newly hired, garbed in flip-flops, halter tops and cut-off jeans. Fortunately, most of these individuals are sent home to change once their supervisor sees their attire. But that isn’t the problem. The problem is that they actually thought this was going to be acceptable in the first place.
People just don’t dress up anymore. In fact, most people don’t bother to dress appropriately. Society has determined that it is perfectly fine to wake up and leave the house wearing what amounts to pajamas. People stroll through malls and shop at Wal-Mart wearing gym shorts, torn plain white (often soiled) T-shirts and ratty sneakers—or worse—barefoot. Many guys have an inflated opinion of their underwear and love to show them off by wearing their pants below their buttocks.
When we went to school, we had to wear long pants—jeans typically—and a t-shirt and socks and shoes (although during the Don Johnson craze more and more guys skipped the socks). We could not wear shorts and we could not wear bare midriff shirts. Girls were sent home if their belly button was exposed or if their skirts (or kulats) were more the two inches above the knee. This was the dress code. No, we didn’t have to wear uniforms (thankfully) but we did have to dress—and here is the key word—appropriately. Kids don’t dress this way anymore.
When I was a child, my mother insisted that we dress in our finest clothes before going to church. I wore a navy suit with a clip-on tie (I didn’t learn how to tie a proper necktie until I was 19 years old and I still cannot tie a bowtie) with patent leather shoes every Sunday. As soon as we got home from church, the first order of business was changing clothes and hanging the suit up (which I rarely ever did right).
Propriety has gone out the window these days, it seems. I was in church this past Sunday and the youth minister addressed the congregation. He looked to be about 25 or so years old, which I suspect is important in relating to his charges. The youth typically all sit together in a section near the front of the sanctuary while their parents sit back further. Some of these kids—girls mostly—dress relatively nicely for church: dresses or modest skirts and blouses. The boys, on the other hand, pretty much all dress in jeans, sneakers and t-shirts looking like they were planning on working in the yard. I wouldn’t have worn those clothes to school in my youth, but here they are—in church of all places—dressed like clothes don’t matter, and the worst part is that this new youth minister is dressed exactly like them. He even had an empty lanyard dangling from his belt. His jeans were ripped and torn and he wore a t-shirt and sneakers. A minister…at his place of business…in God’s house…dressed like a child whose parents never bothered to teach him the value of dressing appropriately. You would think a minister would set an example rather than follow a trend, and if this is the example he is setting, then the problem is even worse than I thought.
It’s just sad.
These kids are the future adults who are going to be entering the workforce and showing up for their first day on the job wearing shorts and flip-flops and getting sent home to change. Chances are they won’t understand the problem with their attire or why their boss doesn’t approve. We need to get back to the days of dressing up for church. Dress up to go to a nice restaurant for dinner. Dress up to find (and keep) a job. Another axiom I subscribe to is dress for the position above the one you want. No one wants to hire a slob, and no one should want to be thought of as one.