I think I might be in the minority here, but, during my working years, I always enjoyed wearing dress slacks, a starched shirt, jacket, and tie. Some people actually joked that I probably slept in the things. In my defense, for the vast majority of my career I was required to wear business dress five days a week. There were changes over time, like when “Casual Friday” came into vogue. I would do it, but I wasn’t a big fan. Now they have something called “dress for your day,” whatever the heck that means. Presumably, it’s to assure us no one shows up at work naked.
Anyways, being the fossil that I am, I still believe that folks should dress up for work. I’m not talking about people who have real jobs: nurses, factory workers, plumbers, farmers, car mechanics, delivery people, bus drivers, etc. I’m referring to those who sit at a desk, staring at screens, having meetings, establishing strategy, or selling something. I think, in those cases, it makes sense to spruce things up a little.
Now, outside of the fact that I’m old school, I think there’s a lot of validity behind this opinion and, since I love lists, I’m going to give you my top five reasons:
- Business dress creates a line of demarcation and, unquestionably, I was always more productive in a tie. When I dressed for work in the morning, putting on my blue, gray, or occasional brown suit, some switch would flip in my brain, taking me from a “home” mode to a “it’s time to get productive” mode. Similarly, when I returned in the evening and changed into hang out clothes (for the record, at home I tend to dress like a slob), the switch would flip again, and I’d start detaching from work. The effect was never the same when my work clothes were comfortable enough to wear at family dinner.
- Casual dress is awful for men. Now, before you go all crazy that I’m a misogynistic, sexist pig, hear me out. In my experience, I could never really tell the difference between what my female colleagues wore on business dress days and what they wore on business casual days. For the most part, they always came across as professional. On the other hand, men, on casual days, often looked like they’d rolled in from all-night frat party. They’d be wearing some golf shirt or a button-down checkered thing, both looking like they that hadn’t been ironed since the Clinton administration, ill fitting khakis that, I’m sure, were pulled out from under a couch cushion, and some version of boat shoes, often without socks. Think about that – no socks at work. I mean, guys, really? So, while the women were always ready to take a meeting with a banker, the men looked like they’d overslept and slapped on their dirty laundry, frantic to make it to class on time. Speaking as a man, I recommend we all lobby for a return to business dress to save us from ourselves.
- You can express yourself with a tie. No other piece of apparel allows you show off a hobby like fishing, golf, or tennis like a tie. It can inform people about where you went to college or the name of your favorite sports team. Ties can also be conversation starters, like the once-a-year Thanksgiving turkey pattern or, and this worked well during my teaching years, a Bugs Bunny tie (I know that’s a dated reference, but you get the point.) A long time ago, we were in a Brooks Brother’s outlet store choosing some new ties. I was holding the usual mix of stripes and subdued patterns. My wife had picked some that were less conservative; they weren’t outrageous or anything, just more colorful and expressive. The sales guy looked at my three kids, one of whom was in still in a stroller. Then, after he mentally pictured me driving a mini-van (the most emasculating vehicle ever produced) and pushing a lawnmower, he responded to our good-natured debate by holding his thumb and forefinger about a half-inch apart and stating, “you have about this much sport left in your life.” We got the ties my wife had selected.
- Ties are an excellent way to allocate budget dollars. I remember a discussion during my working days when we were trying to determine the best place to spend our finite financial resources. A wise co-worker solved the problem with a simple sentence – “Push the money as far away from the neckties as possible.” It was a lesson well learned. In most companies, the people that do the real work, creating, distributing, and maintaining the product, don’t wear ties and the workplace doesn’t function without them. Make sure they have what they need to get the job done.
- Business attire demonstrates respect. Putting on “full battle dress,” as I call it, establishes with others that you value their time and that you understand a meaningful exchange is taking place. You can’t pull that off in an L.L.Bean checkered shirt, even if there is a nice V-neck sweater on top. Want to test my hypothesis? Go to a car dealership wearing a jacket and tie. Then go to one wearing an open neck shirt, with or without a sports coat. I’ll bet you get more attention in the tie.
Okay, so now that you all think I’m some ancient crustacean, I want to be clear that I’m not a supporter of dressing up in a suit for a baseball game or while you’re fly fishing (which they do in one of my favorite BBC shows, “Foyle’s War”) or at the Sunday dinner table. I just like the idea of wearing something a little special to differentiate the work day, separating it from the time you’re hanging with the neighbors during a socially distanced happy hour.
But, alas, times change. It’s probably a good thing I’m retired.