I'm pretty sure that in my last column I mentioned a new job. I don't have time to check, but let's assume I did.
When I first started said job, one of my questions was, "What's the dress code?" I had, of course, been wearing suits to my interviews, but at my last job, the dress code had been "no shorts, no hats" unless you were the I.T. guy, in which case it was "clothes."
The answer I got was, "We're pretty conservative here. We're in summer office casual right now, but after Labor Day, all the men have to wear ties."
Great. The last tie I bought, aside from the one that went with the single tailored suit I owned, might have been from my college days. It was from Structure. I still own it, of course, and am diligently waiting for the day that coffee cups with Italian script on them come back into style. I'm guessing that's about two days after the world ends in 2012.
This dress code was reiterated a month later when I was invited to "Lunch with the President." Well, the president of the company, anyway; what are the odds of getting G.W.B. anywhere near a publishing company?
During this lunch, held once or twice a year for new hires, the president - the "Friedman" in "Lebhar-Friedman" - spoke at length about the company, the benefits of working for the company (10 sick days per year!), and his visions for the future of the company (Internet, go figure).
He also spoke on company policy, including the dress code. I'm paraphrasing, but in essence what he said was, "I like people at the company to dress like they're running a business. Besides, it's my company, and anyone who doesn't like it can sod off." As I said, paraphrasing. Actually, I think what he actually said was, "It's my policy and I make no bones about it. I don't even like summer office casual, but that was forced on me." He also, for the record, doesn't like Friday summer hours. Given, the people who work on my publication have been there until 6:00 every Friday, so I'm not really sure who's leaving early, but it's not us.
Anyway, yeah. Ties after Labor Day. Great.
In that I was hired in the middle of June, I figured I had some time. Which, in my world, translates to "let it sort of weigh on you in an unsettling, back of your mind sort of way until the very last minute."
In other words, the first day back after Labor Day, I wore my suit pants with the one shirt and newish tie I owned, and, on my lunch hour, I went across the street to Syms. For those of you not in Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, or Virginia, Syms is an "off-price clothing store," as they say on their website.
Basically, they claim to have deals going with a number of wholesalers in which they get clothes for less and then pass on the savings to the customer (as opposed to simply decreasing the markup, as a number of places do). In other words, nice-but-cheap pants, shirts, jackets, suits, and ties. And if any of you know what my finances are like, you'll know that I prefer "cheap" to "not so cheap." Also, I prefer "pretty" to "not so pretty" and "slutty" to "not so slutty."
On Tuesday I bought a pair of pants, a shirt, and two ties. I don't know the name of the guy who helped me with the ties, but he's helped me twice since then, and he's brilliant. I should get him something for Columbus Day. On Wednesday, I bought another shirt and a tie. Thursday, I bought another tie that I wanted to match with a different combination of the pants/shirts I suddenly owned. And the thing is this: I'm starting to enjoy the process.
I know some of you are likely aghast. Some of you go to work in jeans and T-shirts, or shorts and tube tops, or kilts and fishing vests, or whatever. I never wanted to wear a tie. I once claimed, and this was maybe two years ago, that I didn't trust anyone who actually enjoyed wearing a tie to work. I hated the concept. I hated the feel. I hated the corporate image. I hated the idea of wearing anything "uncomfortable." I might have been wrong.
First off, I've discovered that it wasn't ties that I hated. It was shirts with collars that didn't fit me. I have a big neck, as it turns out. I wear a size 18. I don't have long arms, however (and thank God for that; with all my body hair, I'd look more like the missing link than I already do). It's tough to find a shirt that fit my neck and didn't also look, as was once observed, like I was dressing up in my father's clothes. I now own four shirts in my size. Yippee.
Second, there's something to be said for looking a little, for lack of a better word, natty. I get on the train in the morning, I go to lunch, I walk through Bedford-Stuyvesant to my friend's apartment, I stand a little taller (and at my height, that's important). Well, actually, in the walk through Bed-Stuy, I try to shrink into the walls, but you get my meaning.
And I think I find myself agreeing with Mr. Friedman. I'm actually enjoying dressing like a professional adult (which, technically, regardless of the stupid, immature things I may do, I am). The tie is not a noose; cuffed pants tend to drag a lot less in puddles than jeans; and I look horrible in a tube top.
By the way, you women out there, as near as I can tell, there's no difference between office casual and regular business. I'm pretty sure the women woke up on the Tuesday following Labor Day and not a single one of them thought, "I have to start dressing differently today." Or, if they did think it, they didn't actually do so. Correct me, please, if I'm wrong.
I'm not really sure that I have a lesson to impart here. It was just both exciting and unsettling to discover that I might be growing up a bit and I wanted to share. I guess deep down, I've always wanted to be one of those guys at the Thursday evening happy hour wearing the business dress, looking like whatever they did, it was likely that they made more money than you. Now, if I were ever actually to make it to a happy hour, I'd look like them. Which is to say that they might be full of crap about the money-making part; I'm still poor, I just wear ties to work.
And now, as I think about it, I do have a tidbit of wisdom to impart. Get ready. Here it comes:
For those of you who, like me, hated the thought of wearing a tie all day, try a larger collar.
Yeah. That's a good lesson.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
9.10.07 @ 11:24a
It's an excellent lesson, Adam. Proper sizing makes a world of difference, and just making certain your collar is wide enough (I, too, have a neck like a wrestler) changes you from "stuffed into ill-fitting clothes that make you feel like a 6-year-old dressed up for a family wedding" to "comfortable and professional." Now if only I could learn to get a proper tie knot on the first try...
9.10.07 @ 11:45a
The same thing applies to women's clothing. The fit makes all the difference. Of course, it doesn't matter what size I currently wear--it's always the size that the store is out of.
Why buyers think that 90% of the women in the US wear small, or sizes 4 to 10 is beyond me. You'd think they'd get a clue at the end of the season when those are the only sizes they have left over. For all the buyers out there: buy greater numbers of M, L, XL and 14 to 20!
9.10.07 @ 12:44p
Maybe it's just a retailing pipe dream.
9.10.07 @ 5:21p
Heh, Adam, the only ties I'm ever gonna wear are ones I've stolen... I mean, convinced people to give me. Including a nifty little Brooks Brothers tie that I re-gifted to an old roommate.
9.10.07 @ 11:41p
I just have to say that I laughed pretty hard abnout the Columbus Day gift bit. That was hilarious. I know I know... I amuse easily and over the weirdest things.
9.11.07 @ 11:45p
"am diligently waiting for the day that coffee cups with Italian script on them come back into style."
I just felt Jonathan Maack's sharp intake of breath, all the way from Philly.
Men getting properly fitted for a collar is as essential as women getting properly fitted for a bra.
I'll tell you the difference between women's office casual and regular business: high heels.
And I hate them.
If the line of something can only be true with the high heel lift, then it's too dressy for my day-to-day business lifestyle.
I'm not fond of dresses, either, or skirts, for business wear. Never have been. It's just not practical. I prefer the tailored trouser look of Katherine Hepburn, with the seamed shirts and form-fitting pants. I love a crisp white shirt and nice slacks, comfortable Clark's or my Italian leather slip-ons and some funky jewelry.
That's my business attire.
And anything that has to be dry-cleaned on a regular basis is just out of the question. I learned that lesson the hard way. I'll hand-wash a blouse, but dry-cleaning? Thank goodness for Dryel. Matt (the official ironer in our household) wants me to check out that new non-wrinkle spray. I've used some of that stuff when I travel, and it's okay, but not the best.
I've often questioned the "attitude of professionalism" through clothing. That's like saying if I'm barefoot, I can't think properly.
But, in much of business, there's a need for propriety, and the first impression is usually what establishes this. So, tie and button-down collars it is!
Adam, I'm sure you're quite dashing all dressed up.
9.12.07 @ 12:09a
Oh, I am.
And to be fair, you're pretty tall. I don't think that you suffer from the lack of heels. Plus, if you're wearing a pantsuit, then you also don't need to worry about the heels for calf-defining measures.
I've watched too much Bravo at work, apparently. I need to find Tim Gunn and have a little chat.
And as far as "attitude of professionalism," I think it's more about the casual atmosphere that can be internalized by casual clothing. I do feel more professional in a tie than in jeans and a T-shirt. I don't know that it affects my work, but subconsciously, I might feel less like slacking. Might.
9.12.07 @ 8:30a
You'd be stunning in a potato sack. Me, I'm learning to work with what I've got and reshape it with clothes and exercise.
Guys have it easy--most of their clothes are sized by a real measurement. I guess women's sizes grew out of some sort of taboo on giving a woman's measurements in public (only our seamstresses and bra fitters are supposed to know, apparently). Women's sizes are not even consistent within a particular designer--I bought two pairs of Evan Picone pants recently...in two different sizes. However, since they're actually long enough to look perfect with moderate heels, I don't care. I'm not as tall as Tracey, but I'm too tall for average length pants not to look short. Who made the decision that women who wear plus sizes (not much longer!) have 29" inseams?, but women who where regular sizes have 30 or 31" inseams? Does being Rubenesque make a woman have shorter legs? If a clothing manufacturer can make men's pants in a variety of waist and leg lengths, why can't they do the same for women? Clearly, the ability to think logically and use common sense is not a requirement to design clothing.
I'm with Tracey about the dress/skirt thing. I'm a conservative when it comes to these items, and can't go without hosiery (the joys of having more Irish blood than Native American--all that fair, fair skin). In the summer, pants are cooler than stockings. In heavily air-conditioned offices they are warmer, too. Bare legs in a PA winter are not much warmer than in an Iowa winter, either. I tell you, this freelance gig I've got going at the moment is wonderful. I can start work in PJ's in the mornings and no one cares. But if I have to start attending meetings on webcam, I'm in trouble. ;)
Darn typos--Joe, add a preview panel, PLEASE!!!!
dr. jay gross
9.13.07 @ 7:00a
Adam - Finding a 'great fit' is so much easier today than it used to be. Imports, synthetics, and the birth of gigantic box stores have changed the landscape. The dark ages; 60's, & 70's, forgot about anyone that wasn't average. Besides, making everything out of natural fibers is challenging. I can fully identify with you. Fast forward....when you find clothing that fits your ego will feel great and your closet will bulge with new finds!
9.19.07 @ 6:18p
People who work at funeral homes should have a certain dignified dress code. The rest of us should just cover our nakedness sufficient not to break any laws. I wouldn't wear high heels if some idiot were actually willing to pay me to do so. Of course, I can spout off now that I'm retired and can wear my nightgown all day some days if I want to.
9.20.07 @ 9:53a
Well, if it's a choice between wearing a tie or not receiving a paycheck, I'll gladly wear the tie.