Anyone who works in the world of 9-to-5 professionalism is forced to abide by a dress code with some basic rules that apply to employees all the way from Little Rock to the Big Apple. In many offices — my New Jersey law office included — the attire is set as “business casual.”
The term “business casual” is a bit abstract, but certain things are universally understood: no sequined crop tops, booty shorts, combat boots or assless chaps. But beyond the aforementioned obvious no-no’s, few things are widely presumed.
To be honest, it worries me to think about the wardrobe choices that my co-workers feel comfortable sporting in an upscale office with double glass doors, marble countertops and flat-screen monitors.
One such case being the top legal assistant, who seemed to think she could outsmart the dress code. She’s a single mother with two young children and she works like a dog, both at home and in the office. So perhaps that’s why no one reprimanded her for donning loungewear at work.
Peering over my cubicle, I caught a glimpse of her troubling ensemble: a ribbed sweater with a pair of swishy blue sweats fitted with adjustable bungee cords and toggles. Casual? Sure. Business? Not so much. She completed the look with a pair of black heels, presumably hoping the heels would balance out the sweat pants. In the law world, they would look at this lapse of judgment and persuade her to plead temporary insanity.
One might expect these sorts of fashion errors from secretaries, but the attorneys are equally guilty. For example, there is one 30-something attorney we’ll call Peter Griffin. There’s no special reason behind this moniker, other than a dumpy physique, wire-framed glasses and a one-note nasally laugh reminiscent of the Family Guy father by the same name.
Now being heavy, with the majority of the weight distributed in the midsection, poses problems for unevenly proportioned dressers everywhere. And if you’re fat and not particularly tall, well, now you’re really in a fix. Peter Griffin is one of millions of obese Americans who struggles to find work-appropriate shirts that don’t leave gaping holes between buttons.
So he buys that XXL Oxford shirt, but a new problem arises: the sleeves hang like wizard’s sleeves and the shirt is so long it could double as a minidress. The poor guy has to tuck in all of that excess fabric into his Dockers. Despite his best efforts, his shirttails still hang out over his flat backside. Shirt untucked and belt fastened below his gut, he tends to look more disheveled than dapper.
Other particularly troubling instances are the days when established attorneys pop into the office for only a couple of hours to tie up some loose ends. Many times they use these half-days as the perfect excuse to rock an old pair of Levis. After all, there’s no one who’s going to tell them to change when they’re only “popping in.”
And even though many of them make enviable salaries, so few seem to have purchased a pair of jeans since they graduated from law school in 1983. The law may not have changed much since then, but jeans have gone through some considerable revisions, including farewells to fringe, acid wash and the tapered leg. Sadly, the attorneys have not severed ties with these out-of-vogue styles.
Beyond being utterly outdated, the attorneys’ body compositions have likely changed some since graduation day. This means larger men are now squeezing into the same small pants of their glory days. Their man-parts are suffocating, creating the previously unprecedented “male camel toe.” And you thought the female version was offensive.
Ball-choking bottoms are an eyesore that pain the wearer physically and the viewer emotionally. Many a night I’ve woken up in a cold sweat recalling a nightmare featuring Chaz Bono sporting the male camel toe (shudders).
But the real problem with god-awful fashion in the workplace is that while it can occasionally disturb the sleep patterns of the innocent file clerk, it also indicates a lack of professionalism. To most, a sharp dresser on the outside means a sharp mind within. And what could be more important than that?
In the case of Unkempt v. Well-Kept, it is the judgment of this column that you shall be sentenced to a life term of unemployment should you dress like an escort instead of an esquire.
Kelsey Borresen is a junior majoring in print journalism. Her column, “Laugh-Idavit,” runs Mondays.