Ben Stein? Beuller? Anyone? Stein?
Ben Stein writes in the NYT about fashion. Or culture. Or something. It’s a strange rant; reminds me of the outrage over shaggy Beatles-esque long haircuts in the 60s from stuffed-shirt establishment types who were frightened of the world changing without them and so frothed and stormed in disgust. Ben Stein is old, out of touch, and really really shallow.
TODAY’S business workplace is not a pretty sight. No, I’m not referring to wildly overinflated C.E.O. pay, although I could be. Nor am I referring to the empty desks caused by outsourcing, although I could be referring to that, too. I am not even referring to modern cubicles and their pitiful fiberboard walls. I am referring to the men (not the women) in those cubicles.
To put it as boldly as it needs to be put, men at work these days all too often dress like total slobs, and it hurts the eyes, the spirit and, I suspect, the bottom line.
Sometimes, I get a clue of this when I go to see my lawyer and am shocked to find that men who should be wearing suits – to keep up their propriety and their sense of dignity – are wearing casual jeans and short-sleeved shirts instead. I get a whiff of it when I appear on television and see employees of major networks dressed in casual slacks and sport shirts with no ties.
But the most stunning blow came a few weeks ago when I did an industrial film on a super-advanced videoconferencing system made by a very large, very successful high-tech company. The men who worked at the company’s campus in Oregon were uniformly smart and uniformly courteous, but they dressed like children at summer camp – cut-off jeans, shorts, T-shirts and sandals without socks. I asked if this was some special dress-down day and they all looked at me as if I were insane. “No,” they said. “This is how we dress.”
I see it in airports and on airplanes. I see it when young people come to me for interviews for a summer job dressed in baggies – gangsta-style long shorts with some of their butts showing – and have no idea that they are doing anything wrong.
I see it even at some brokerage firms, although one of the saving graces of investment banks is that the men who work at them do dress like grown-ups, and even dress beautifully in many cases.
When a man wears a nice suit of clothes, he feels like a grown-up. He is dressed like Gregory Peck or Clark Gable or Gary Cooper, so, naturally he’ll want to behave like a grown-up.
Besides, men at work in casual clothes simply lack authority. We clients really do not trust a man wearing J. Crew casual wear as much as we trust a man wearing a suit from J. Press or the venerable and much-adored Brooks Brothers.
In addition, if everyone is dressed for a game of dodgeball instead of a game of “let’s draw up a will,” how will we tell the bosses from the associates? How will we possibly feel as much confidence in a man who picks an exchange-traded fund if he appears at lunch in shorts instead of a suit?
A suit says discipline, maturity, style, respect for yourself and respect for the people you are meeting. Casual clothes say – well, the word “contempt” comes to mind, although maybe it’s too harsh. Maybe just “too cool for school” is what I mean.
There is a lesson here. Men look better if they dress for work in a uniform of a suit and a shirt and tie. They feel better about themselves, if I can judge from the moods of those marines at the hospital and at the reunion. Certainly, as a citizen, I felt better about the marines being dressed as if they honored their country and their mission. I can certainly recall that when I worked in a law firm and on Wall Street, I felt a lot better about myself and took myself and my work a lot more seriously when I dressed up like a mensch.
Maybe this is old-fashioned, but there is a lot of good sense in those old fashions.