The weekend just gone was, without fear of contradiction, scorching. My sister-in-law invited us all round for a barbecue, and it was lovely being able to sit outside in the fresh air, drinking a cold beer straight from the fridge (although in the heat, the cold beer turned into what the Czechs call a tepid goat in no time at all). I’d love to be able to do the same in my own back garden, but it’s an overgrown mess. Tidying it up has been on my to-do list for ages, but getting around to it is not as easy as it sounds, in light of other priorities. Still, we all had fun in someone else’s garden, the kids pelting us (well, me) with water balloons!
I’m back in the office now, and today is even hotter than yesterday. Once again my mind turns to how uncomfortable it is. The ladies in the office have re-arranged their wardrobes and brought out all their lighter and brighter stuff to the front, and there aren’t many in the office without sandals on their feet. They look smart, but also seasonal. The rest of us have just ditched the long shirt sleeves – it’s fine if we stay in the air-conditioned office, but some of us don’t like being cooped up for hours on end.
I had a look online to see if there were any alternatives that kept within the ‘smart’ ethos but without re-using the same garb we’re in throughout the autumn and winter. The response I got was, in summary: you can’t change what you wear, but you can change what it’s made of. Instead of cotton and polyester, go for cotton-linen blends, natural fibres etc. and have everything tailored to fit perfectly. One site advised to wear an “undershirt” to absorb any sweat – how exactly will adding layers help?
I got the impression that, for men, office wear is about affluence. If what you wear looks expensive, you convey the impression that you are well-paid, ergo you must be successful, competent, professional and many more adjectives. Hence the emphasis on tailored clothing. Meeting a customer wearing genuine “George at Asda”, the sweat seeping through the cotton fibres of your shirt, conveys the complete opposite.
One source said it’s also about the effort you put in: the knots you have to tie, the buttons you have to fasten, the colours you must coordinate and so on. By taking time to “look the part”, you convey much respect to the other party as you deem them worthy of your time and effort.
On the contrary, one page, written by someone who has managed several successful on-line businesses, opined that the impression they get from your appearance lasts only until you open your mouth. I’d also argue that for a woman to express the same attitudes and achieve the same impression takes significantly less expense or effort: a smart and well-fitting dress, off the rack of a high-street retailer, won’t set them back several hundreds of pounds, doesn’t involve tying knots, and as it’s all in one piece, comes already colour-coordinated.
I guess that, when it comes to the modern workplace, the attitudes towards women’s dress codes are still comparatively young; men’s office wear, along with its attributions, has been seemingly set in stone since the French Revolution. Attitudes are changing, albeit very slowly (ties are no longer obligatory in my office), but I do believe there needs to be major reform in this area to redefine what is “acceptable”.
It’s not the 19th century any more!