April 24, 2004

Clothes Make the Man (and Woman)

LOUISIANA HAS LONG BEEN KNOWN for its miserable education system, shocking levels of criminality and a generally abysmal quality of life. So we were quite glad to learn recently that its civic leaders are taking Bold Action to correct the wretched state of affairs there. Namely, a state legislator has proposed a bill which would ban people from wearing low-slung pants.

No, we are not kidding, and neither is Rep Derrick Shepherd, the bill's sponsor. Under his proposal, people would face up to six months in jail and a $500 fine if they wore their pants in a lewd and laviscious manner:

"I'm sick of seeing it," said Shepherd, a first-term legislator. "The community's outraged. And if parents can't do their job, if parents can't regulate what their children wear, then there should be a law."

The bill would be tacked onto the state's obscenity law, which restricts sexual activity in public places and the sale of sexually explicit items.

According to the Associated Press, Rep Shepherd comes from some place called Jefferson Parish (formerly Jefferson Airplane). As this happens to be near the city of New Orleans, we can't help but wonder whether Rep Shepherd lives in a very remote part of Jefferson Starship Parish. After all, New Orleans is not known for modesty in anything; and if people there were to tone down various forms of naughty behavior, the pressing issue of the way people wear their pants might prove less of a concern.

But we do not mean to be overly critical of Rep Shepherd's proposal. After all, we do think he is on to something when he says this wanton disregard for proper pants-wearing is troublesome. In fact, we will go further and say we have never understood why people insist on wearing their pants so that nothing is left to the imagination. It is an unseemly and gauche trend, and one which we hope soon warrants attention from the fashion police.

Now, we can assure you that as a former resident of Los Angeles, we are not unaccustomed to seeing such immodesty in dress. Indeed, it was a practical impossibility for us to go out in the evenings and find people our age half-dressed for the occasion. We were especially amazed when we would see men our age engaging in such practices, as we never thought it conducive to the mating process for a man to advertise he is an ill-educated lout incapable of coordinating one decent outfit. After all, as the old saying has it, clothes make the man.

Of course, in the interest of fairness, we should note that as a writer, we are prone to not caring all that much about such things -- even if we are the type who always wears a collared shirt and owns approximately zero pairs of jeans. Still, that said, we have had enough of the social graces pounded into our head so that we know when to dress properly should the occasion call for it.

If we know we have an extremely important work meeting, for instance, we'll wear a suit. We would say we consider ourselves quite fortunate that we must only do so on the rarest of occasions; but if we worked in an industry such as accountancy, we would realize that one ought wear formal business dress as a matter of course.

It would appear that at least one person in the United Kingdom did not get this memorandum. And because Britain has fallen quite far from its heyday, people in Old Blighty are taking the wretched affair seriously:

A century after Emmeline Pankhurst and her suffragettes began their struggle for universal equality, a 36-year-old lawyer went to court yesterday to fight for the right to wear a short skirt or expose a bare midriff in the office.

The case is expected to have implications for what all women wear to work and could lead to the abolition of the corporate dress code.

Maxine Kelly, who is bringing the legal challenge, was one of 50 women working at a Midlands law firm to be sent a memo last year forbidding them from wearing dresses and skirts that were "revealing" or "suggestive" ...

... Yesterday Ms Kelly, who is suing the Burton-on-Trent law firm Advance Legal for sex discrimination and victimisation, said: "I was astounded to receive a memo which I saw as a clear affront to women. I made my objections known and I feel this led to my being dismissed unfairly."

Ms Kelly was particularly angered that the memo only applied to women and that a few weeks later the men in the office were sent an e-mail giving them permission to loosen their ties and pull up their shirt sleeves in hot weather.

The case - adjourned yesterday to be heard later in the year at a Leicester employment tribunal - is the latest in a long line of sex discrimination claims brought by professional women who feel that their conservative employers are out of step with modern working practices.

The first paragraph in this story is just delicious -- so much so that one wonders if the writers behind it were consciously aware of the point it makes. (We think they were). After all, there is a bit of difference between being denied the right to vote and being denied the privilege to wear whatever one wants to the office, even if said outfit is improper for an office envrionment.

Before we continue, we should note that when it comes to clothes outside of the office, we have never personally been one to judge people badly on the clothing they wear. Certainly not women, at any rate; we are more far more prone to having a knee-jerk reaction to an underdressed man, or if we notice that we ourselves are underdressed for some social occasion. However, we will fully admit that when it comes to professional situations, we are a bit less tolerant. Sex, as we see it, has no place whatsoever in an office environment; and we are rather unimpressed with clumsy attempts to change things.

To expand on that, we believe that in an environment in which men and women must work together, sex should be taken out of the equation entirely. No distractions, no suggestive remarks or actions, no horseplay, no asking a coworker out to dinner, nothing. A firm's employees are there to work and toil and suffer accordingly, not play footsie during the Q3 earnings meeting.

Now, given that, it stands to reason that men and women face different challenges in this regard. After all, when it comes to wardrobe, men have much fewer options than women do when it comes to office wear; and a man's sex appeal will not be affected if he wears a suit and tie to the office one day and a collared shirt and khakis on the next. It just won't -- but more on this in a bit.

However, because men and women are fundamentally different when it comes to sexual attraction, a female office worker can enhance her sex appeal by wearing certain outfits. Women figured this male weakness out a long time ago. And if the worker in question is particularly striking, she can prove quite a distraction to her colleagues by wearing such things.

What women like Ms Kelly do not realize -- although we should note we think most women have also figured this out -- is that since 1970, many men have evolved defenses against this. For most professional men know full well that in business, sex can be used as a weapon against them; and in response, they have established a hard-wired disdain for such tactics. As such, a woman who dresses improperly for work, even if she has no ulterior motive for doing so, will instantly set off alarm bells in the brain of a male client, colleague or vendor.

At the very least, improper dress will make it even more difficult for her to accomplish her aims; at worst, it will cause a man to wrongly discount her, as he assumes she is making up with her outfit what she lacks in competency. Besides, there is one other clear and present danger with such a strategy -- what if the client, colleague or vendor is female?

We would submit that this does not help one sell widgets or win clients.

Hence, a dress code which enforces certain standards among employees is appropriate. One will note the firm mentioned above required its male workers to wear jacket and tie to the office; one would also imagine that its dress code for men forbids visible tattoos, earrings, and other accessories. Indeed, we have known some offices in which men are directed to wear only white shirts with their jackets and ties. Again, the reasoning is simple -- in business, men are judged by a certain wardrobe standard, and differently from women. And in business, a man who wears a jacket and tie to a client meeting will automatically gain more respect than a man who wears shirt-and-slacks.

However, we are glad to report that despite all this, things really aren't all that dire for women. For a woman who dresses conservatively and fittingly for business will find she makes an excellent impression on others -- particularly if, as the saying goes, she has it. And if the woman adds into the mix an acute competency in her line of work, we daresay that for her, the sky will be the limit.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at April 24, 2004 11:37 AM | TrackBack

i think, this new law, is really stupid, we should be allowed to wear what we want, after all we are paying for it. if you want us to stop wearing it why is it still on sale? it won't make any difference, people want to look good, and will buy clothes that reveal you. if they buy it, then obviously they'll wear it, would you throw away hard earned money like that?

Posted by: Hayley at May 15, 2004 08:58 AM