Monday, February 16, 2009

The Return to Uniformity

I may be getting a little ahead of the curve, but it would surely be a good thing if people in the business world went back to dressing professionally every day.

Thus, I happily second Lucy Kellaway's analysis in today's Financial Times. Link here.

Kellaway observes that business people in London are dressing more formally. As she says: "The casual look, which we used to celebrate as a sign of egalitarianism and unstuffiness, now looks sloppy."

And sloppy dress might well denote sloppy thought. Or worse. Kellaway explains how casual dress was discredited: "...we are starting to suspect that a man who is casual with his clothes may be casual with our money."

Kellway also suspects that people adopted casual dress because they thought it was going to fire up their creativity. Or make them into Bill Gates.

Surely, this fetishization of creativity is a vestige of the 1960s counterculture. I suspect that it was immolated on the altar of phrases like: creative accounting.

Aren't we in trouble now because bankers were creating something out of nothing? Isn't that the ultimate form of human creativity?

People adopted casual dress because it was a way to rebel against militarism. Men's suits, for example, derive from military uniforms. And uniforms denote a position on a status hierarchy and membership in a group. They were rejected because they did not enhance anyone's feelings of being a unique, autonomous individual.

In the process we became a more fragmented society, one where the good of the individual trumped the good of the group. For some people this offered the freedom to write lyric poetry; for others it meant that they could go out and do what they pleased, even, and especially, with other people's money.

And yet, in time of trouble, when we need to band together to overcome our problems, we do not need more artists and pot throwers; we need serious people who are dedicated to the survival of our institutions.

I would add that the return to more formal dress will, at the least, cure a strange form of cultural dissonance.

Wasn't it strange that Mom and Dad were going to work dressed casually while their children were being sent to school neatly dressed in uniforms?

Parents who insisted that their children wear uniforms-- because it made the educational experience more serious-- might have applied the same principle to their own daily work.

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