Dressing 'Up' or 'Down'?

for the week of August 7, 2000
by Rubel Shelly

A Minneapolis-based research firm reports that 80% of the companies it surveyed cited casual dress as the most popular perk, topping both on-site childcare and flexible scheduling. It has been the trend for about a decade now for companies to permit casual dress either daily or once a week. Now there is new research to the effect that there is an emerging downside to it.

Guess what? People are abusing the privilege and sabotaging the work environment. "Business casual" has become simply "sloppy" in some workplaces. The so-called corporate image has suffered in some firms. More than that, some argue that the trend toward dressing down has gone so far that it has encouraged slacking off and fostered environments ripe for sexual harassment.

We humans seem to have an uncanny ability to live at the extremes. The once-standard business dress of suits and ties for men and skirts, hose, and dress shoes for women generated one extreme. The suits became Armani. The shoes became Manolo Blahnik. Competitive among employees and intimidating to clients, such extravagance had a negative effect on the work environment. So the idea of business casual was born. The idea was to break down hierarchical barriers and boost morale. It didn't take long, though, for attire ranging from spandex to sweat pants, cutoffs to revealing T-shirts to come to work.

It's the abuses that create the problems. Forfeiting a happy medium between extremes, the workplace is now embroiled in the discussion of how to dress. In the meanwhile, somebody needs to be getting the work done!

Sounds like the way we do family, doesn't it? Some Moms and Dads get so worked up over hair and earrings that they lose sight of what really matters with their kids. They become wardens instead of role models, critics instead of adult teachers. On the other hand, some husbands and wives are so excessive about either social climbing or making their statement against the establishment that they forget both to enjoy life and each other.

Sounds like church too, doesn't it? Some pursue reverence to the slight of relevance; thus they do church in formal, stuffy, irrelevant-to-life ways. The other extreme is to press so hard for relevance that the holy gets compromised.

The issue really isn't dress, is it? It is human nature. The ability to avoid extremes is a helpful index to a person's good judgment and solid character.

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