Workplace Professionalism vs Apparel Anarchy

By. Matt Monge

Does wearing a tie, in and of itself, make someone more professional?

If I weren’t such a nerd about workplace stuff, I’d be wondering where the heck this idea came from that says that one’s professionalism is 99.38% made up of what you wear, with the other fraction of a percentage point being eaten up by tattoos, facial hair, the presence or lack thereof of piercings, and so on.

Now before you tar and suit-and-tie me, I’m not saying I have a problem with people dressing up for work, or even with organizations requiring their employees to dress up for work. It really doesn’t matter all that much to me. I think it’s been blown up into this huge deal. Want to wear nice jeans and a shirt? Fine. Feel like you work better in slacks and a tie? Go for it. Do your best work in a speedo? Find somewhere else to work.

What’s begun to irk me is this notion that professionalism (doing big air quotes when I say “professionalism”) rests entirely or even mostly on the fabric content of someone’s outfit. I mean, if I wanted to get all fancypants about it, I think an argument could be made that the wearing-a-tie-and-looking-just-so thing is a social construct that could potentially (notice I didn’t say will) encourage further social stratification since that’s how all this noise got started in the first place, but the nerd in me digresses.

OK, fine. You twisted my arm. I’ll digress. Since way, way back, clothing has been used in many different ways, including the aforementioned social stratification. You could go almost as far back in history as you want, and you don’t have to limit your search to workplaces. You can look there, but don’t forget to look in the religious realm and society at large as well.

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