Dressing Your Station


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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51 Responses

  1. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I’ve been contemplating my own posts on what constitutes being an adult based on the Whither Babbit discussion.

    I wonder how much of the dress and career thing is psychological and connected. For example, I have a friend whose father was a scientist. I believe he was physicist. She once posted a picture on-line that her father drew. It was a purposefully childish scrawl that said he was a mad scientist and working on a death ray. I think even the the most self-effacing and light-hearted lawyer would find that to be unprofessional. Lawyers do believe in the “nobility of the law” to varying degrees. Even the most cynical of them, even when they disagree ideologically on which side is on the good and the light and which side is not. Engineers and scientists often seem to have a bit of a Peter Pan streak to them.

    I’ve made comments before about how our generation (I think we are the same age or close enough) thinks embracing your inner-child is constantly. We seem to exist in a state of perpetual nostalgia. I see buzzfeed lists on our childhood all the time posted on facebook. Stuff like “Only a girl who grew up in the 80s would understand this….” I wonder how much of this is a product of having our young adulthoods shaped by 9/11 and The Great Recession.

    Gen X and younger are the first generations who grew up with more casual clothing. We grew up with jeans being acceptable for everyone. While the idea of jeans as a fashion item started in the 1930s, it really did not pick up until the Boomers. Many people from the Greatest and Silent generations did not wear jeans because it was associated with being very poor and/or prison wear.

    So all this stuff for dressing the part is hard. Lawyers and Wall Street types are possibly going to be more attracted to a very nice suit and shoes than engineers and scientists because they exist in professions where such clothing is still required. Maybe people who become lawyers and Wall Street types would like that stuff naturally and engineers otherwise. And so on…Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

      Actual question on the witness stand, to an IBM lawyer, “Are you the Witch King of Angmar?”

      And we’re not even getting into the ventriloquist dummies!Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumber in reply to NewDealer says:

      Considering that engineers and scientists do useful work, I don’t mind that they are Peter Pannish. Lawyers and Wall Streeters are parasites who peddle bullshit so they have to put on their bullshit outfit.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to ScarletNumber says:

        Ohhh a classic swipe against lawyers that usually happens until someone needs a lawyer. How edgy and original!

        Also how much of funding for science and engineering comes from Wall Street? Where would it come from without Wall Street?

        Lawyers do all sorts of work. You have lawyers who write Wills and Trusts, lawyers who represent immigrants seeking asylum (like LeeEsq), lawyers who prosecute criminal defendants, lawyers who defend those accused of crime, lawyers who fight for civil liberties like the folks at the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center. Lawyers who try to save people from the Death Penalty like the good folks at the Innocence Project. Lawyers who represent victims of discrimination and other injuries.

        So please sir, educate yourself before making statements. It betrays science and engineering and education to make statements like the one you did.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumber in reply to ScarletNumber says:

        @newdealer YawnReport

    • Avatar JG New in reply to NewDealer says:

      Another reason why we scientists tend to dress more casually is because we often like to work in laboratories – you know, where there’s chemicals, body fluids, grease, equipment, etc. Have you ever been in a physics research lab (not a teaching lab?). A number I’ve visited look more like machine shops than anything else. Or outdoors, where the stresses on clothing are about as severe. I am not going to risk ruining my hand-made suit in an accidental spill, tear, burn. Lawyers are not usually present in such environs.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to JG New says:

        Good points. I think they do require different modes of dress on the job but it also transfers to off-work attire usually.

        The Mad Scientist sign observation still holds.Report

  2. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    I’m not sure it comes down to age-appropriateness. Appearance has always sent a message to the people we meet. A better appearance is just message control. As someone who has to look professional, there are only a few guidelines you’ll ever need.

    Bill Evans Trio at the Village Vanguard, 1961. With the exception of the narrower tie, anyone would look good in those suits today. You could even get away with the narrow tie. Some things remain appropriate forever. A good white cotton shirt. Shined shoes. Pants that fit. Tailoring isn’t just for fussy persons. They’re your clothes, make sure they fit.

    Worn out clothes are for cleaning the basement and changing the oil. They’ve never looked good on anyone.Report

    • Avatar Cascadian in reply to BlaiseP says:

      In the mountains the dress is the reverse. One shouldn’t trust the climber with the shinny new toys. The only people with the nice new stuff are the ones that don’t belong. Or as the saying in our house goes, “I can tell by your boots that your a cowboy”.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Cascadian says:

        I’ve known climbers. They do not use old climbing ropes and worn cams. Maybe they don’t have all those fancy tooristic toys but that’s rather beside the point. As for cowboys and boots and horses, there’s an expression by me “All hat and no horse.” Anyone who wanders into my world with shit on his boots can walk right back out again. I have no patience for a slob who can’t shine his shoes.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Cascadian says:

        How many roadapples do you see in your day to day world, Blaise?
        Riding boots don’t get shined. Neither do hiking boots.

        Maybe if you’re gonna show, you shine your boots.
        But you also spend a full day fixing the horse’s mane and tail.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Cascadian says:

        Out here in the Wisconsin countryside, what with all these Amish horses, road apples are awfully common. I don’t hold with this Common Man schtick, it’s all so much Nashville bullshit. I know common men. They have some respect for themselves, enough to leave their shitty boots on the porch and not track it into their wives’ kitchens. The Amish keep immaculate horses and immaculate houses. They’re the real thing and the country music bumpkins are as fake as a three dollar bill.

        A man who won’t shine his shoes doesn’t wipe his ass any too well, either.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Cascadian says:

        Is it just me, am I the only person who doesn’t notice till they’re out of the barn (and often in a car) that they even stepped in manure?

        I take my shoes off when I get home, and I’d do that in a business if that’s the custom. Indoor shoes, and outdoor ones.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Cascadian says:

        @Cascadian : Look, you live in the mountains. I live in rural Wisconsin. Dairy farms, lots of Amish, more working horses than most counties in the USA. Some farmers around here are slobs. Trash all over, dead cars and tractors and whatnot in their yards.

        The Amish aren’t slobs. They have their forms of subtle one-upsmanship with each other. Mostly it’s their horses and the appearance of their farms and workshops. Meticulous people. They’re what America used to be, once upon a time.

        Most farmers aren’t slobs. Maybe up there in the mountains, there are certain ways of conveying experience and gravitas. Maybe the tourists run around with new frames — there are tourists here too. Our economy depends on them coming around and gawping at the Amish and drinking our wonderful beer and catching some fish. If they buy a fancy new fishing lure or a wheel of cheese or a piece of Amish furniture, that’s money in the bank for a local guy. Sneering at these guys because they’ve bought new equipment — people around here don’t sneer at the tourists. If they bought the good stuff, they probably went down to the outfitter with their guides — who told them to buy that stuff. No shame in being a noob at anything.

        There’s no nodding to authenticity. There’s just what the brothers call “keeping it real.” Avoiding pretence in all its forms is hard work. It’s tricksy, confusing a thing with its purpose. Shitty boots doesn’t make you a real horseman or a real dairyman or a real anything. Just means your boots are shitty. Maybe you need to do like our dairymen around here and get a big pair of wellingtons that come up to the knee, so when you’re done mucking the barn, you can run the hose over them and get the shit off ’em.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumber in reply to Cascadian says:

        @blaisep 3:03 pm Your anaolgy comparing shoe shining to ass wiping is risible.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumber in reply to Cascadian says:

        …says the person who can’t type “analogy”.

        ScarletNumber regrets the errorReport

    • Avatar Cascadian in reply to BlaiseP says:

      @blaisep The point is they have shitty boots. In your world it might be an ancient well crafted briefcase or barristers bag, an old fountain pen, but nearly every endeavor has an element or two which are better worn or antique to show a genuine belonging or past, an aesthetic nod to authenticity.

      In my world the aesthetics are the opposite of yours. The climber with the new shiny rack, neophyte at best. The middle age couple in the Bogner ski suit, tourists that should be given ample room on the slopes. If your lost ask the guy with the long salt and pepper hair and worn Arcteryx jacket, he’s been here a while.

      Of course, neither is right in and of themselves… context.Report

    • Avatar Cascadian in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Um, there’s not a lot of actual feces laying about where I live. I was commenting on the different ways dress signals. There are contexts where the shined shoes is preferred there are also contexts where the more wear the better (worn not ill-kept). Nothing that should really be that challenging or revolutionary.Report

    • Avatar NoPublic in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Some things remain appropriate forever. A good white cotton shirt. Shined shoes. Pants that fit. Tailoring isn’t just for fussy persons. […] A man who won’t shine his shoes doesn’t wipe his ass any too well, either.

      In other words, you’re comfortable with a certain mode of dress and believe those who don’t conform are less than in some way. Mighty white of you.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to NoPublic says:

        I’m comfortable around strangers who just will interpret a pressed shirt and shined shoes in a highly predictable manner. I am mighty white, until I start speaking French at which point everyone knows I’m from Africa. Africans, no fools they, are sharp dressers, too. Europeans, Japanese, oh just goddamn Ever E Buddy knows what a pressed shirt and shined shoes and trousers that fit mean. Even people who don’t wear them know what they mean.

        Maybe where you’re from, things are different. But in so saying, I don’t think you’re from anywhere on this planet. Welcome. We can show you to our overlords. They all wear pressed shirts and shined shoes.Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumber in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I think you are mistaken on this issue.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to ScarletNumber says:

        There was a day when I’d agree with you. Then I started watching and learning from influential people. One guy in particular, one of my clients, more of a father figure to me, really. Guy named Adler, managing director at a high-end staffing firm in Chicago. Very discreet outfit. People form first impressions and they last for the duration of a relationship. You might find my ass wiping analogy risible but there’s something in common to wiping shit off your shoe and shit off your ass. Shit.

        People who don’t care about their appearance are sloppy in other ways. Granted, I don’t wear a pressed shirt every day. But then, my commute is kinda short, about two meters from my bed to my desk. When I see my clients, I do wear a pressed shirt and people take me seriously, as I took Mr. Adler seriously. God knows why they do, I’m not a regular kinda guy. I’m a professional, they pay me, I wear the uniform and that’s how I keep getting paid. By acting like a professional.

        People think they’re so insightful, so goddamn unique. They’re not. They’re as predictable as the next full moon. I am not mistaken on this issue. I’ve been at this so long, I’ve come to terms with that predictability and I live with it. I can spot a faker, even if he’s in a good suit. Little stuff, like shoes. It’s not a fetish or something, a guy who’s climbed into a good suit and wears crappy, dirty shoes is a clown.Report

      • Avatar Cascadian in reply to ScarletNumber says:

        I’m glad that you feel comfortable with your clothes. I’m not disparaging you for what it takes for you to earn a living. Heck, I even love shoes which verges on the fetish. Just realize that not everyone is um, “in your shoes”…. and when you show up to a business meeting don’t diss the guy in the tennis outfit. He has the money.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to ScarletNumber says:

        Please. The dickhead in the tennis suit doesn’t have the money. His daddy has the money.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to ScarletNumber says:

        “People form first impressions and they last for the duration of a relationship.”

        People in my life whose first outfit I can describe: 0.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to ScarletNumber says:

        I remember details about people, if you don’t, Kazzy. Little stuff. Lots and lots of tiny things about people. Maybe most people aren’t like me. This much I do know about people, they respond to signalling at a cultural level and that includes clothes and personal grooming. They’re utterly and completely predictable. People respond to these signals so completely, they’ve had to enact rules about actors passing themselves off as physicians and attorneys on television adverts.

        The robe doesn’t make the monk, that’s true. But show me a real monk and I’ll show you a real robe. Oh, he might not be wearing it all the time. I’m wearing an old Packers t-shirt and a pair of slobby old black jeans and some Adidas flip flops. I haven’t shaved in a couple of days. I could, theoretically, go in to my client dressed like this. Why don’t I? Steve Jobs got away with his silly black turtle neck sweaters.

        I’m not Steve Jobs. I’m not some silly Silicon Valley yutz, deeply impressed with his own star power. I’m just a consultant, a one man band with a few really competent allies, also one-man bands. And none of us look like pigs when we’re on site. We look like professionals and we move among people who are also professionals and I have never once been on any engagement in the course of my long career where this was not true. Not once in over thirty years now. In my world, people look each other over very carefully and lots of things are said which aren’t meant. The politics are poisonous. It’s kinda lonely because these people aren’t my friends. If their dicks weren’t in the wringer, I wouldn’t even be there.

        I dress my station. It has nothing to do with age. My white shirt and shined shoes are part of a battle uniform in a war you will never understand.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to ScarletNumber says:

        My white shirt and shined shoes are part of a battle uniform in a war you will never understand.

        Don’t all battle uniforms require a pocket protector?Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to ScarletNumber says:

        Only a schlub wears a pocket protector. Don’t put your pen in your shirt pocket, ever. That’s where amachoors try to show off their Mont Blanc pens they got from Santy Claus for Xmas. Keep your Mont Blanc pen in your desk drawer or in its case in your bag. The only thing which ever belongs in a shirt pocket is someone else’s business card and that only after you’ve given it a good looking-over.Report

      • Avatar Cascadian in reply to ScarletNumber says:

        @blaisep I have no doubt that in your place and station your uniform makes sense. However, people live outside of Wisconsin and outside of the professional working class. There are those below that don’t have the resources or need for a shoe you would covet. There are those that aren’t workers but owners. The reason (lawyers feel free) country clubs exclusionary practices have been ruled against is that golf clubs are often used for…… business. Most of the big real estate deals in Palm Springs done in the 80s happened at the Palm Springs Racket Club. I don’t think the fact that wealthy people work where they play is really in debate. Yes, in your corner of the world for your particular place, I’m sure your uniform makes sense.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to ScarletNumber says:

        I do not covet. Great masses of things annoy me. I have a few nice things and my whole world fits into an elderly Isuzu Rodeo which I intend to drive until it dies. But all those things are nice. None of them are junky.

        Palm Springs. Heh, heh. Sorta like the Valley of the Kings. So many dessicated mummies surrounded by their treasures, waiting for eventual resurrection. A plastic surgeon’s paradise.Report

      • Avatar Cascadian in reply to ScarletNumber says:

        @blaisep OMG yes. When I lived there it was old people with old money in town. The neighboring town (Cathedral City) was split between gays and Canadian snow birds (more old people)…. quite the juxtaposition. As I was leaving the whole thing moved to new land developments just to the East. There were lots of young families and young people. The actual city of Palm Springs fell into ruin, nothing but nail salons and boarded up shops. Hopefully it has changed once again.Report

  3. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    I’ve heard from a number of places that panhandlers often don’t even bother asking for help from people in sharp suits – presumably knowing from experience that those people are so uncharitable that it’s not even worth the wear and tear on their saliva to ask them for spare change (uncharitable on a personal level – they may donate heaps of money to registered charities).

    You may not be snobbish, you may not have acquired whatever your degree of wealth is by robbing pension funds and foreclosing on predatory mortgages. But dressing like those who are and did, isn’t going to strike everyone as ‘looking good’.Report

  4. I have gotten to the age when the Better Half will give me a look when I don one of the fitted T-shirts I used to love and say, in a mostly gentle way, that it is perhaps too young for me.

    I do not love 100% love this change, it must be said. But I do enjoy dressing in “dad-wear.”Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      What is “dad-wear”? I have to say, I wear pretty much the same stuff I have been wearing for the last twenty years or more, with the caveats that A.) I live in a really hot climate, so certain kinds of more formal clothes just wouldn’t be practical much of the time anyway and B.) I work from home, so there’s frequently not much need to dress to impress.

      I don’t wear crazy club-wear or anything anymore, but that’s because I don’t often go to clubs.

      So…cargo shorts, jeans, T-shirts, the occasional untucked button-up – this is 90% of my daily wear.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Glyph says:

        I generally think of dad wear as being a button down shirt or polo with jeans and New Balance sneakers. If the dad is wearing shorts, the socks will be pulled all the way up and will not match the sneakers.

        I never got the appeal of Cargo shorts or shorts in general.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Glyph says:

        I think when guys think and talk about clothing there is an added sexuality angle.

        A lot of guys simply don’t care about fashion or clothing very much. They want what is basic and simple and comfortable. The more insecure among these guys will think caring about clothing and fashion makes them less than masculine. “true dudes don’t care about clothing” or something like that.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Glyph says:

        the appeal of shorts is not being coated in sweat all day.
        Or, on a good day, not being coated in salt crystals.

        I know of what I speak.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Glyph says:

        i will rep for cargo shorts because i’ve always worn them as i have an interest in carrying things but not so much with my hands. thus pockets 3 and 4.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

        Yeah, once you have kids cargo shorts are kind of a must. You’ve got wipes, a spare diaper, some sort of noise-making distraction toy, maybe a bib to carry around with you, in addition to your own stuff. I empty out my pockets and can’t believe all the crap I have in there.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Glyph says:

        I never got the appeal of Cargo shorts or shorts in general.

        I’ve always thought of it as a western, or perhaps southwestern, thing. The cargo style was popular here long before it was cool, billed as hiking or climbing shorts, usually made out of a ripstop fabric of one sort or another. Because, after all, everyone hikes or climbs some, right?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Glyph says:


        Someone in grad school called me an “urbanly-inclined person” for a reason. I don’t hike or climb. If people were intended for hiking and climbing, they would not have invented New York, London, and Paris, etc.


        Now I am really interested in exploring what our clothing preferences say about our backgrounds, psychologies, and preferences.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Glyph says:


        Now you have me curious about what my choice of attire says about my personality. Work has always been whatever “costume” was required: as a techie, blue jeans, running shoes, and a button-down open-collar shirt with the sleeves rolled part-way up [1]; as staff for the state legislature, coat and tie. I enjoy some urban things: going to a play, the museums, people watching in a crowded place. I enjoy hiking, in both Colorado’s mountains and out on the prairie. Now that I’m mostly retired, I’m largely a white-wine-and-a-laptop-on-the-suburban-deck sort of guy, and dress to match the temperature [2]. I seldom get more formal than my best Hawaiian shirt [3], though.

        [1] It put me clearly on the techie side of the fence, but was still acceptable to the marketing and legal folks when I had to go talk to them.

        [2] Living along the Front Range in Colorado, the one thing you can say for sure about the weather, no matter what you put on in the morning, is that you’ll be either underdressed or overdressed for part of the day. Daily 40-degree temperature swings will do that.

        [3] My sister sent it to me when she was living in Hawaii, and assured me that so long as I wore the proper swimming trunks with it, it was good for formal events up to and including many weddings. Not funerals, though.Report

  5. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I think class has a great deal to do with it. When you have very little money, it’s really a big deal when you can finally dress well. I always loved the black guys who dressed like swells where I lived because they just do it better than anybody else. Go to a black church on a Sunday morning and you will see the best dressed people in the world.Report

  6. Avatar Phillip says:

    Glad to see “Paris is Burning” mentioned. It does raise the question of how “appropriate” is defined for transpeople. Is there such a thing?Report