Day 22: ‘For the apparel oft proclaims the man’

This phrase isn’t mine, of course. It was coined by the great Shakespeare. For his famous play, Hamlet, where Lord Polonius enlightens Laertes on a few rules of life; the phrase in question addressing the point of “being presentable.” Most of us commonly know this phrase as “Clothes/Dress maketh a man.

Over 3 years ago, a week before joining Accenture, I received a call from my soon-to-be manager, for confirmation that I will be joining his team (well, a good two months had passed since the interview, so confirmation was justified, I suppose). That’s when I was “by the way” informed that there is a dress code that’s to be strictly adhered to in office. “Business formals — western or Indian,” he said. How I managed not to blurt out “What! Are you serious!?” beats me. Or ummm, maybe I did blurt that out. Subtlety is not (always) my closest companion.

Dismay. Anxiety. Panic. In that order. And a good amount of self angst! Why do I always say “Mmm…not right now, nothing.” at every job interview when they ask me if I have any questions? Why do I not ask these severely important, life-altering questions? Why! W.H.Y!?

For 23 years of my life, someone other than myself decided what I would wear. At kindergarten. At school. At college. And again, at college. Then one fine day, the great powers of the universe conspired in my favor. I got a job in an advertising agency. That was the beginning of a new era. Well, I wish I could say I was like a caged animal let free, and all that. Sadly, no. I suppose the conditioning over 23 years was pretty binding.

But.

I did discover the joys of “casual” dressing. Of wearing a comfortable pair of jeans every day (yes, different clean ones). And the comforts of shirts that don’t fit in the formal category (and at times, T-shirts). And every company I worked at allowed me to wear those. And not all of them were advertising agencies, let me tell you; there were other Fortune 50 giants in the list too. And in all those years, not only did I forget that “dress code” was still in practice, I also reached a stage where my wardrobe scored a grand zero in the formal wear department, Indian or otherwise!

To quote a very observant ex-colleague of mine, I’m apparently “more boyish than many boys” she knows. Must give her credit for this one because it is true. In my defense, I grew up in a house full of boys — what else can one expect? So yes, the comforts of a good pair of sports sneakers is something I have fallen addict to…and the only kind of outfits that goes with them are western casuals (not my fault!) 😀 Yes, my love for sportsy footwear is actually the only biggest reason for my choice of preferred attire!

Or maybe not. As a person too, I’m not too “formal.” While I am courteous and polite, I’m in that category that generally goes “Yaaaaaaaayy!” where others might opt to just say “Oh, that’s great news!”

So where were we? Ah – dismay, anxiety and panic. Dismay that I only had the weekend to go shopping (I left the previous company on a Friday and joined Accenture the following Monday). Anxiety of not knowing which shops to walk into, what kind to buy and if I’d ever feel comfortable in those. Panic of realizing that anything and everything I picked from the Indian business formals (read as Kurtis and other such) department were either too big or too small (leaving me feeling like Goldilocks who got into a house that had no baby bear living there)! But wardrobe rehaul was done, not too happily.

It was a struggle, those initial days: of not having a pocket to stuff my phone and wallet into…of having to go rickety-ricket on a pair of sandals (which I still do, without failing to go “twainnng!” and nearly toppling over at least once a day — God, I miss my sneakers!)…of not being able to pull on that favorite shirt and feel secure and warm in its apparent familiarity…and other such. (Frankly, after a full two and half years, I still never came to terms with it; oh, how I wait for the blessed Fridays.)

And just about when the rumour mills began buzzing with news of a soon-to-come casual-everyday dress code in Accenture, I got myself offered a job in Kuwait, which I grabbed. And, like lightning on a snake-bite victim, the HR said they have a “western formals only” dress code, since the company is mostly British. Bloody Nora! 🙄

For some strange reason, though I was always most at home in a pair of jeans, I’ve never worn formal trousers in my life, except try it on once inside a trial room before quickly discarding it (along with the thought of ever having to be in one). So, this was NOT good news for me.

Again.

Dismay. Anxiety. Panic. In that order. Dismay that I was finally having to suffer for the WIFE‘s constant curses of my boyish attire and my worst nightmare was coming true (OK, that’s taking this a bit too much – my worst nightmare is ever having to go to jail). Anxiety of not knowing which shops to walk into, what kind to buy and that I will never be able to carry off the “formal” look. Panic at the price tags that were mostly in the 4-digits category and me simply not being rich enough. But wardrobe rehaul was done, not at allllll happily.

Because  I had to go shopping for western formals, a category I knew NOTHING about, with none other than the Queen of Subtlety and (self-declared, but totally justified) Fashionista! Not once, but twice! 🙄 That’s a whole new post, my shopping experience with two people who were hell bent on making me a girl (finally! as they would add).

Now, going back to how “the apparel oft proclaims the man.” What’s really the idea behind being dressed a certain way four days of the week and differently on the fifth? I can discern no difference in how things  on Fridays (or Thursdays, in the Middle East) are, compared to the rest of the week: not in the responsibilities we shoulder, the tasks we handle, or the people we work with. In fact, at Accenture, Fridays never cut us any slack! There have been several instances of people pinging me on Skype (internal office chat) a little before 8.30 p.m. (we worked 11 a.m.- 8.30 p.m.), lamenting the fact that we were “still working at this hour on a Friday evening.” And, it’s the same story here on Thursday. We work straight from 8 through 5 on every single Thursday! 😛

I read somewhere that “people make assumptions about work ethic, intelligence and professionalism based on how others are dressed while at the office.” So then, do none of these (work ethic, intelligence and professionalism) matter on a Friday? 😀 So yeah, what makes the Friday more casual than the rest of the days, that we are allowed a bit more freedom in matters concerning our “apparel”? If there is a logic, it beats me. It will be muchly appreciated if any of you can give me some insights into this. Also, let me clarify right away that I am not proposing being allowed to wear torn jeans and ripped shirts and so on I’m only talking about permissible limits to being “casual” in a professional environment. I honestly believe we’re all at our best on every given day, including on Fridays/Thursdays – so, does it really hurt to allow through the week, what we currently are allowed to wear on a “dress-down day”? *tilts head in hope, waiting for the Al-mighty to say “Al-right…go ahead!”*

Sigh. I miss my jeans and sneakers! I do, I do, I still muchhhhhhhhhhhly do!

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16 thoughts on “Day 22: ‘For the apparel oft proclaims the man’

  1. Come here. In my company both are allowed. Initially I used to wear business formals and I saw others wearing jeans and Nike shoes. So I kept all my work wear hidden somewhere and started wearing jeans. Some how I am not to comfortable is wearing Nike or any sports shoes.

  2. I can understand the ‘dress code’ part, at least as it exists in my company , for example mine is a Company who deals exclusively with diplomats, dignitaries and the who’s who of the political corridors of various countries, so we have a dress code which advises for business formals, always, not even fridays are casual. With the kind of clientele we deal with it is only fair that if anyone is asked to make a presentation to a delegation of Ministers he does not turn up in his Jeans and sneakers.. so where there is a strong logic like this a dress code is something which is closely linked to the business need and scenario…
    oops.. that’s a long comment….

    • Agreed, and that’s totally sensible. Which is true of the companies I have worked in too. But unless you are in teams that are required to make client visits or presentations, we never had to. I am always in a creative team, so it is kind of restrictive (and this has been the sentiment of a lot of creative people I have spoken to).

  3. I think it makes sense to have a dress code at workplace. I see it as the organization’s way of conveying its style of working. So a formal dress code could be about making a more serious impression on your clients vis a vis a casual one where you take it a bit easy and relaxed.

    BTW totally unrelated, I picked up Go Set A Watchman from the library. Enjoying it so far :). Hoping it to be as moving as TKAMB. Your review sure was 😀

    • Well – I honestly think if you dress in what’s called “smart casuals”, you still can create a serious impression where it matters 🙂 As long as you aren’t in torn jeans and off shoulders and the like and are totally presentable! 😀
      Oooh – I hope you love it! 🙂 Where have you reached up to?

  4. ha ha…poor you…
    But I would love to wear jeans to work everyday…
    Now I wear loose fitting cotton salwar kameez as that suits the work I do !
    But being forced to wear…I don’t know if I can handle that !
    Love your writing…When will your name come on your business card as WRITER ?? ❤

  5. Ohh..the woes of never having anything in ur wardrobe worthy enough of wearing for work!!! Been there, experienced that and now happily resigned myself to lazing around the house in baggy pants and seriously faded, (sometimes to the point of being threadbare) t shirts 🙂 nevertheless no complaints whatsoever! Have Always hated dressing up for anything in life (wedding included! )

  6. Pingback: Day 23: Good things = Amazing people | AlphabetWorld!

  7. I can feel your Dismay. Anxiety. Panic! My 99% of wardrobe consists of Jeans/Tees/Tops (formal, casual and festive). Yes, I dont mind wearing jeans with a bright pink silk kurti on Diwali. Thankfully, my work also involves wearing Jeans. Recently, I had to meet somebody for a project discussion and was told to wear a suit. I felt Dismay. Anxiety. Panic, and then had to go for punjabi suit shopping the same day.

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