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From Brooks Brothers to Marx Brothers

by Just Learned Ham

At first I thought casual Friday was a great idea. Since I only owned two suits, it meant I wouldn't have to wear the same one more than twice in any week. So over the course of a month, I'd only be wearing each suit eight times instead of ten, thereby postponing the full depreciation of my wardrobe by a full 25%. Cipher it out, you'll see I'm right. As I also stretch the useful life of my suits by always buying two-pant suits and leaving the jacket hanging behind the door and out of the sun, that extra 25% was real money. (Is it just me, or is the blue Swedish knit a little slicker than the brown? All I know is that in the blue I have to keep the seat belt a little tighter. One unseen speed bump and I'm in the floor mat.)

Gradually, though, I discovered that there were rules. The deregulation of clothing was not without limits. Like all right thinking people, I assumed "business casual" meant any pants you want, as long as they aren't blue jeans. I knew blue jeans were bad. I understood that if I wore blue jeans we would lose all of our clients, the hiring committee would find out the truth about my diploma, and the car allowance would probably even be considered taxable income. I had a nice pair of green jeans, though - I always felt very comfortable in them, probably a psychological hangover from my childhood - remember Captain Kangaroo's sidekick, Mr. Green Jeans? And Admiral Bernie, formerly known as Captain Casey? He was OK, but he was no Mr. Green Jeans. Now we're getting somewhere.

One Friday, Carol (not her real name, her real name is Viper), slithers into my office and tells me that it's people like me who are going to get casual Friday abolished. I say something insightful like, "Why would those people want to be like me anyway?" She ignores my point and then complains about my pants. I am abusing casual Friday. Everybody knows, except people like me, or maybe even they do, too, that casual Friday means you can wear any pants you want as long as the pockets are slit vertically, not horizontally. This was a revelation. It's not the denim, or even the color, that makes my pants abusive, it's the angle at which I drop my keys in my pockets.

It gradually dawned on me that casual Friday was probably just another pop culture fad rolling into Utah ten years after peaking in California - like fish tacos and Steve Garvey. So before getting caught up in the casual mania sweeping across the Great Basin and washing up on the Bonneville shoreline, I decided to look at it objectively. And I have come up with some disturbing possibilities:

Casual Friday is: (a) a communist plot, not as obvious as fluoridation or federal funding of education, but more insidious and far-reaching; (b) just another example of the shameless manipulation of American consumers by mass marketers; (c) more dangerous and destructive of the human spirit and moral character than casual sex.

Who are we emulating every Friday when we, the workers of the world, cast off the shackles of our neckties? How many neckties did Stalin wear? Chairman Mao? And what happened to the Soviet Union when Gorbachev took the helm, Pierre Cardin comfortably knotted just below his erstwhile collectivist Adam's apple? (A word is required here about Fidel Castro, who seems to be looking more corporate all the time, at least from the neck down - from the neck up he looks more and more like C. Everett Koop to me, but I haven't figured out what that means yet . . . Does the fact that Fidel's fatigues stay in the closet while he sports a (significantly, I think) red tie mean that the collapse of Cuban communism is imminent? Maybe. But I think it more likely that Fidel remains more than a closet comrade. Wily as ever, he is well aware of two things: (1) The necktie is a sacred symbol of freedom, justice, and capitalism1; and (2) We don't trust him, and will do the opposite of whatever he does. If he wears ties, we'll take them off, and capitalism will fall. I told you it was insidious.)

I tend to believe the conspiracy theory - although I worry that might be exactly what they want me to believe . . . But just to prove that I'm open minded enough to entertain na•ve and improbable explanations, as well, I'll give the next one an unbiased hearing. After all, reasonable people may differ. Of course, at least half of them are wrong when they differ, but that isn't unreasonable. Casual Friday is capitalism at its finest. I was doing some high level legal research on the Internet recently when I came across the following statement in an article resembling a news release, but suspiciously appearing above a banner for The Gap@Work: "Many people say that this casual trend allows employees to feel more relaxed and be more productive."

So it's a good thing either because (a) it stimulates the workforce to greater productivity; or (b) it doesn't really increase anybody's productivity, but it does mean we all buy more casual clothes which stimulates output in the textile industry creating more jobs for more people who will now need more casual clothes to wear to work, which stimulates output, etc. The invisible hand works at a fever pitch once freed from the daily chore of tying a four-in-hand. (And I thought that economics degree would never come in handy ...)

OK, that was the unbiased part of the hearing. Now the rebuttal: (1) A casually dressed, relaxed employee is not a more productive employee. Jerry Sloan to the team: "Guys, don't worry about the uniforms tonight. Karl, pull on some Dockers and pace yourself out there. I don't want you getting tired. Everybody comfortable? All right, let's go." (2) The price of freedom is not eternal relaxation. (3) Ross Perot's giant sucking sound.

Let's talk about character. When some of us were young, there were dress codes in school. At work, casual Friday meant you could take your shoes off when you got home. That was also when we broke the sound barrier, landed people on the moon, and designed the El Camino. Now school children are piercing body parts as fast as they are exposing them, casual Friday has turned into casual everyday with tee shirt and sandals Friday, small pox is making a comeback, the President's credibility gap is bigger than the hole in the ozone layer, and nobody's been to the moon (or tied a half Windsor) in decades. Coincidence?

Finally, casual Friday is an example of the pervasive sexism of our culture. Like an old pair of holey sweat socks, a cap with a green bill and a logo from a tractor company, a duck call, or a Ô78 Travellall, it offers men comfort and reassurance, and it offers women absolutely nothing. I asked several women about casual Friday. I was told it wasn't a big deal, and I wouldn't understand. I asked to be given a chance. I was told, "Casual Friday is about neckties. It's a big deal for men because men dress for comfort, but it doesn't matter to women because women dress the way they feel."

I didn't understand. I even put on a tie to help me think more clearly, but I still didn't understand. I don't ever feel like being uncomfortable. But I do it because I know it's for the best.

1 I feel your skepticism. Proof: Freedom. What better symbol of freedom than a cleverly slip-knotted necktie, hugging you like a friend all day long, but easily released at the end of the day, so like the law and its wise restraints that set us free. Every morning when I look in the mirror and tie my tie, I feel like I am signing the Constitution. Justice. Can you think of a better reminder of the great system of American justice than the reassuring noose that was the very lynchpin of justice in the conquest of the American frontier? Capitalism. I can imagine no greater tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit (By the way, don't you think we need an English word for Ôentrepreneur?' What did the French ever do to deserve the honor?) than businesspeople everywhere - men and women - laying out hundreds of dollars every year for collections of completely useless articles to hang around their necks. The pet rock was just a fad, but the tie became a lifestyle. That's marketing.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 13, 2000 7:28 AM.

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