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Business Casual

by Stephen Lautens


October 20, 2000

I've survived family weddings, wisdom tooth extractions and the disco era. I've made it through grade 12 French, my high school German teacher and a full body cavity reassessment by Revenue Canada (now the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency - like they can fool us by changing their name).

But I can tell you this right now - I'll never make it through casual Fridays.

I panic at the thought of going casual. After fifteen years of wearing a jacket and tie to work, I hardly own any casual clothes. Last month I threw out my only pair of jeans - I bought them in college 20 years ago and I could no longer get them up my leg past my ankle.

For weekend wear I buy clothes at a local army surplus store. Looking like I just stepped out of the jungle is fine for mowing the lawn, but showing up at work head to foot in camo makes the guys at the security desk more than a little nervous. Especially when you show up on "Boss Appreciation Day" carrying a big box.

I also have little skinny arms - my Grandmother called them "wiry", God bless her - and seeing me in a short sleeved shirt makes people want to go out and buy me a sandwich. I qualify for the "before" picture in the Charles Atlas ads. A long sleeved shirt and a jacket hide all of that, although I get a lot fewer free sandwiches.

Casual shoes are a big problem. I have a bunch, but sneakers hurt my feet. And the only time I slipped and fell seriously was when I was wearing running shoes. On the other hand, I walked all over the Nevada desert without incident in a pair of dress loafers.

Of course, I should point out that when I had a part time job at college as a courier I wore a full tuxedo one day on a bet. Couriers rarely make anyone's best dressed list, and I was surprised later in the day by a visit from the Chairman of the Board, who I think came downstairs to figure out if he was paying his couriers too much.

Even now it's not like casual people aren't around me all day. A walk through any newspaper newsroom gives new meaning to dressing down. You're lucky if some journalists wear pants to work. Spiderman pajamas at the office are considered well-dressed as long as the flap in the back is buttoned.

My brother Richard is a newspaper photographer. The other press photographers make fun of him because he occasionally wear socks in the winter. Photographers normally only wear socks when appearing before a judge or going to a funeral, and then only if it was a close relation.

A lot of companies have lived to regret the creep of casual Fridays into the rest of the week, and are now revoking them or instituting "Dress Up" days. Clothing stores are now running full page ads offering assistance to flustered executives in putting together a casual wardrobe that doesn't make you look like you just came in from the prison exercise yard.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to look for my spats and top hat. I have to run down to the corner store for a jug of milk.

© Stephen Lautens 2000

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