getting dressed down for dressing down

Today at work I was given a dressing down for dressing down. In other words, I got told to put shoes on. I always walk barefoot to work. So today I just didn’t put shoes on when I got into the office. It’s Friday, you see, and on Fridays at work there is a slight air of celebration of the weekend coming, and people dress more casually. I figured I would let my feet in on the act, just once. You see, my feet are very happy outside of shoes. Inside of shoes they get stinky (and I lose my foot tan, but that is a matter of vanity which is an individual matter). And besides, almost no one sees my feet where they live all day under my desk.

My lovely bare foot day was interrupted when I went to talk with someone at his desk. He himself was dressed as if it was not Friday. Well, that may not be entirely fair to say. He had removed his necktie at some stage. He told me very clearly that although it is Friday, there is no reason to expose my feet. Clients do visit the office, and we want to look presentable, no? Consider how much they pay us to do work for them! Does that not warrant a respectable dress code? He evidently took personal responsibility for maintaining a standard of dress; he said I was not the first barefoot colleague he had encountered today. He said that the actions of one person can begin a trend that lowers the standard of the group.

Although I did not concur with his reasoning, for reasons that I will explain, I saw that I had offended him, and that it would be kind for me to don my shoes for his sake. I told him so. After looking at me again in moderate incredulity, he accepted my apology, though it was evident to both of us (I believe) that I did not accept that my ways had been in error.

After donning the necessary gear upon returning to my desk – which was welcome in one regard, as all the blood had suddenly rushed to my head and my feet had gotten cold – I tried to reconcile the thoughts that swirled through my mind. For those of you that are concerned, no, I will not again go barefoot in the office during business hours. I would not want to offend my colleague(s), and I have nothing to prove.

My thoughts have gone along these lines…

Although I can’t speak for the inner workings of my colleague’s mind, I suspect he thinks that when I dress down, I may be seen by clients as being less fit to be believed, respected, or trusted. This could be true, I suppose. In another way, he thinks that dressing down shows less respect for clients. I can see how he could think that way.

Said differently, dressing up would make me more respectable and would show respect, while dressing down suggests that I am not respectable and am not showing respect. Now I can’t generalize for everyone, but I can speak for myself. When I think of the people that I know, they do not satisfy this rule. There are people that I admire and respect whose habit is to dress up, and there are others I admire and respect whose habit is quite different. There is no correlation between their dress and their character. When I do see them outside that habit, they are no less respectable (though they seem a bit awkward when they are not in their familiar garb).

So does clothing make the man? Well, I know many men who dress smartly in suits who have gained a reputation that attracts little respect from me. Likewise I know some people who dress casually/simply and who I respect highly. But I also know many of the opposites to be true. Oddly enough, when I think it through, the people that fit the rule number about the same as those who violate it! In other words, what my acquaintances wear has no effect at all on how much I respect them.

I can’t say what other people should do, but I think it is best for me to consider others regardless of the way they dress, and if it is necessary for me to help someone to become aware of their lack of respect, it should be because I see something in their actions and attitudes, and not their clothing or lack thereof. If I judge someone by their clothing, I can be easily misled as to their character. There is a reason why clothing is used in masquerades to project a false character. It can be a symptom of a heart attitude, but not always.

At the same time, a person’s natural preference in way of dress can be helpful to indicate their personality. In other words, if a person assumes a particular way of dress because of his own preferences or attractions, free of the pressures of fashion or culture or peer acceptance, this natural style can help to paint the picture of who they really are. Because I value simplicity and function, I tend to feel most “myself” when I wear clothes that are comfortable and that I wouldn’t mind damaging or getting dirty as I go through my day to day life. My favorite is to go barefoot in cargo shorts or older jeans and a comfortable sweater or shirt. It is my way and fits my personality. But this philosophy is specific to me, and I respect that other people may feel most comfortable in a smart looking suit.

Looking at it from another side, it seems to me that adapting a way of dress that is not “me” can be bad for relationships. I mean that if I dress differently than my natural way, I will be perceived a certain way and will inwardly expect myself to “act” in a role, and will not fully be myself. To some extent, I’ll be artificial. I also mean that if my dress is not “me,” people around me will get mixed messages, may assume things about me that are not true, and may require more time to understand me correctly than if I had dressed in my natural way to start with. Neither of these things are inherently wrong, but they do encumber relationships to some extent. “Honesty is the best policy” when it comes to dress.

What about dressing up because I want to please someone or show respect to them? That sounds ok, but is it really? What are the motivations behind doing this? I think insecurity is often the motivation. If the other person wants me to dress up because he feels insecure around me because I am dressed so differently than him, is that my fault, or his? Or no-one’s fault? If I am dressing up because I expect to get his approval, is this a good thing? Maybe it would be best to just be secure in who we are and who people around us are, accept our differences, and let people dress how they like.

That said, as illustrated by my choice today, I am willing to adapt if someone finds my dress to be offensive…for their sake.

What about giving a good first impression? When we first meet people who do not know us at all, maybe it is wise to dress up so that they will understand that we mean to be respectful and honor them. While I can see some value in this attitude, because it results in business meetings where most everyone is wearing the same sort of clothing, which produces a “level playing field”, I’m not so sure that it is really useful. If we can’t demonstrate our respect for a person through our attitudes and actions, then it seems artificial to try to demonstrate it through the way we dress. Dressing to impress may work for a time, but attitude and action are powerful and will show through.

As I think about it, I am realizing just how great an influence we often allow clothing to have on us!

When I chose to go barefoot today, it was for comfort and convenience. Although I do like talking about the benefits of going barefoot, I didn’t do it to get attention. I didn’t mean to rebel. If my colleague had seen a wrong attitude in me, such as rebellion, I would have appreciated if he had approached me and commented on the attitude directly instead of commenting on my choice of footwear. It would have been much more difficult for him to do this, but would have been more effective.


One thought on “getting dressed down for dressing down

  1. I totally agree with the barefoot thing… I am an INTP and only wear shoes when I have to… which basically is anytime I leave the house and am not going to the beach or pool…

    Crazy… the first I do when I walk in the door is kick off my shoes where ever it is that I am…

    I get it when you say you weren’t trying to rebel… I perceive that from people a lot… It’s like they think I am either challenging them or rebelling… or getting attention…

    I just really do whatever it is I want to do because it just feels like that’s what I should do at the time…

    I guess that’s where the lack of self-awareness or “the absent-minded professor” comes from in our personality descriptions…


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