Dress code rant

It’s been a bit since I’ve ranted here on Afthead, but oh readers, the time has come. One of my biggest rant topics was kindled by an email I received about a work event which said,

I have had a few questions about dress.  As these are senior level professionals, we ask that you dress accordingly for the poster session.

Okay.  Raise your hand if you know what I’m supposed to wear.  Do I have to wear a suit?  It’s supposed to snow and my only suit that fits has a skirt –  with a really cute kick pleat  – that I wear with nice open-toed black pumps. Again though, it’s supposed to SNOW.  I only want to break out the suit if it’s required.  I have really nice dress slacks, a cardigan sweater and professional boots I could wear too.  Is that okay?  I have no idea.

This, dear readers, is what makes me crazy about dress codes today.  In my mind there are a six dress codes which are understandable by all, or at least consistent enough that you know what you are supposed to wear.  They are:

  • White Tie
  • Black Tie
  • Cocktail
  • Business
  • Business Casual
  • Casual

The end. There is no, “As these are senior level professionals, we ask that you dress accordingly” dress code.  There is also no cocktail casual or after-six attire, both of which have been suggested to me on recent invitations.

What’s wrong with these?

Cocktail casual:  I assume the host meant to convey that the attendee was to wear cocktail attire (sport coats for men, dresses for women) but that the dress is slightly less formal than that.  So…can the men skip the sport coat, or should they eschew socks?  Are jeans okay?  What about footwear?  Could nice sneakers and a sport coat suffice?  For the women, is this a little black dress, sundress, or a skirt and top function?  Is a traditional cocktail dress too fancy, or would that be okay if that’s what you have?  Should you wear pumps, or sandals, or are fancy flip flops okay?  And hey, let’s be fair.  I often enjoy a cocktail in the summer at the park after I go for a run.  So my own personal cocktail casual has included run shorts and a tank top.  Is that okay?  And really, who hasn’t enjoyed a cold beer on a beach in a bathing suit? That’s cocktail casual all the way…

So there might be a little confusion about a cocktail casual event, but probably you’d be okay unless you showed up in running shorts or a bathing suit.  Your dress might be too fancy and the men may grouse when someone doesn’t wear a sport coat, but chances are you will be close.  A few people will feel awkwardly under-dressed and a few awkwardly overdressed and hey, that’s okay, because the host got to say cocktail casual and he or she is wearing exactly what he or she intended everyone to wear.

Wait.  That’s not okay because the point of a dress code is to tell everyone what to wear, not for the host to come up with some new pithy dress phrase and freak their guests out before they even arrive, and then freak them out even more when they show up wearing the wrong thing.  Let’s try the other made-up dress code.

After-six attire:  Right now it is after-six.  I am wearing leggings and a big cozy bulky sweat shirt.  My feet have fuzzy socks on them and my hair is in a pony tail.  This is today’s after-six attire.  Later in the after-six time frame I will change into my pajamas and head to bed.  Some days we go grab dinner and I’ll change out of my work clothes and put on my jeans.  If it’s a date night, I might even put on a long skirt and some boots.  Oh the myriad of after-six outfits I might wear.  I wonder which incarnation my host wants me to have on my body when I show up at his/her event.  I’ve even been known to run, hike, swim, do yoga, and garden after six o’clock, and those all have different outfits.  Hey, hostess with the mostess, I’m so glad to see you in your cute peasant top, capri leggings and espadrilles, but next time can you at least be more specific?  Call it 1960s bohemian chic attire or something so I don’t show up thinking it’s a slumber party!

I know that the dress codes are restrictive, but without set rules clothing options run amok.  If your event has a clear and specific theme like BBQ, 1980s, ancient Egypt, or roller girl then let your guests know and enjoy the variety of interpretations that show up.  If by “as these are senior level professionals, we ask that you dress accordingly” you mean “wear a suit” then please say “business attire is required.”  There’s no wiggle room there. If I don’t own a suit at least I walk in knowing I’ll be under dressed and not surprised by my inaccurate interpretation of your suggestion.  Join with me.  Let’s end the dress suggestions and go back to the tried and true dress codes.

After tomorrow my next event has no dress code but the theme is “Go for the Gold.”  I’m thinking about going naked, but painting myself gold like an Oscar statue.  (Hopefully my hubby will help me get to those hard to reach places.)  Or maybe I’ll just dress in cocktail attire since it’s a fundraiser and I think that’s how people used to dress for such events before we abandoned the six established, well understood dress codes.

photo credit: Women In Tech – 92 via photopin (license)

The troll mirror 

Remember the magic mirror at work?  The one that makes this aging wrinkling expanding lady feel a little bit pretty?  Well, I found its evil cousin this week.

Prior to the beginning of my two-day meeting I used the public restroom at the Residence Inn hosting us.  After washing my hands I went to check that my dress wasn’t tucked into my tights.  There before me was a fat squat version of myself.  I gasped and checked to see if I had an evil ugly twin sister standing behind me, but no, this reflected troll was me!  I raced out in horror, but did check to see if my troll underware was showing before I fled.

It was a scarring experience, but I am brave so immediately told a friend, “I am either a hideous troll person or the mirror in that bathroom is horrible.”  She is brave too and went to investigate.  Thankfully she also reflected a squat version of herself.  (Well, I was thankful anyway.  I don’t think she was.)

For two days I warned all the women at the meeting with whom I had even a passing relationship.  Why?  Because this was one of those dress-up meetings.  A meeting where you try on your outfits at home before you pack, and bring coordinated accessories.  A meeting where you check a bag because you want your full sized products.  It wasn’t a beauty pageant or a meeting about how we looked, but it was a business meeting with posturing and politics and one of our female weapons is looking good. Nothing can diminish that power like the fear that our carefully prepared shell is ugly.  No one else deserved the self-esteem hit I took.

Something magical happened with the sharing.  The mirror became a joke, “the troll mirror.”  A joke shared only between the women of the group.  The men heard about the horror, but claimed they had no portal to the bizarro world in their bathroom.  We would laugh with each other in the restroom as our features gently expanded, stretched and shrunk if we moved in front of the mirror.  We all celebrated that we didn’t really look like that.

In the sharing of our secret worries about how we look and our insecurities we grew closer. The inside joke will make us evaluate mirrors at future meetings.  The experience made me bolder at the meeting: more willing to ask hard questions and risk embarrassment.  The troll mirror had a different kind of magic then my office mirror.

In the end, it made me really brave.  Brave enough to take a troll picture of myself and post it on my blog.  In my hipster troll outfit of jeans and my winter coat the effect is diminished, but not entirely.  I am not this squat.

Oh, and the sunglasses I have on?  Those are my rose colored glasses.  So while I might look hideous, the colors were bright and beautiful to my eyes.  Tomorrow I’ve got to get a picture of myself in the work magic mirror in the magic sunglasses to heal my self image.