A few weeks ago I had a bunch of errands to run. I had to hit several stores, along with the bank, so I took a shower, shaved, got dressed, and hit the road.
My wardrobe that day was nothing unusual. It was a cool spring day and I wanted to be comfortable, so I chose a pair of khakis and a blue oxford button-down shirt. A pair of brown Rockport shoes. And my horn-rimmed bifocals so I could read labels.
My first stop was a grocery store to pick up a few household items. I was standing in front of the cheese display, doing the math in my head to figure out the best bargain on wedges of parmesan, when a young man approached me.
“Hey, where’s the aluminum foil?” he asked.
Then it hit me. “Oh, sorry. I don’t work here.”
“My bad. You looked like a manager.”
He moved on and I began to notice how the other shoppers were dressed. A lot of t-shirts, jeans, shorts, yoga pants, flip-flops, baseball hats. I guess I stuck out.
I didn’t think much of it until I hit another store and was standing near the checkout counter where several people stood in line. I was not in line and only one cashier was working.
A woman tapped me on the arm. “Can you check me out?”
This time I was ready. “I don’t work here.”
“Oh, you look like a manager.”
Again, on the way out, I noticed the customers. Pretty much the same wardrobe selection from the spring yard work collection.
But it got me thinking. Have we, as a society, gotten so far beyond casual in our dress that even wearing khakis and an oxford shirt is now the equivalent of a tuxedo? Do basic business casual clothes send me directly to management?
When I recently walked into a business office at the end of the week and it looked more like “Casual Mow the Lawn Friday,” I knew dress codes were a thing of the past.
The other day some highlights of Yogi Berra’s career played during a game in honor of his birthday. A few shots of fans showed men in shirts and ties while women wore dresses. Watch anything from the sixties or earlier, or anything set in that time period, and you’ll see a lot more class.
I was further reminded of this when we took my mother to Las Vegas. She always wanted to go there, and since she was getting up in years, we wanted her to experience it. On our first night there she got all dressed up just to play the slots. Then reality hit when she saw people in shorts, t-shirts, basketball jerseys, sneakers and fanny packs.
Mom was shocked. She expected people to dress as if they were in a James Bond movie, with men in tuxedos and women in sequined gowns playing baccarat, drinking martinis that were “shaken, not stirred.”
Still, my mother would not change. She still hung on to the dress codes of her generation. A trip to the doctor, and all the best jewelry would come out. She did the same when I took her for an MRI. I explained that you can’t wear anything metal. “Fine,” she said, “I’ll take it off when I get there.”
I’m pretty much the same way, dressing the way I did when I was younger, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Have I walked into a store unshaven with a bedhead and wearing sweats and a t-shirt? Yeah, but it was an emergency. (We were out of kitty litter. If you own a cat, you know that qualifies as an emergency.)
Still, it might be nice if people took just a little more care in their appearance. You don’t want to end up on www.peopleofwalmart.com, do you?
Meanwhile, if you’re someone who dresses old school, you definitely have an advantage when looking for a job. You won’t even have to apply in some cases. Forget the business casual stuff. A guy in a suit and tie or a woman in a dress or business suit should go right to the top.
Randy Tatano is the author of more than 20 novels, writing political thrillers under the pen name Nick Harlow and romantic comedies as Nic Tatano. He spent 30 years working in television news as a local affiliate reporter and network field producer.
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