What the well-dressed editor is wearing these days.
With the return of warm weather to southwest New Mexico, I can once again don my customary summer office attire: Hawaiian shirts and khaki shorts. One of the perks of working in a home office — besides getting to answer phone calls at 9:53 p.m. just as "CSI:" is about to reveal whodunit — is wearing whatever the heck you want.
Now, one might be tempted simply not to bother getting dressed at all. Why not work from morning to night in your PJs? (Don't even think about skipping that modicum of clothing, though — office chairs chafe.) But I think it's healthier psychologically to create a break between home casual and office casual. It reminds me I'm a professional, even when the Charlie Brown figurines and Spider-Man trinkets on the office bookshelf might argue otherwise. So, like clockwork, by the crack of, well, noon I'm showered, shaved and dressed and ready for the commute from the bedroom to the office down the hall. (Not for me the excuse that traffic was a nightmare.)
That doesn't mean I have to put up with donning a tie, however. My neckties are neatly crumpled in a crazy-quilt pile in the closet next to the suits I don't wear anymore, either. Who ever came up with the idea of knotting a piece of cloth about your neck to look like a professional? (I realize in New Mexico a bolo tie might be considered acceptable instead, but the principle is no less silly.) Why not a head scarf or one of those floppy hats like Captain Hook wears? Or a sash like Miss America, perhaps announcing your title — "Mister Senior Vice President for Operations"?
Nope, my necktie-wearing life is behind me, except for weddings, funerals and maybe my Pulitzer Prize-acceptance speech. And when I say funerals I don't mean my own, thanks; I have no interest in heading to the Hereafter wearing a noose about my neck.
I don't fit into most of those suits anymore (apparently I suffer from a mysterious condition known in medical circles as Middle Age), so there's no danger I'll spontaneously start sporting them here in my home office. I might still be able to shrug into a couple of sport coats, so I keep them near the front of the closet just in case the Nobel Peace Prize committee calls. (It's cool in Oslo, I hear.) For awhile after we moved to Silver City I'd tug on a sport coat when we'd go out to eat, until I realized that in the Southwest of the 21st century "dressing up" for a restaurant means wearing pants.
So by now my choice of "office casual" is pretty much forced — nothing that I used to wear back in my real office days, even on "casual Fridays," fits any more. It's pretty much "casual Mondays through Fridays" (plus Saturdays and Sundays) here at Desert Exposure World Headquarters. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. How, I wonder now, did I ever make myself squirm into those coat-and-tie getups?
I was reminded of my previous office attire a few weeks ago when shopping with my future son-in-law, who works in a Real Office where he sees clients who expect him to dress the part. While my wife and daughter were off in another part of the store hunting for shoes to wear at the wedding (or maybe for the reception or the rehearsal dinner — it's all an expensive blur to me at this point), we guys browsed the men's department.
This was one of those discounted branches of a major department chain, where they offload clothes that have gone out of style (as if I could tell!) and the 123 gross of neon-orange dress shirts they mistakenly ordered. That brings the prices down from laughable to merely outrageous ($99 for jeans? But they were originally priced at $159!), so I had permission to at least look.
I gravitated to the casual-shirts rack like when that comet smacked into the planet Jupiter. Look, real Tommy Bahama shirts for a price that induces palpitations instead of an actual myocardial infarction! True, they were still three times the price of the nearly identical off-brand Hawaiian shirts at Costco, but everyone would know I was wearing Tommy Bahamas. (Everyone, that is, who got creepily close enough to peer inside my shirt collar or at the teensy palm-tree tag below the bottom button, near my crotch.) I could feel my Capital One credit card itching to hop out of my wallet — just think of the reward miles we would earn!
Meanwhile, however, Future Son-in-Law was browsing the suits, ties and dress shirts. Wow, just look at the range of color options in those suits: black, gray, slate, dark-gray, light-gray, bluish-gray. The mind reels! This was while I was trying to decide between the giant orange palm trees and the pink hula-girl pattern.
Schlepping my armload of riotous Hawaiian shirts, I felt a little bad as FSiL pondered his one really creative wardrobe choice — a green tie. But I tried to be a supportive future father-in-law: Here's a nicely subdued green striped pattern. Look, the green on this tie matches the palm fronds on my new shirt!
To be honest, it's easier for men to stick to one extreme or another. If you can't loll around the "office" in Hawaiian shirts and khaki shorts, you might as well suit up and limit your self-expression to a green tie. Life in the middle, as I recall it from my office days, is too stressful: Is today a tie day? How about a turtleneck? If I opt for a polo shirt today, will this be the day when the "suits" from corporate decide to drop in? And if they do, will the suits wear suits? I don't want to be dressed more formally than the Senior Vice President for Operations.
The rise of "office casual" ripped up the professional-fashion rulebook without offering any clear replacement. Even footwear was suddenly up in the air: I've worked at places where some younger employees decided flip-flops were OK. Me, I drew the line right above sneakers — if you could wear the shoes on a running track or to play tennis, they're too casual.
Then offices started mixing in "casual Fridays." In establishments that were already pretty darned casual on Mondays through Thursdays, this was an invitation to halter tops, T-shirts with grunge-band names on the front, ripped jeans, and sneakers with holes in them. At least my current wardrobe of Hawaiian shirts and shorts is clean and absent gaps in the fabric!
Given the other stresses of office work, a little predictability is to be preferred. Look at the guys in "Mad Men," attired nearly identically in their gray suits, white shirts and 1960s-thin neckties. (Don't forget the hats! When will men's hats — not the cowboy variety or even "Indiana Jones" fedoras — make a comeback?) Your only worry in the morning when getting dressed for work was whether breakfast is too early for a cocktail.
So now that I've gone to the other extreme, I too appreciate the absence of brain-wrenching decisions when confronting the closet in the mornings. Palm fronds or hula girls? Watermelon red or electric blue? These are challenging choices, true, but within a defined range. No need to ponder turtlenecks or sport coats, ties or button-down collars, khakis or dress pants, loafers or shoes that tie. Life is so much simpler.
Hey, it's tough enough making the decision to change out of my PJs.
Desert Exposure editor David A. Fryxell wrote this wearing
a watermelon-red shirt with a faint palm-frond pattern and light khaki shorts.