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Friday, December 28, 2012

What’s It Like In Your Field?

Do you have to dress up to go to work? The first words I read this morning were from the last essay in The Tenth Muse. Here is the author describing the look of field geologists at work:
Field geologists do a lot of walking, climbing fences, fording creeks, running from domestic animals, and other activities that take their toll on personal experience. Even freshly washed clothes, an uncommon garb, are seldom ironed and usually bear numerous stains and battle scars. The geologist is invariably sunburned and thirsty, and in situations where showers are a rarity, is commonly sweaty and dirty, as well. ... In Victorian times the same problem [geologists not looking like scholars] is said to have existed. ...
Didn’t Thoreau say we should beware of enterprises requiring new clothes? When I read these words of Parker's, I feel a rush of warm fellow feeling for the sweaty geologists, and I remember a different group of unlikely scholars, the philosophers, and how at home I felt with them after realizing that—unlike the economics and political scientists faculty, who stood around between classes discussing their retirement benefit packages—philosophers outside the classroom were still chasing down questions about, say, the mental life of dogs. These, I thought then, are my people! They also tended to wear the same rumpled clothes day after day.

Writers who work in their pajamas, truck farmers with grimy knuckles, artists whose clothes attract paint drippings as a magnet attracts iron filings—in their fields of endeavor, the work is what counts, not the appearance of the worker. These are my people!


Dawn said...

But you're in you find that it matters more there? Or not?

I work in a bank...but no longer (not for many years) with the public in person anyway. So in theory could wear Pjs. We have a dress code that has degenerated to include just about everything as long as it is not jeans and not dirty and not insulting to anyone. In the summer it degenerates to worse than that.

Years ago we had to wear a 'uniform' on Mondays and Fridays (kacki pants, bank shirt which was maroon) and business suites on Wednesday. I can't remember what we had to wear on Tuesday and Thursdays. What I do remember is that it was hard to remember which day it was while getting dressed in the morning. Prior to that we had to wear business wear every day. My feet hurt just thinking about it.

P. J. Grath said...

Ah, good question, Dawn! Usually I dress better for special events and author visits, but over the years I’ve found that in general it doesn’t make much difference. But it’s odder than that, even. If my husband or my male helper is on the premises, a first-time visitor usually takes the man to be the business owner and sees me as an employee, but that is the case however we are all dressed and wherever we happen to be in the shop—whether I’m in jeans or a silk skirt, behind the counter or lounging in a leather chair, and whether the man is in a sport coat (has that ever happened in my bookstore? Ha!) or jeans, in a chair or at the counter. I used to think that dressing better would lead to people taking me more seriously, but experience disabused me of that naive notion. People who are going to take me seriously will do so, however I am dressed, and the rest won’t be impressed by businesslike attire. Of course, we none of us wear name tags or have desks or offices, so there are few clues from our egalitarian appearance to set a stranger straight. Imagine a doctor’s office or hospital where everyone from the janitorial staff to the highest-ranking M.D. dressed the same, but some were men and some were women, and what you’d see is just what happens in my bookstore: people making assumptions based on stereotypes they may not be aware they hold.

I’m sure that in a retail clothing or jewelry or furniture store one would have to keep up a certain standard of appearance at work. Books seem to be different. People’s expectations are not the same of booksellers. We see ourselves as knowledgeable professionals--more like the field geologists than like dress shop clerks!

I worked in offices for many years, and there, as in high school, it would have been easier for me if uniforms had been required, easier both in the budget sense and in the matter of dressing with style. Glamor has never been me.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pamela,
At the preschool, we usually wear jeans (I'm pretty much the only one who'll wear a skirt) and a t-shirt covered by a hoody or sweater. At home, I wear a plain full apron on top of same, to avoid messing up my clothes. I find wearing an apron and shoes at home motivates me to get housework done more quickly.

I wore a uniform in high school which was simply wonderful. When I worked in an office I again wore mostly skirts and lots of black. Skirts can be more forgiving of minor weight fluctuations than pants and I've always liked the idea of wearing a piece of clothing that would look ridiculous on a man, unless, of course, he was a Scot in full kilt gear ;)

P. J. Grath said...

There, you see? I always knew having a high school uniform would have been cool. But Amy-Lynn, you give a reason for wearing a skirt that I've never heard before: "wearing a piece of clothing that would look ridiculous on a man"! Kilt an exception? What about a parau--oh, now I don't remember how to spell it!

Anonymous said...

The uniform certainly made getting dressed in the morning effortless. Also, I believe that when you can't express yourself through what you wear, you look for other ways to do it, ie. creative writing and drawing.

I've never heard of a 'parau' but there are certainly other traditional forms of men's dress, besides the kilt, that might be likened to a skirt.

P. J. Grath said...

Funny, I was thinking this morning before going online what it would look like to have a shelf of the books I read for the entire year, all lined up. Believe I will leave it to imagination, though.