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Coporate Clothing

2 Dec


While eating lunch in a local restaurant the other day, I was struck by the   number of dinners who were wearing clothing, with corporate logos. At least four tables were filled with people wearing shirts identifying their company brands.

Perhaps I was sensitive to this because I had just ordered some new company logo items  for myself. At the on-line store, there was an unbelievable sale on sweaters,  so I bought four of them. They were practically giving them away. My wife Diane thinks the price must have been a mistake, due to some computer glitch on their website. But I also ended up buying four shirts, so whatever they lost on the sweaters,  they easily made up on the shirts.  

The only problem is that all the sweaters had to be exactly the same,  including the same color. I have already warned people at work that, even though I will look the same every day, I will actually be changing clothes occasionally. I was happy with my new purchase and exaggerated to Diane  that I  now had a entire week of new work clothes,  ready for this winter. Being both precise and a wise guy, Diane  said, “Sure, if  go naked one day a week.”   

            Some people think this corporate apparel trend is related to the “Casual Friday” movement which was encouraged by the success of the companies in the 1990s.   However, as far back as 1947,  city workers in Honolulu were allowed to wear   tropical shirts  during work hours. In 1962, in order to further  promote the state clothing industry,   the   Hawaiian Fashion Guild  convinced the state senate to pass a  resolution   suggesting  aloha attire be worn in businesses during  the summer months.  In 1965 the Guild  pushed businesses to allow   Hawaiian shirts to be worn on the last business day of the week,  kicking off  the “Aloha Friday” movement, which quickly spread to California and eventually evolved into our Casual Friday. 

At first casual meant not wearing a tie, but this quickly became  wearing khakis and polo shirts, and eventually jeans and  T-shirts. I attended a professional training not long ago and was surprised to see people wearing shorts and flip flops.  A friend of our oldest son worked at a technology company that promoted “Pirate Friday”, in which pirate attire, speech, and mannerisms were all encouraged,  supposedly to boost  morale and creativity . Arrghh.

According to Penny Koch, vice president of sales for Hartwell Apparel,   “For the most part, Fortune 500 companies all agree that casual Friday went too casual over the past few years and needs to migrate back toward a little more polished and professional look.” The explosion in logo corporate apparel  seems to be just the ticket.  Big name brand casual clothing companies like Land’s End and L.L. Bean have jumped into this market with both moccasins.

Allowing only corporate apparel on casual or dress-down days  creates an automatic dress code, while reinforcing the  company’s identity. It is a great way to get free advertising and encourage loyalty and team spirit. A more casual work environment is also said to improve morale and enhance communication at all levels. 

I like it because it simplifies getting dressed every morning. Choosing what to wear is simply one more decision that I don’t want to have to make. In fact I would prefer it if  we all dressed exactly the same, as was predicted in those 1950’s movies about the future. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld said—  perhaps something in silver lamé  with a v-neck will do.      

            The quasi uniform nature of the new corporate apparel provides an image of quality and workers are perceived as professionals and experts. At business meetings I see more and more CEO’s and senior executives wearing simple polo shirts with corporate logos on them,  sort of  the way Mao Zedong wore his Mao suit as a symbol of  proletarian unity.  

            Of course, there are possible drawbacks,  such as an employee behaving poorly in public or in the worst case scenario, committing  some horrendous crime wearing  your company logo  apparel. In extreme cases,  a company might even have to rebrand itself,  like  the much aligned  American International Group (AIG),   Enron,  and WorldCom.

            I suppose I’m attracted to corporate apparel because of its  uniform-like appeal. This begins for boys in early childhood. As a kid I couldn’t wait to put on a uniform– any sort  would do— baseball, cub scout,  band,  or even just  the white cloth Sam  Browne belt and badge of the  safety patrol. I still hold a grudge over not getting picked to be a “patrol boy” and think the unfair selection process was grounds for a class action suit. Presidents Carter and Clinton, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, and 21 American astronauts were all patrol boys.  I could barely stand seeing all those other smug boys, wearing that gleaming badge with the triple A’s. 

            I suppose boy’s attraction to uniforms stems from the fact that uniforms are so closely associated with  heroism. To commemorate the tenth anniversary of  9-11, the company, where I work, expanded its Memorial Day window display of military uniforms, to include the uniforms of first responders, like  police officers and firefighters. 

     Discussing the psychological aspects of  police uniforms,  Illinois law enforcement officer and criminal justice professor Richard Johnson says that such clothing provides “a  mental shortcut(1) In Windows, a shortcut is an icon that points to a program or data file. Shortcuts can be placed on the desktop or stored in other folders, and double clicking a shortcut is the same as double clicking the original file.
….. Click the link for more information. to identify a person’s status, group membership, legitimacy, authority, and occupation.”

     The Cub Scouts say that their uniforms promote equality, since boys from different cultures and economic statuses all wear the same thing. The uniforms also serve to identify boys as members, the badges recognize achievement, and wearing the uniform is a reminder of each member’s commitment to the ideals of scouting.

     Uniforms have such a powerful impact that they are sometimes misused. I remember a scam in Florida, in which young men and women were dressed up in Marine and Nurses’ uniforms,  to sell door-to-door magazine subscriptions at outrageous prices. Well known forger and con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., frequently wore an airline pilot’s uniform to facilitate his cashing of bogus checks. Also in colonial Africa, youths capitalizing on the excellent reputation of the Boys Scouts, misappropriated scout uniforms to gain favorable treatment from authorities.        

I’m  not sure that the new corporate apparel lends itself to such misuse,  although at times I’m afraid, that I might do something stupid in public and embarrass the company.  Maybe it would be best if I wore sweaters that had our competitor’s logo on them.        

Based on a column in the Southern Indiana News-Tribune