Why I Wear What I Do

This very interesting essay on the financial choices of the poor got me thinking about what I wear and why I wear it. Which caused me to haul out the camera and take a picture of what I was wearing today. Today, specifically, I am wearing the following:

A blue polo shirt, which I got at JC Penney. It’s the house brand polo, and I think it cost me $20 or thereabouts;

A pair of Levi’s 505 Regular Fit Jeans, which cost around $40;

Fruit of the Loom underwear, not from the Breaking Bad collection, which I think are like $15 for five;

No shoes and socks at the moment, but if I were wearing them, they would be standard athletic socks ($10 for 10 pair) and the casual brown shoes I bought at Sears about a month ago for about $60.

And that’s it, unless you include the wedding ring; as a rule I don’t usually wear other jewelry or accessories.

What I am wearing today is generally representative of what I wear on any day, both for work (writing and also making appearances) and for just existing. Occasionally I will swap out the polo for a henley or a t-shirt (if I am at a convention and/or not planning to leave my house that day the latter is more likely), but the Levi’s tend to be a staple, and I tend to wear jeans for more than any other type of trouser. I do have suits and other more formal clothes, but I wear them rarely.

Why do I wear what I do? There are several reasons.

1. I am by no stretch of the imagination a clothes horse, nor do clothes really interest or engage me beyond the most cursory way. So I tend to buy clothes that are basic, non-flashy, easy to find and replace and, to a certain extent, status-neutral (which actually means “generically North American middle-class”).

2. With that said, I dislike being a billboard for clothesmakers, which means when it comes to shirts in particular, I actively avoid clothes with brand identifiers on them. This tends to direct me toward house brands, which also have the advantage of generally being cheaper.

3. With that said, I do have one strong brand preference: Levi’s. This is entirely due to early childhood brand indoctrination, since in the world of late-70s, early-80s Southern California elementary and middle schools, there was a definite hierarchy of jeans, which went: Levi’s, Lee, Wrangler and everything else (hot tip: Don’t get caught dead in Tuffskins) (There were designer jeans too, but those were for girls, and there was an entirely different hierarchy there).

As an adult, I recognize this brand identification is largely garbage, but at the same time I still can’t bring myself to put on a pair of Lee or Wrangler jeans. So well done, Levi’s marketers.

4. This get-up has been the basic male uniform for every job I’ve had as an adult: Journalist in the early 90s, AOL minion in the mid-90s, and freelance writer/author from 1998 onward. Additionally, in the business circles I currently frequent — publishing, tech and film/TV — the jeans-and-polo look works just fine, especially because in each case there I am identified as a “creative,” and creatives are given credit if they show up in clothing without obvious food stains on them.

There is a whole discussion to be had here about why “casual” is the standard uniform for all these industries (short form: it’s intentional sartorial messaging from these industries that they are status-less meritocracies concerned only about contribution, not class or other social hierarchies — which, incidentally, is contemptible nonsense) but I will avoid going too much into detail about that at the moment and simply note that since it works for my own clothing choices, I’m happy it’s there.

5.  Indeed, because this is the basic uniform for a middle-class male and several high-value industries have adopted it as a standard look, short of events where formal business wear is explicitly requested or expected, as a middle-aged, generally non-skeevy-looking white dude, this look it gains me entry to almost everywhere I want or need to go. Conversely, almost anywhere I am, no one would argue that I didn’t have a right to be there.

I know this is true because this is my experience in the world. I go to meetings in this get-up and am taken seriously; I go out to meals in this get up and get a table. If being more dressed up is expected, I will do so; clothes are not my thing but I know enough to dress well when I have to. But on a day-to-day basis, this look, coupled with society’s baseline assumptions when it comes to race/gender/class, works for me I’d say 95% of the time.

6. And that other 5% of the time? Well, here’s the thing with that: I don’t have to care what people think — which is to say that other people’s negative social judgment of me based on appearance is almost entirely immaterial to how I get to live my life. This is also due to race/gender/class signaling; some of it is also due to my personal situation and me being who I am as a person.

Now, as it happens, I am interested in when people look me up and down, take in the sartorial gestalt, and make choices about how to respond to me based on it. I think it’s fascinating, and frequently amusing, and sometimes I have fun playing with it. This is particularly the case when, from time to time, I go out looking like a slob — unshaven, hair askew to varying degrees, wearing a some crappy t-shirt — and lose the advantages of the “middle class casual” look.

But it’s well worth noting that the reason I find it interesting and amusing is that by and large it doesn’t have any real negative effect on me. My systematic and personal advantages mean that nearly all disadvantages posed by someone judging me on my appearance are temporary and light. This is also why I find it amusing to post deeply unflattering pictures of myself online (see the one to the right as an example); I don’t have to worry about the negative side-effects of doing so. People who actually are judged on their appearance, and for whom that judgment will have a material effect on their life, don’t have the same luxury to be unconcerned as I do. What’s interesting and amusing to me is a matter of stress and anxiety for others.

A much shorter version of all the above is that I can put on $120 worth of clothes and shoes and be taken seriously almost anywhere I might want to go. So that’s what I do. Not everyone gets to do it. These facts are worth thinking about.

171 Comments on “Why I Wear What I Do”

  1. Quick note:

    I wrote this entry because I read the entry I linked to at the top of the piece, but I will note that this piece is not meant to be a response to the piece; it acted as a trigger for my own thoughts on a related by tangential subject.

    That being the case, I would note that the linked piece (and specifically the question of how poor people spend their money on what sometimes may seem like frivolities to outsiders) is probably not specifically on topic for this thread — if you want to comment on that piece or the specific issues it raised, the comment thread attached to that piece is probably the best place to do that.

    Let’s keep the comment focus on this entry, please.

  2. Clothes choices are a really interesting source of social metadata. Very early in my career, I had to try to dress “nice” for things like interviews, because that sent an important social message. Now I don’t have to, and if I don’t, that sends the message that I am pretty sure I don’t have to. Which is also socially useful.

  3. I don’t want to detract from the power of the linked article (and it is powerful, and you should read it), but I got a chuckle out of one of the first comments recalling “some guy” who compared white privilege to video game difficulty levels.

  4. I remember the first time I noticed how much better dressed all of the non-white women were in my community college class than the white women were. It had been there all along, but it was a fascinating light bulb in the head about why I could get away with Target off-brand jeans and geeky t-shirts and Payless shoes and…they clearly did not think that would be a good choice. And probably not only for reasons of preferring other clothing.

    I can still get away with dressing extremely casually. But I am more aware of it than I used to be. The “I don’t care what I wear” message is still a message that I’m sending, as much as the message of any more “deliberate” choice of clothing. So I have been trying to think about whether or not it’s the message I want to send. (It generally is, and yet.)

    Also of interest to me lately: the further up I move in college classes, the more likely people are to comment on my geeky t-shirts as a sartorial choice. I think because overall the grad students dress a bit more formally (for extremely low values of “formal”) than the undergrads, and now I’m in more classes with them? But it is interesting to me that people are clearly interpreting the Witty T-Shirt thing as a deliberate fashion choice–which they will often give compliments on!–rather than some sort of assumed default. Different subculture, and all that.

  5. You might consider branching out from the Levi’s. I started out that way as well, but have since branched out to Calvin Klein and Banana Republic jeans. Just much more comfortable and better fitting, and for not that much more if you catch the deals.

  6. I just realized that all my jeans are Levi’s or (more recently) Banana Republic. Levi’s really does have a hold on the American (male?) mind. Interesting.

  7. I’m a 42-year-old, female-bodied/male-identified genderqueer. I dress almost every day like a 13-year-old gamer kid: Woot shirts, jeans, Vans. No shaving, no makeup, no jewelry but for a carbide wedding ring. If I had to do an office gig with a formal dress code, I’d be completely lost. I don’t do girl drag and I’d be considered a cross-dresser if I wore men’s business attire, which would bring its own headaches. I have a few skirts and dresses I can haul out if I absolutely need to, plus a couple of of “business casual” things (Dockers-esque slacks and Oxford shirts), but standard office attire would be hell for me. I haven’t worn pantyhose or heels in a decade or more, and only wear makeup if I’m on stage.

    Compounding matters is that I’m also shaped oddly. I’m short and very round, which means finding even casual clothes that fit me is difficult. Finding non-femme office-appropriate stuff in my size is next to impossible. Clothing standards really are fraught with gender, class, and body discrimination, and it makes me furious.

  8. The linked article is important to read, and I like your self reflection on your outfit

    I am a statistician, and for the most part I try to not dress the part (boring skirt/slacks with blouse). As a woman in my field, I often feel I have to do everything I can to stand out and be heard/seen so I don’t get passed over in favour of the other 98% of the workplace that are men (I also enjoy working something geeky into the repetoire such as a space dress :D).

    I also have two “don’t F*&$ with me” outfits that I wear when presenting my research. I know that people have a hard time taking women statisticians seriously, so these are power outfits that (I feel) give of an aura of confidence and authority. I wish I didn’t have to think about these things, and that people would just take me seriously because I am smart and do good work, but alas, ’tis not the case.

  9. Second to last paragraph: “But it’s well worth nothing”. Do you mean “But it’s well worth noting”?

    I agree with you about clothes. I once turned down an interview for a job because it would have required me to wear a suit and tie every day.

  10. Kilroy:

    I find Levi’s perfectly comfortable and at this point there seems little reason to make a change unless the quality goes down drastically.

  11. Your outfit, it’s a bit colourful…

    Levis over here seem to be double the number and swap the currency symbol to Sterling. One of the department store chains did acceptable substitutes at a more reasonable price for a long time but dropped the line, so now it’s an Ebay generic work jeans supplier.

  12. Funny you should mention this…I recently went to Men’s Wearhouse to get myself a suit for a friend’s wedding–I haven’t owned a decent (and a decently-fitting) suit for at least a decade–and I started thinking about just how ridiculously expensive REALLY good suits are. This is especially surprising when you’re someone who rarely wears one on a daily basis. Even more so when I realized that, unlike wedding dresses which are also ridiculously expensive, I can actually wear it to multiple events. [And that of course is another tangent I’ll spare your feed. ;) ]

    As an aside, I will say that I do wear sort-of “brand” tee-shirts, in that I have quite the selection of tees created by the guys who do Diesel Sweeties and Questionable Content–partly because their shirts are hilarious, and partly because hey–I’m all about giving money to the DIY artists when I can!

  13. It’s funny but working in a shop changed my mind about people and what they wear. I have met people that were dressed really sharp and you would think they are pretty rich and then..they bought the cheapest item. And then you had people with boring clothes that bought most expensive things. Not judging people anymore by the clothes that they wear!

  14. I was loyal to Levis until the changed the cut of the 569 and turned it into a skinny type jean.

  15. Suit yourself. I can admire brand loyalty. Nothing by Jiff in my house and Crest toothpaste for not other reason that it always has been.

    As far as my clothing goes, I’m biopposite. Suits and business casual for the job, grungy old t-shirt and 10-year old athletic pants while at home. And the better I have to dress during work, the sloppier I tend to dress at home.

  16. Loved Tressie’s piece and found this interesting as a tangent. I’m one of those whose job is not very fashion-conscious (legal assistant). But I have a distinct sense that the “uniform” I’ve arrived at (slacks, fitted shirt, practical shoes/boots) presents as more “professional” than some of my colleagues who dress in a more conventionally feminine way (skirts, high heels).

    The funny thing is that was never my intention. I dress the way I dress because it’s comfortable and I never have to iron anything.

  17. I live alone and work from home. Jeans are something I put on when I’m going out in public; otherwise I’m living in t-shirts and lounge pants. If I had to start dressing like a grown-up I’d be doomed.

  18. I recently applied for a supervisor position at my place of work. I didn’t expect to get the job, but it opened a conversation with my boss about me wanting that kind of job.

    In our conversation, I identified the things I thought I needed to work on to get the job: delegating work, managing budgets, and supervising others.

    My boss identified what he thought I needed to work on: dress better, network with other departments, get a degree.

    What I took out of that discussion was that my boss, and by extension my place of employment, is more concerned with things that I think mostly superficial and less concerned with actual skills.

    I’m looking for different employment.

  19. It’s something I’ve noticed that perception about a person, with regard to their clothing, it is also affected by their locale. When I worked downtown in San Francisco, it was all about the nice expensive office wear. When I moved to Austin several years later, if I showed up at the office in that same office wear, people thought I was going on interviews or something. Pantyhose were strictly for the winter months, even if you wore a skirt. Too hot for suits, unless you’re a lawyer. Now I’m in a small town in Pennsylvania, and if I were working in an office, it would be something in between those two. This is a pretty blue-collar region, and there’s an underlying sense of “who do you think you are?” aimed at people who dress better than what you can acquire at the closest Target.

    John’s outfit above would fit right in and no one would give it a second glance. Even sloppy!John wouldn’t get much attention. John dressed in a suit would have people wondering if he was someone important. :)

  20. My main brand was always Wrangler – because the cut suits me, I can wear Levis, but they’re less “me-shaped” and also hideously expensive.

  21. I used to work for Wrangler, and I heard an in-house anecdote about an IT contractor who wore Levis to work. It was strongly suggested to this person that it was…unwise…to wear a competitor’s product into the building. This advice was disregarded, and the second day wearing Levis to work at Wrangler equaled a terminated contract.

    For my own jeans, I do wear mostly Wranglers, not out of lingering loyalty to a place I no longer work (haven’t for 16 years), but because they fit me more comfortably than any other jeans I’ve tried. YMMV, of course.

  22. Yeah, if I wear jeans it used to be levi’s and only levi’s. Not no more. I broke free of that chain several years ago when I bought a couple pairs from … Land’s End! Solid jeans too.

    I have never had to wear a suit and tie in my entire 30+ year work history. In fact, the great majority of that time has been spent attired in t-shirts, hoodies, sandals, jeans or similar pants, flannel shirts and assorted recreational footwear. Oh, and shorts when it gets above 70 here.

    Which reminds me of a quote from Frank Zappa: we all wear uniforms. So true. Mine is a t-shirt and baggie pants.

  23. Me for the no-iron look. No skirts, because they detract from our seriousness as an IT person, no cleavage for the same reason. When I never work anything but a suit with pants to meetings because I didn’t want to worry about the (all male) other managers checking out my legs and making stupid sexist remarks. So dressing for a woman is much harder because of all the extra sexual signalling that goes on.

  24. *performs a quick inventory of office-dressed self*

    – Brand-unspecified (possibly Nike) dri-weave golf/polo shirt, bright honkin’ blue. $30 (I think it was on sale at a sporting goods store sometime around the holidays last year)
    – Belt (Target)
    – Black 5.11 Tactical Kilt ($65)
    – Black ankle/athletic/running socks (those $10 for 6 pair ones you get at sports stores)
    – Rockport M4118 clunky black leather shoes, something on the order of ten or fifteen years old. I think they might have been $80 new, but it’s so long ago, I have no clear recollection.

    The shoes are the biggest concession to office attire; I have a strong preference for going barefoot or, when I must wear shoes, a pair of old sneakers or my combat boots (a gift from a friend who served in the Marines who shared my size in the late 90’s)

    I’m also a 40ish white dude with the privilege of being able to look slightly odd and having the social capital to give fewer fucks than other folks as a result of that, as well as a large stockpile of accumulated kicking butt at my job. (Corporate dress code is “skirts must be knee length” and…. the kilt is.)

  25. I agree with almost everything in your post except #3. I’m glad Levi’s work for you, I really am. But Lee is the only brand that’s ever fit me in all the right places. For hubby, it’s Wrangler all the way.

    But yeah, I’m a housewife so there’s no need for me to “dress to impress”. I don’t like designer labels, and I don’t like clothing with large designs (appliqued pockets, overdone embroidery, etc). Simple and comfortable are my bywords. Expensive isn’t a huge issue for me, if I know I’m buying quality stuff that will last. Having said that, I’m happier buying $25 Lands End polos online than buying a $50 “designer” polo at the mall. The whole “but you’re buying the designer label!” mindset is a complete mystery to me.

    Hubby’s often said that one of the reasons he married me is that I’m “low maintenance”. I think the last time I wore makeup was a dinner dance in ’06, and before that it was our wedding in the spring of ’05. As a general statement, I’m not really interested in “looking like a girl”. I don’t like lace, ruffles, or glitter. I prefer sneakers or flat sandals to high heels. I’d much rather be comfortable than “fashionable”.

  26. Most of my clothes come from just a few places. Lands’ End: pants (dress/casual/jeans), shirts (button-down cotton long-sleeve Oxfords, but never white). Underwear: wbite classic cotton Jockey briefs. Socks: Gold Toe black Fluffies. Shoes: Ecco Track II Low (I wear orthotics and need really firm counters, so these are the priciest items in my wardrobe).

    These work day-in, day-out; I can use them at my government office or while mowing the lawn. I essentially never have to wear a jacket or tie except for weddings and funerals, and I can buy all of these on line. I am not a fashion plate and never will be, but I can pass for acceptable in most venues.

  27. @Eddie – That kind of hostile corporate tribalism is a hell of a thing; I did a stint at an outfit I refer to as Big Red Can Cola Company, and they took that to an even more intense level; employees were not allowed to bring food made by the parent company of the Blue Competitor Cola Company (referred to internally as “P-Can”) onto the premises… so if you wanted some chips and salsa as a snack, you had best decant those Tostitos into an unmarked bag and tupperware, and woe betide going out to lunch and bringing leftovers from that chain of restaurants that carries P-Can’s fountain beverages back to your desk, and don’t even think of returning with take-out from Pizza Hut or KFC (same parent company).

    As an out and proud Pepsi drinker, I got a taste of life as a reviled, pitied minority.

  28. Meant to hit “preview”, not “post”…anyway, I also meant to add that at the moment I’m wearing pretty much the same thing you are–jeans, polo shirt, and sneakers. When the weather gets a little colder here (which is a relative term, in Houston), I’ll swap out the shortsleeved polo shirt for a similar style with 3/4 sleeves and a banded bottom:


    Very comfortable, not that expensive, and the perfect weight for what passes for “winter” here in Houston. Winter also means that instead of sandals I wear sneakers, and instead of capris I wear full-length jeans. Otherwise, my sartorial choices are pretty much the same.

  29. thejbru, ten years ago I was in the same place you were and felt the same way you did. But I took my boss’s advice AND continued focusing on what I thought was important, and it paid off handsomely. At certain levels in certain industries dressing correctly signals that your opinions and work are correct, no matter what they are.

  30. Your piece brought back memories of having to rush to the shops prior to starting a new job in my youth. The reason? I did not possess one skirt and my new boss told me it was expected that female workers wore them. It was a huge shock but I managed to buy a couple and used them for work only. Today casual wear is the norm for both sexes and includes jeans, trousers or pants depending on where in the world you live.
    I have never been a ‘label’ person – most of the clothes are made in sweat shops for pennies and sold for ridiculous amounts of money and are poorly made. I buy 99% of my clothes/shoes at thrift stores – many have the price labels still on them & labels! So what does that tell you? More money than sense?

  31. Interesting thing to think about.

    I’m actually currently learning how to make my own clothes, and I’m at that starting-to-build-a-career phase in my life, and so I’ve been thinking about clothes a lot in the last little while. I’m moving to a government job, from a rather laid-back “office-casual” environment, and I’m starting to think rather a lot about what apparel will be “acceptable” in the new job and whether or not my closet (and to-sew pile) will yield viable outfit options.

    The nice thing with learning to sew is that I can make clothes that fit me well and are generally made of better fabric than most run-of-the-mill ready-made clothing. But there’s also the problem of finding the time to actually make things.

  32. $40 for a pair of blue jeans feels like highway robbery to me. As a guy, I can’t even begin to fathom the ridiculous prices on women’s clothing that some people think is acceptable. I doubt that I spend even $300/year on clothing.

    Other than replacing the Levi’s for a $17 pair of Wranglers from Target, my everyday wardrobe sounds like it mirrors yours quite a bit. I wear this general outfit to work everyday, and I’ve been in the IT/Computer Engineering industry for 20 years now. On Fridays in the summer, it is t-shirts, shorts, and sandals to work. :)

  33. @Eddie 2:17

    I had a friend who rode a Kawasaki to a contract every day for I think 2 years. At Harley-Davidson HQ. In Milwaukee. In the early 80’s.

    If they’re that hot on not wearing clothes you already own, as a contractor I would add a uniform allowance line item to my bill.

  34. I loved that article. I have to deal with the female clothing issues with a side of class awareness due to being a social worker. We have to dress well enough to be professional but not so well that we distance ourselves from our clients. It is funny but each person in my decidedly casual office has an unofficial uniform of their own. It is clear, though, that down the line the people of color all dress better than the white staff. Heck, one white male coworker wears jeans and hoodies every single day. I tend to dress better only because my casual clothes wouldn’t work here. Way too much cleavage and geeky t-shirts. I joke that that I could be a mass murderer and never get caught. A white woman in a pair of dress slacks, with a cardigan, wearing a lanyard with a badge can get into anywhere. Seriously.

  35. See, this is why I read your blog, and books. You can take normal everyday stuff and write it up in a way that makes it interesting to read

  36. I’m a fairly round woman at this point in my life, so finding clothes that fit is a real challenge. Plus, if things become too girly, I look ridiculous. At home as a translator, I’m often in flannel jams. (Works for me!) When I go out to teach, I wear a one-piece, often cotton dress, over-the-knee socks (pantyhose always runs the first time I put a pair on, so gave up on that a long time ago) and flats or ankle boots. My students take me very seriously indeed in spite of the socks, so I’m good. Jeans never have fit me well.
    The grooming aspect of males versus females is different and expensive on the female half. The man in the house spends $30 every six weeks on a haircut. I spend $120 on cut and color, $60 on a mustache removing facial, and $60 on a mani-pedi.
    I wear my wedding ring and not much other jewelry, and lipstick if I have to. So my expenses versus that of most women is minimal, but the man wears no jewelry and no make-up, so his personal upkeep is decidedly cheaper!

  37. When I worked outside the home in the 1980-early 2000s in MA I frequently worked for software start ups. For job interviews I wore jeans and a sweater or button down shirt (drove my mother crazy – you should wear a suit for an interview). For the job I wore jeans and turtlenecks, sweatshirts, occasionally t-shirts (I’m always cold). My co-workers were usually male & wore jeans, shorts, sweatpants with t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies. Managers wore jeans and polos or button down shirts. When I was becoming a religious Jew I switched to skirts made out of sweatpant material, denim, or other really casual material and cut. It took a few weeks for co-workers and management to believe I wasn’t job hunting and to stop teasing me for dressing up. Now that I work from home I own a lot of pajamas. :)

  38. I am a college educated 29 year old generic white guy with a house and a family. But I work in the trenches of a shipyard because college doesn’t make people special anymore and I need to pay the bills (largely for that degree which hasn’t done me any good). I am a t shirt and jeans kind of guy which firmly puts me in the slightly nerdy slacker image. That’s my choice.

    But working in a shipyard is a filthy job. The dress code is hobo. Other than the quickly battered Docs, I doubt I spent more than 20 bucks on what I’m wearing now. For the first four years, I refused to go anywhere in my work clothes. With a kiddo in daycare I can’t avoid it. After a year there, I still get the stink eye from the lawyers and Brown profs there. It doesn’t help that very few dads pick up children there.

    It is sad and frustrating that people get all upitty because of how I need to provide for my family.

  39. I’ve largely given up on jeans. Jeans are tough and durable and suitable when panning for gold. I don’t actually do much gold panning.

    I’ve found that cotton twill pants (e.g. Dockers) are more comfortable, appear dressier, and are about as easy to care for as jeans.

    I used to buy jeans and I was always annoyed by the enormous labels that are sewn on by the manufacturer. I always solved that problem with a seam ripper.

  40. It is NOT FAIR that as a man, you get to write Point #5, and that you feel 95% of the time that “no one would argue that I didn’t have a right to be there.” (I don’t hold it against you, just really envious.)

    As a female engineering professor, I feel that way only 5% of the time. The other 95% I have to always consider my clothing style and age with any activity — so I’m not confused as an undergraduate, graduate, secretary, or wait staff depending on the situation. Can’t be too sexy, but can’t look too frumpy, can’t be too casual, but not too dressy. Don’t even get me started on the HAIR!.

    I thought maybe you were going to comment more on this gender difference.

  41. I grew up in a working class household. My dad was enlisted – later went mustang, but a sergeant’s salary isn’t a lot to raise a family of four on in DC even with a housing allowance and his bonuses. My mom is an RN, but the hospital where she worked downsized and she spent most of my childhood teaching piano. K-Mart and Payless were our tailors. So now that I can, I dress nice. I don’t do it to impress anyone, though I did when I was still in private industry and it materially effected my career prospects. I don’t do it out of some misplaced insecurity. I do it because it’s a luxury I enjoy aesthetically and I can now.

    I’m not saying everyone who came up without money needs to become a fashion plate as soon as they have some, just that nice clothes are my cup of tea and now I can afford the good stuff. I still think people who fork over thousands of dollars for designer sweaters are suckers, but I’m not above spending a fifty note on a nice shirt. It helps that I know how to sow and take care of fabric, so my clothes last for many years. If I knew how to sow well and had the time, I’d make my own.

    Not too long ago, someone tried to guilt trip me by pointing out that I drive and maintain a very old car (by today’s standards), I have a nice but quite modest home, I’m savings and investment oriented, and I generally eschew “crass commercialism” as much out of disinterest in it as skepticism towards its perceived value, but that I was affronting everyone who couldn’t afford a five hundred dollar pair of boots by wearing them. In fairness, I made the mistake of asking her why I was, in her words, a hypocrite.

    Use to be I’d take umbrage at such an arrogant and uninformed insult. Nowadays I just shrug and leave the judgmental to cast their stones a the cover of the book.

    “If you grew up with holes in your zapatos, you’d celebrate the minute you was havin’ dough.” ~ Shawn Carter

  42. My husband and I occasionally have spats about the way he dresses. He thinks it’s ok to leave the house in whatever junk he happened to pull from a drawer. I dress very casually, but it’s a NICE, CLEAN casual. Shoes can change the whole look of an outfit.

    He maintains that he “doesn’t care” what other people think of how he dresses. I argue that it’s important only insofar as it affects how others will interact with you. But maybe as a white male it doesn’t affect him as much as it does female me.

  43. Re: the side note in #4, I disagree that it’s “contemptible nonsense”. (Speaking only for high tech here since that’s the industry I’m familiar with.) On the one hand, yes, it’s so blatantly untrue that calling it “contemptible nonsense” seems valid, but on the other hand it really is a perception we have in the industry that a status-free meritocracy is a good thing and we do – mostly – strive towards that ideal. Basically, while we aren’t there yet, we’re generally trying to get there and the continued tradition of “casual” wear serves as a subtle but constant reminder of our intentions… Or at least that’s the way I see it.

    (If this is off-topic, I’m sorry! I think it’s OK because it’s directly addressing something you said, but you said it in a tangent so…)

  44. Two things here:
    Your dress works well for you based upon what you do and who you are. I for one would not feel comfortable if my doctor, lawyer or financial advisor dressed in such a fashion when I visited them.
    Second, and I cannot believe that in over 40 replies no one has mentioned this, but what is that being blurred out down by your left leg????

  45. At work, I wear what my employer tells me to wear. All of my shoes are black so they can be worn at work.

    When I’m out in public, I might wear a t-shirt that I got for free from the Red Cross to hide my gut. I wear Faded Glory jeans to comply with laws against public indecency. (That’s not the only reason I wear pants, but it’s a pretty good reason.)

  46. As a fairly senior civilian with a military background who worked in a military sevice’s HQ I used to mentor/counsel much more junior civilians. One of the areas I covered was appearance. I told everybody that they had to do three things to be taken seriously–pay attention to their shoes (good soles/heels and always polished), pay attention to their hair (conservative cut and neatly combed), and pay attention to their weight (carrying some extra pounds was OK, being sloppy overweight was not). Other than that, dress professionally–no one would notice whether or not your shirt was a $19.95 one from Penney’s or a custom-made $200 bespoke one. Same with ties, suits, etc. It didn’t matter how great your analysis was or how cogent your argument/presentation if your shoes looked bad, your hair was in disarray, and your stomach hung over your belt. The military culture would write you off as soon as you stood up and walked to the front of the room to begin.

    The only comment I ever got on those rules was from a female officer who said there might be a few women military officers who would notice good tailoring from their civilian wardrobe experience, but otherwise I was right on with my advice.

  47. Oh, forgot to say — nice hand on the hip pose! You must be hanging out with women under 30 :)

  48. @Laura W

    The man in the house spends $30 every six weeks on a haircut.

    I give my stylist $40 + $10 tip once a month and consider it money well spent as she knows exactly how I like my hair and has been cutting mine for a decade now. I do my own plucking and nails. And I’m no unicorn. Many men see to their appearance for whatever reasons personal or professional. The uncouth male stereotype is tired.

  49. HappyAss:

    It’s a sex toy, obviously.

    (Note: It’s not; it’s the box for an electric shaver that I forgot to move before I took the shot.)

    Dr. Fluids Engineering Mom:

    “I thought maybe you were going to comment more on this gender difference.”

    I assumed someone else would (and so you have).

  50. I find dress works both ways for men.

    I actually liked to dress up. Coat and tie. Nice shirt. Etc. This was probably because of my father, a baby boomer to the greatest generation. Going to work meant a suit and tie and Friday casual meant–gasp! No tie.

    When I moved to Los Angeles, and landed a few meetings, I’d go in wearing this “typical” interview wardrobe, which I thought was perfectly natural.

    Apparently, it read as trying too hard.

    I’ve discovered that for meetings (for writers in particular) you can’t be dressed too poorly. It’s all but expected. Wait, that’s a lie. It is very expected. (Yes, you MUST smell good–odor and hygiene is a MUST!) But appearance… Pretty sure you could wear a tracksuit to meetings and it would be better than suit and tie.

    My best meetings have been in a 1) hooded sweatshirt 2) wearing a tastefully terrible T-shirt (think The Hangover). These have resulted in options. My worst meetings were when I wore suit and tie. And the meetings were over before I even said a word. They took one look at me, and it was evident that the meeting was over before it had even begun.

    I’ve later learned that wardrobe is not just a quick visual to indicate societal status, but here in Los Angeles, it also indicates occupation.

    –Suit and tie is agent.
    –Smartly dressed, suave, but casual (for most people this is dressy, but minus suit and tie, possibly Sport coat) is generally producer.
    –Writer is usually polo or T-shirt and jeans. Polo is usually Gen X and older. T-Shirt Gen Y and younger.
    –Tracksuit and Rolex is usually established writer that no longer gives a $h!t.

    This isn’t hard and fast. Just what I’ve noticed.

    It’s not just status that dress indicates, but expectation as well.

  51. One of the things I love about my job (I’m a physical therapist assistant) is that I am expected to wear slacks (not jeans, but not a $200 pencil skirt either), reasonably flat shoes, and a polo shirt or nice sweater. I am not required to wear cosmetics, and I don’t.

    Some of my patients have real, honest-to-God medical issues due to the way they are required to dress. E.g., hair stylists who must stand on hard floors in high heels all day long, in spite of back/neck/knee problems.

  52. I work in IT, in a company known for a casual atmosphere (i.e., “business casual” is the default dress code, 5 days a week). So in my department, t-shirts/polos, jeans and sneakers are the gold standard. If you so much as combine a button-down shirt and khakis, you’re accused of going to a job interview.

    As a very large build person, who is currently working on losing weight, I found myself recently needing new clothes. I’m already down a few sizes from just a year ago, which is a wonderful feeling. For the first time I can recall, clothes shopping is fun! So, I spent some time reading up on the interwebs about style and fit.

    I discovered my personal style of oversized t-shirts and shorts (it’s Texas, there’s really no time of year you CAN’T wear shorts) wasn’t doing me any favors in a fashion sense. And since I feel better about how I look, I want to look better too…so I’ve started incorporating button-downs, slacks, and casual dress shoes. I took a lot of ribbing from my coworkers the first week…enough people asked me where my next job interview was, I almost wanted one!

    So, the linked article was quiet interesting to me…as it seems not only are their unwritten “minimum” standards for certain levels of society, but “maximums” as well. Although, at least for a straight white male in corporate America, butting up against the max isn’t harming me in any way I can detect…I just met with minor resistance I had to push through.

    @unnaturally speaking:
    I have a good friend who works the other side of the fence at that “p-can” company. I don’t know if they have any nicknames for their main competitor, but the atmosphere is quite similar. They know every product in their soda line, snack line, and subsidiary fast food places. He wouldn’t even keep the red can sodas in his house, in case a coworker came over.

  53. I am in IT and work from home 99% of the time. I wear jeans (assorted) and a t-shirt (long or short sleeve depending on the season). Fleece sweaters are a staple. I’ll do anything to avoid ironing. When going to clients, I’ll wear generic black dress pants, a newer T-Shirt and a jacket or dressier sweater. I have $12 private label jeans from Target and and $90 point zero jeans. Comfort, low weight, and fitting over my leg brace are key for me. My philosophy re cost is to consider what it costs to buy versus what it costs to wear. $90 jeans worn multiple times per month for 7+ years make for an acceptable purchase. For dress up I might wear mascara. Clothes that are fussy or have to be fussed with are not for me.,

  54. Thank you for the personal insight.. Not only did it remind me (with humor) the various opinions that have floated about me, it delighted me to hear someone else yank on the ‘brand name’ chain!
    All my clothes are, for most of the last decade; are hand-me-downs,the only brand I will Not give up is my New Balance shoes. these are the only shoes I have found that like my difficult to size feet!
    Once again, thank you!

  55. Lovely post. On of my frustrations living in a tech area is that my day to day wear means people ask me if I am a student. Yet in the same geography guy wearing the same sort of clothing is asked if he’s in IT!

  56. thejbru, I hear you, but…

    Sometimes dress/degree/networking (and other things that aren’t very directly related to Accomplishing The Particular Job) are things that very quickly signal “I can cooperate, play well with others, and am aware of the ways to fit in and willing to deal with doing them”, which *is* a useful job skill for many managerial positions. You have to know when to push back, but you also have to know when to go along with only mildly-stupid decisions because it’s the best tactical strategy for the time being.

    It’s like stupid job fill-out-the-online-form-even-though-all-this-information-is-also-in-your-CV sorts of things. In some cases, it’s for HR search filters. In other cases, if you can’t put up with this small amount of petty bureaucracy, then just aren’t a good fit for a job that required irritating form-filling-out precision on a regular basis.

    That said, I’ve been fortunate enough to only work jobs where I don’t have to wear a suit. Drycleaning is annoying, environmentally not-nice, and *expensive*!

  57. Summer of ’61 I worked at IBM’s main plant just south of Poughkeepsie, in the tool engineering department. Jacket, white shirt, tie. I wore TV blue once and it was frowned upon, as was short-sleeve white. Once I sat on my desk instead of at it, and was admonished. It taught me I didn’t ever want the corporate life.

  58. This is something to consider! I also grew up very poor, but with the differences of being female-bodied, brown, and living in Southern California. I didn’t get much brand messaging because my clothes came from thrift shops and my shoes came from payless. The main messages I absorbed is that my clothes were wrong and my shoes were worse.

    In the years after I finished school, I rose in the IT field and my pay grade improved and I began making some changes away from the standard jeans and sneakers uniform. I purchased expensive shoes when I could: they could be repaired as long as I took good care of them, and they looked good. Plus, repaired shoes are far more comfortable than new shoes. I’ve endured a lot of crappy shoe-induced foot pain.

    I bought suits occasionally, when I found something good in my size. I discovered a love for slacks. My coworkers were often startled when I dressed up, but my managers appreciated it (or were at least concerned I might be considering leaving.)

    Something I’ve noticed since moving to Washington: Seattle is far more casual than many places, as a rule. That said, I found I had an easier time dressing formally than schlubbing around in the jeans and t-shirts so many white people got by in. At least, that was the rule until my skin grew paler. I don’t get as much sunlight in Seattle, and my particular mix of ancestries allows me to pass for white as my skin pales. A few years later, I can get away with the standard white person casual uniform. I’m not followed around shops when I wear jeans and a t-shirt, and shopkeepers don’t ignore me even though I don’t appear to have money. Cops don’t watch me.

    This is pretty fresh currently, even though I have lived in Seattle for a decade now: I recently took a vacation and came back browner. I stuck out when I returned, and I found myself adjusting my wardrobe to appear less threatening. More formal and tidy,

  59. Your standard outfit would work just as well here in semi-rural Germany. It’s not all that far off of mine either. I’ve found that over the years polos have given way to button-down and I have yet to find jeans from any manufacturer that don’t give me a wedgie, so I tend more toward cotton twill/chinos, but the differences are small.

    Of course, if I worked for someone else and outside the house, I might have to invest in some more ties and jackets. Germans still tend to be kind of stuffy about dress outside of non-corporate IT and trade journalism. Worst case for me, though, was in the States, putting in new computers at a major defense manufacturer. We had to wear ties (no jackets was something of a concession), and I can’t count the times I throttled myself while crawling under a desk because I was kneeling on my tie.

  60. You can add most of the tech industries to the “jeans and polo shirt” group, including semiconductors (my current and hopefully final industry) and most of the customers for semiconductors (plus software, although they’re more likely to dress down from J&P.)

  61. On the discussion of being seen using a competitor’s products at work – in college (back in the ’80s) I had a summer internship at GM; being a broke college student from a middle-class family with two kids in college, I drove a thirteen-year-old Ford that my parents got from a family friend for $1000. I got quite a few comments about it; had I dared to show up in a car made in Japan, I doubt that I would have made it through the summer with the tires, windows, and paint job intact.

  62. @Shawna, I empathize with you, even though I am cis female. My experience is that as long as you don’t wear a tie, a pants suit and oxfords will not read “male”, even in the darker colors. If you go light grey or brown, people read it as gender neutral or even feminine.

  63. Let’s see here… Dockers khakis (50 bucks on sale), because denim is too heavy most of the year here, and my Utilikilts aren’t allowed out on the shop floor.
    Vans slip ons, because I’ve worn Vans since before most of the kids selling them to even younger kids were born. Probably 40 bucks on sale.
    Aloha shirt, one of the vast assortment that my wife picks up from various thrift stores. She *never* pays more than 5 bucks for one.

    I own a sport coat, in very nice summer-weight wool, for marryin’s and buryin’s. Never for work. The same for ties – I own a few, for those same occasions.

    All because I once wore a suit to visit a customer… Afterwards my boss told me that ‘suits are for salespeople – no one believes an engineer in a suit.’

    Oh, and as a middle-aged, balding guy, the one thing I do splurge on is hats. Nothing bettern than a good, properly sized hat, nothing worse than a cheap, ill-fitting one!

  64. My husband works in IT. Once, when he was young and foolish, he wore a suit to an interview. They decided to hire him anyway!

  65. I think that there are vast differences in the comfort and pleasure to be derived from wearing expensive/cheap fabrics; cashmere is much more fun than polyester and leather breathes in a way plastic doesn’t.

    Broadly speaking clothes made from expensive materials last much, much longer than cheap ones; Terry Pratchett nailed this perfectly with the Sam Vimes economic analysis of boots.

    Much the same principle applies to bed linen; 600 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets are great to sleep in and last more or less indefinitely when rotated so that the fibres relax.

    And then there’s the huge discounts which kick in on last seasons designs in high range stuff; I prefer Armani to Levi’s, and since I don’t care that they are last seasons designs I buy them for not much more than Levi’s.

    Of course to do this you have to be reasonably well off; last season’s 600 thread count sheets are still going to cost more than poly cotton cheapies, and tracking things down in the sales takes time which is also a luxury.

    And then there’s shape; mine varies quite a lot, depending on my medications, but mostly I am slim enough to fit into samples so I can buy dresses which cost £100 rather than £1000. I’m happy to have them dry cleaned to get the model’s makeup off, but someone with a different body shape is never going to have that option; there’s always the DIY route but making clothes is expensive both in materials and time.

    All in all, I suppose that this is just a lengthy way of saying ‘It’s complicated’…

  66. I am the same age as Scalzi and from Long Island, NY rather than Southern CA. I am also a white male in the US middle class. I now live and work in the Seattle area as an Engineer. The standard engineer outfit is basically the same as for Creative types in Scalzi’s example. Show up with clothes that cover you and aren’t food stained and you are OK. I tend to wear a slightly different mix than JS but that I think is the East Coast bias. The East Coast hung onto the suit preference longer than the West Coast. So I wear a tee shirt, an open buttoned-down shirt and khaki pants with cargo pockets except during the summer when it is tee + shorts. Roughly the same value as JS’s clothes.

    I wore the same outfit when I worked in Munich as well. I admit that when I visited a lot of Defense contractors in the late 90s I wore jacket and tie. Though there is a big difference between Beltway Defense contractors and Defense contractors in Santa Barbara, CA.

  67. Hmm, that’s a thought-provoking commentary. And it made me think back over my own nearly four decades of clothing choices in a different way.

    One thing that I realized almost immediately about my own experiences mirrors what Luna and a few others describe, and that is the huge impact upon sartorial expectations of the region of the country in which one lives. What is acceptable in my current reality would have gotten me ostracized where I lived for 18 years in the 1980s and 1990s.

    I am a white female accountant. When I lived in a very conservative region of extreme southern Texas, the expectation was a skirt/blouse/jacket combination or a suit-dress EVERY DAY. Pants were frowned upon as too mannish, not decorative enough for “the little lady” (gag) to wear. Always nylons. Always immaculately coiffed hair. Always, always, always makeup. And high heels, a different pair for every outfit if possible.

    I bought into it. I wore dresses or skirts daily, wore nylons when it was 110 degrees outside (not at all uncommon in that region), I dutifully teased and combed and sprayed my hair into the acceptable norms, I painted that guck on my face (hated it but did it), and while I couldn’t wear heels due to physical limitations, I made sure that I had the proper assortment of matchy-matchy stylish flats. It wasn’t my style or my choice, but I knew it was the ONLY way that I would ever be taken seriously in my profession.

    As a side note, my female Hispanic colleagues took those expectations to a whole other level. I at least put on shorts or jeans on the weekend – they looked like they were ready for a fashion photo shoot seven days a week. I’ve been at the grocery store at 10:00 pm on a Saturday night and have run into colleagues who were kitted out in dress, nylons, makeup, heels and the whole nine yards. I’d ask if they had been at a party earlier – nope, just doing the weekly shopping while it’s quieter, doing so while dressed to the nines. They had even more to live up to than I did, with my blue eyes and light-colored hair.

    So now I’m living in a mid-sized Midwestern city. It’s a state capitol and a big university town, there’s lots of high-tech and R&D here, and boy howdy, are appearances ever different. I don’t think I’ve worn nylons to work in years. I still own one or two dresses, primarily because I haven’t gotten around to putting them in the Goodwill pile, but most days I wear casual shirts and trousers, or even Capris in hot weather. I haven’t worn makeup since 1999. My undyed and uncurled hair is long and straight, and all I do to it in the morning is scrape it back and tie it out of my face. And my Keens and Danskos and Merrills are clunky, homely, comfortable, and totally unremarkable in this part of the world.

    I am accepted and respected professionally here, despite my lack of dresses, nylons, cosmetics, hairspray and high heels, in a way that would NEVER have been possible in Texas. It is an interesting perspective, to put it mildly, and one more reason that I’m really, really glad to live where we do now.

  68. @Richard,

    I’m an IT person (fortysomething SWM) in the Seattle area, and I’m very much in Alison’s camp.

    At work, button-down shirts and slacks – and for the first six months here I wore a tie as well, just to emphasize that I wasn’t interested in conformity. It’s a little more expensive for me because I am short but while I’m very fit, all the sports/activities I do have given me thick neck and thighs, and most “business” clothing is not cut with that combination in mind, so slim/athletic fit is a must, which drastically limits the suppliers. Particularly for non-iron stuff, which is just so much more convenient.

    For the same reason, I don’t wear chinos or jeans outside of work, either. Slim fit binds too much in the thighs and associated even more tender areas, and normal fit has the wrong profile. I find golf shorts a good compromise, when the weather allows.

  69. I don’t buy your books because you’re a snappy dresser, are up to date with the latest fashions in GQ, or because I think you have some kind of noblesse oblige to look like you stepped out of the boardroom meeting you just chaired at General Motors. I buy your books because I like your style of writing, and I have a good time reading your books. I don’t care if you write them while wearing Wal-Mart sweats, a $1,200 Armani suit, or nothing. What the hell does fashion have to do with how you write? What are people expecting, science fiction from the well-dress writer?

  70. the only brand I will Not give up is my New Balance shoes. these are the only shoes I have found that like my difficult to size feet!

    Oh, so very very this. If someone wants me to wear “dress shoes,” I’m likely to provide them with shoes in a very uncomfortable place. Those New Balance running shoes are what make it possible for me to walk, thank you — too many years of bad lower-leg circulation [1] leading to all sorts of orthopedic problems.

    One exception: I had some boots customized for my daughter’s wedding. If you’re not somewhere nearly as important to me, don’t expect the same treatment.

    [1] Severe varicose veins dating back at least to my mid-20s. Total surprise a couple of decades later — they don’t show on guys. Who knew?

  71. As a 50ish white female working in a field the expects frumpish dress, for work I wear what I want to work as long as it’s not short shorts, midriff baring, or dirty. If I’m going shopping for a big ticket item, and I want to be left alone, I wear what I usually wear. If I want the sales staff to hop to, I dress up a little. But… Last year when I started my breast cancer treatment, I noticed that many of the ladies in the waiting room were dressed to the nines, and carefully groomed. Even the bald ones who didn’t chose to wear a wig had nice scarves or fancy hats… I asked one of my fellow patients (who I know from the real world as well) what gives with the spiffy outfits and she claimed it was so the doctors would know she was “worth” saving. After thinking about it, I started dressing for success in the cancer clinic too. Grim, really.

  72. I spent many years in roles that required the suit and tie uniform (corporate consultant, attorney), and I actually quite enjoyed it. You can have a lot of fun with shirt and tie combos.

    That being said, now that my wife and I have our own business, my daily attire is not too different from our host’s. Maybe throw in a few more football team specific shirts.

  73. I am very happy that my current job allows me to wear business casual, and even dress down occasionally. I’ve done both extremes: a job that required me to wear a business suit, and a job that required me to wear a polyester uniform. Ick on both counts. These days, I frequently buy online and in outlets and charity stores, because if I can pick up designer clothes secondhand, that means I can be taken seriously for a fraction of the cost. Sartorial choices are another area where women and POC get disproportionally affected in what they communicate by what they (sometimes it’s what they can afford to) wear.

  74. As a female, gay, and non-white/mixed-race person, I am very very aware of presentation, and my work wardrobe is a carefully crafted exercise in threading the needle, aka straddling a razor blade.

    I must look professional, but not too dressy. Feminine, but not sexy. I have to dress practically, as well, since I use public transportation and spend much of my day going up and down stairs, and crossing a very large building from one meeting to another, but I can’t look too practical–sneakers are right out. Also, I refuse to iron or dry-clean.

    Fortunately, women’s wear generally offers a wider selection of “career looks” in knits, than menswear does, which (very slightly) makes up for the required heels. Bah.

  75. @ Gulliver, way, way upthread: “It helps that I know how to sow and take care of fabric, so my clothes last for many years.”

    I wish that I could sow my clothes – sounds like it would save on costs all around. ;)

    In all seriousness, both the original article and Scalzi’s response to it are really fascinating. I know that I’ve become very conscious of what messages my clothes (not to mention hair and make-up) might be sending to the people that I work with, and I’ve made a lot of wardrobe choices as much on that basis as on the grounds of what I like.

  76. Afterwards my boss told me that ‘suits are for salespeople – no one believes an engineer in a suit.’

    I agree, except that I’d note that the field application engineers who accompany sales people usually dress more nicely than the engineers to whom they are selling. It’s sort of like the colored shirts on a carrier deck.

  77. Interesting topic, one that has been bubbling around in my head as I try to teach my teenage daughter about how and why to dress well in public. I think people sometimes forget that clothing is communication just as much (and sometimes more than) as words.
    As a petite female working in retail, I interact with people of all sorts all day and the way I dress dramatically changes the way people react to me. If I am too casual it is easy for people to dismiss me, too nice and people patronize. Really, the phrase “well, aren’t you a good little salesperson” wasn’t even acceptable when I was a kid selling girl scout cookies, I shouldn’t have to put up with it at 36 (ona semi-related note, am I alone in being annoyed when people mistake me for someone much younger? Dammit, l EARNED those years!). In some ways “freedom of dress” is like freedom of speech. I do have the right to wear whatever I want, but I cannot expect that to mean that people won’t make judgement calls about me based on my choices. I still find the way that plays out in the real world to be quite irritating and I think our clothing based conversations desperately need a shift.

  78. I’m in IT as well, but I’m a consultant, so I tend to dress a little better than I did when I started this job — button-down shirt and a nicer pair of jeans when I’m in the office, at least business casual on a client site.

    One big takeaway you ARE judged on your appearance, every day. It may not be fair, and it may have nothing to do with your ability to do a job, but that’s the reality. In some ways, it’s similar to being polite.

    (I had a discussion with a friend who stated that he’d like the be the “cranky SOB who gets things done” — my belief is that if you’re a cranky SOB, nobody wants to work with you and you’ll get nothing done, no matter how competent you are)

  79. Mid 30s white cis-gender woman working in corporate office world here. When I first started (roughly a decade and a half ago), jeans were fine and you could always tell who was here for an interview because they were wearing suits.

    At some point that changed to “business casual” aka no jeans & t-shirts (unless you were in R&D). A lot of us had to go buy new wardrobes. So in the last decade the bulk of my wardrobe at home has gone from jeans to slacks. I’m also overweight, so that limits choices somewhat, but I’ve never been one to give a rats a** about fashion. So long as the colors go well together, that’s about as far as I go. I don’t wear pantyhose or makeup or fancy shoes or get manicures. Hell, last time I went for a haircut was over a year and a half ago (my hair is very long, and mostly worn in a ponytail). At home, I wear sweatpants and tshirts, usually geeky ones about video games or snarky ones about coffee. Socks are white athletic socks, sneakers are New Balance because they have size 10 4E that fit me. I buy them in black so that I can get away with wearing them at work. Once I find stuff that fits, I tend to wear it until it falls apart. I hate clothes shopping.

  80. I’m a 35 year old white cis-woman, with a body type more common to men. Luckily for me, my two current jobs are as an office assistant in the coal industry, where they’re honestly just glad I’m clean, and a bagger with a local convenience store. Beige jeans and a uniform shirt there. This is good, because I have no “curves” as people generally think of them. I’m of average height, and I’m not “round” in the sense most people think. I’m kind of a tube. Luckily, I can get away with simply wearing men’s clothes all the time, and my attire is unisex enough that nobody thinks anything of it.

  81. When I started working at the university I was not much older than the students so I wore jeans and t-shirts (bless employers that don’t have mandatory dress codes!); 10 or 15 years later I realized that I was veering towards bag lady, just because I was that much older. (Also, I would occasionally be wearing $25 worth of clothes and $200 worth of jewelry, which just felt silly.) So I got very good at shopping sales, outlets, and thrift stores, and morphed into a grown-up at last. Now that I’m retired, it’s cargo pants and t-shirts.

  82. It amazes me how different the “uniforms” for different occupations are – and how they really are all uniforms. My friends who work in business-type jobs dress very well, with nice shoes and skirts and expensive tops. The scientists, engineers, and coders I know (including me) wear jeans or whatever and t-shirts or whatever – but it’s not that we COULD wear anything and choose this, exactly – this is our uniform. If you come in to work wearing nice clothes, as some of my officemates sometimes do, people remark on it to you ALL DAY. It’s never negative, but even “Wow, you’re dressed up!” 10 times in a day calls attention to a difference between them and everyone else.

    My mom has trouble with this since she works in publishing; she constantly asks me if I’m sure I don’t need to have some nice clothes “for work.” But in my work, being really well-dressed – being dressed in a way that people will think you’re competent and belong there – means pants that you could do field work in and a t-shirt from an old conference.

    To your statement that creatives get to dress like that because there’s supposed to be a meritocracy: I’m not a creative so I can’t speak to that, but being a science (?? is that the comparable term?), I can say that we definitely do acknowledge that there is a strict social hierarchy between full professors, assistant professors, non-tenure-track researchers, post-docs, and grad students. Maybe we dress like this in case we suddenly have to rush out of a meeting and do emergency field zoology with no warning?

  83. I wore the very same style and colors today.. But the shirt was a hand me ups from banana and the pants were from old navy. I also wore an undershirt which the arms stuck out below the sleeves after a few hours. I was all street.

    Shoes from Academy and socks from mumble who supports my habit of eating and roofiness.

  84. Hmm. I’m wearing a sweater and pencil skirt at the moment. (And most days. I don’t have to wear skirts, but I never get around to ironing my dress slacks when they get wrinkled. I work in finance in the midwest, jeans or khakis wouldn’t be acceptable.) I know it’s silly and a waste of money, but I end up buying most of my work clothes from nicer places, it’s mostly just my imagination but they seem to fit better and have a little more style. Plus wool wears so much better than synthetic, and leather shoes break in and can be resoled over and over…

  85. Two things – I think a *lot* about which clothes I wear in what setting, and a fair amount of why is because I’m a woman, I look young and I’m skirting the edge of poverty, all things that make it harder to be taken seriously.
    When belonging isn’t the default for you, sending the signals to make other people accept you as equal takes on a great deal of importance. Especially in situations where professional/social capital is at stake. It’s like meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time *all the time.* And it’s much easier to get wrong for women, since there are about a zillion different nuances within the hierarchy of style. Making what you wear at all comfortable, practical or affordable while sending the right signals can make shopping a little like being the supply officer for D-Day.
    When the occasion is something that can mean the difference between paying all my bills one month or not paying all my bills one month (like that meeting with the boss about a raise after my landlord raises my rent) it’s even higher stakes.
    I guess all I’d note is that the next time someone feels inclined to be dismissive of someone else for thinking too much about clothes, stop and consider that maybe the stakes in their lives mean they don’t have the luxury of blithe indifference.

  86. I’d also point out I’m not a spendy shopper – I can’t be. What I am is that girl in Goodwill spending an hour or more trying to find clothes that don’t look like she bought them at Goodwill. It’s like that whole natural makeup thing.

  87. Women, just an FYI, men don’t notice shoes outside of a work environment. Even then it’s hit or miss. The exception is military men who are trained to be super fastidious.

  88. @tariqata

    I wish that I could sow my clothes – sounds like it would save on costs all around. ;)

    I’m competent at doing repairs that are transparent unless someone closely examines the damage area, but I’m not nearly as good as I’d like to be and as a couple of my friends are. Being able to make my own clothes would make me ecstatic, but I don’t have the time to attain that level of proficiency (I have too many avocations as it is), let alone spend the time realizing my visions. There’s a cliché truism that fashion is not the same as style. While I do follow a couple of fashion blogs, particularly around the time of fashion week, I use it mainly as inspiration for assembling novel ensembles, usually from bargain alternatives since I’m something of a cheapskate.

    I know that I’ve become very conscious of what messages my clothes (not to mention hair and make-up) might be sending to the people that I work with, and I’ve made a lot of wardrobe choices as much on that basis as on the grounds of what I like.

    Yeah, I’ve worked in the IT industry in both SoCal and inside the DC Beltway, both as a drone and start-up exec. The biggest problem for me was not how dressed up or down I was expected to be, but distinguishing myself without going off the reservation. To me clothes are all about expressing my aesthetic creativity. This is antithetical to corporate culture, or most collaborative enterprises (the obvious exceptions including some enterprises geared towards visual creativity).

    There is some good reason for that, as it reinforces camaraderie the way a buzzcut at boot camp does for fresh recruits. But it can also create a stiffing environment if it becomes an excuse to single out straying from the herd. This is magnified for people who don’t identify with conventional gender roles’ contemporary couture. I suppose the progressive expectation is that over time acceptance will widen to encompass a more inclusive array of uniforms. I personally hope (and have some reason to think it might) eventually come to pass that “unofficial” workplace dress codes (as opposed to official uniforms in organizations that have practical need of them) will go the way of the Dodo. But that forecast is contingent on several shifts in human nature that, while I think possible, are by no means guaranteed.

    In IT, there was big difference between coasts, company sizes, what motivational fads trendsetters start or are in vogue at the time and, perhaps more than anything, who the customer was. On the West Coast it was Silicon Valley business casual pretty much all the time. On the East Coast it was slacks and a button down collared shirt in the office, tie for meetings, and a tie or a suit to customer sites depending on whether or not the customer was federal. By the time I retired from IT, the East Coast had begun emulating the West Coast, but with the quirk that cocktails still meant a little dressier and government agencies were still suits land.

    I remember walking into the FBI with a co-worker and asking after the agent who was our primary contact on the contract. The two agents in the room became immediately suspicious and asked defensively What’s this about? There was a moment and then I realized the uniform signals had gotten crossed and I let them know we weren’t from the CIA, we were from the contractor. They directed us right to him, visibly relieved. In Uncle Sam’s offices, you dress like everyone else. It was just our mistake to wear blue suits that day :-/

    These days I’m climbing the academic ladder. The dress code is more relaxed in the sense of borader acceptability, not slackier attire. I largely ignore this and dress way more spiffier than the norm – something I couldn’t have gotten away with even when I was the boss and something many folks still can’t even in academia. It helps to be needed more than to need the organization, and to genuinely not give half a fuck if a well-indoctrinated robot gets a little twitchy because I’m dressed like a movie star. Impunity in both are privileges for which I’m thankful and are worth extending to all non-military personnel, IMNSHO.


    To your statement that creatives get to dress like that because there’s supposed to be a meritocracy: I’m not a creative so I can’t speak to that, but being a science (?? is that the comparable term?), I can say that we definitely do acknowledge that there is a strict social hierarchy between full professors, assistant professors, non-tenure-track researchers, post-docs, and grad students.

    I think what John means is that the hierarchy is supposed to be based on the position attained rather than how well or expensively you dress. The idea is that without dress codes that emphasize dressing up, there’s less room for people to one-up each other, and more room to focus on projects and aptitude. Whether or how well this pans out in practice is a subject of endless debate. One reason I vigorously oppose school uniforms is because even kids are more than capable of finding other ways to pigeonhole one another’s social metrics no matter how much misguided do-gooders try to crush out their rebellious expressions of individuality, in spite of brain-dead school administrations treating students like prisoners in our national race to the bottom, and mold them into dandy little drones peasants serfs muggles model students. If kids can do it, so can adults.

  89. I think you and my husband have the same clothing gene. He may be slightly less attached to Levi’s than you are, and probably tries to pay even less for his clothes whenever possible. But he is also basically a blue jeans and polo shirt kind of guy –though he also likes to wear button up short sleeve shirts with geometric prints –like striped shirts, or made from fabric that looks like graph paper…but then he is a mechanical designer…at least he doesn’t wear a pocket protector.

  90. I wear what I like. I don’t give a damn about what some designer somewhere said I should wear. The whole fashion/design industry is nothing but a trick to get you to throw away perfectly good clothes and buy new ones, to enrich the fashion industry.

    What I like is t-shirts of golf-type shirts without visible brand names. If South Pole wants me to use my body as a billboard for their brand name, they should pay me for it. I do, however, wear Levi button-up 501s whenever possible. This is not because of the brand, but because of the buttons. When I was a boy my parents would buy cheap clothes for me, on the theory that I would outgrow them before I wore them out. Cheap pants have cheap zippers that can’t be trusted to stay up. Thus, the button fly. I would wear other button fly pants, if I could find them.

  91. @Shawna – I’m FAAB, genderqueer, and 32. I crossdress at work pretty much everyday. No one cares. No one thinks I’m less feminine (which ticks me off highly. I’m really tired of being called ‘miss’ by visitors). But people in Southern California are expected to be more eccentric.

    My usual work wear – suede slip on shoes, tall socks, jeans (because I have no slacks), white undershirt, button-up shirt – usually men’s, woman’s suit coat (because that’s the one I’ve left at work.) Sometimes I wear a tie.

  92. Pretty much every man I spend time with dresses like John here.

    I live in Silicon Valley, where “dressing up for work” is a polo shirt and khakis. That’s the uniform. You can go anywhere with that, from a job interview, to a police interview, to all but the very finest restaurants. If you’re just working, it’s a Think Geek t-shirt and jeans. If you’re working from home, it might be anything from sweat pants to nudity.

    The husband and I are basically outfitted by Target, with bits of Old Navy and Goodwill. One of his employers got purchased by a British company and a decree was handed down that all employees had to wear shirts with collars, even if they never saw the public. It caused an uproar, a great buying of Think Geek polo shirts, and was quietly dropped a few months later. You just can’t force uber-geeks out of their t’s and shorts.

    If a man is wearing a suit, it is assumed that he’s going to a funeral. Maybe a wedding. If a man always wears a suit, he’s either a salesdroid or a VP and thus a person to be avoided.

    As a girl who could not afford designer jeans, I never had to learn that hierarchy, and so I wear whatever fits. Except John is quite correct — never, ever wear Toughskins.

    We just went to the bank to do some rather complicated “preferred customer” stuff and we both wore jeans. The guy wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a well-worn (not ironic) trucker’s hat was chatting with his wife about traveling to the Shakespeare Festival in Oregon, and about her friend in Israel. All the tellers were in women’s suits. And they were all visible minorities.

    We have the advantage of being white, middle-class, cisgender folks in a sartorially casual area. Thank goodness for that. It’s a privilege indeed.

  93. Their is no pocket on your polo shirt! _Fashion Fail_!
    AKA, I guess your memory isn’t at the point where putting something down is a bad idea-two weeks later: “Right, I had it that store. I put it down. I bet it’s in their lost and found. Huh. What store was that.”

    I’m typically in a scrunchy, pocket t, jeans, shoes*, black socks** and tighty wighties.

    * line intentionally left blank except for: Me right now: Which is better. Shoe shopping and breaking in the new shoes or gluing that rubber on for where the soles are run down. BTW, Ridge Air Tacs, the low cut ones that have a removable insole that goes thru the washer just fine.
    **10 crew socks for IIRC $8.99 on sale. – – I used to wear the white ones, but a thing happened with the laundry that had me with one pair of socks, and Dad not needing to go sock shopping for years.

  94. I’ve worn black jeans ever since I was treated very poorly on a British Air airplane because I was wearing blue jeans.

  95. Interesting topic. I’m in IT as well, and I’m glad the days of coats and ties are far behind us. I hated having to loop that damn thing around my neck, choking off my oxygen. Business casual is a lot friendlier.

    That said, a casual sport coat or blazer paired with Dockers or jeans can be a good look. The jacket will flatter the middle-aged figure. :)

  96. John, thanks for posting the link to the other article. Thought provoking stuff.

    That said, I purchased my first pair of Wrangler jeans a month ago. This after a lifetime of Levis. But Levis do not seem to be worn in Texas.

    My work outfit consists of khakis, a long-sleeved button-down shirt, and suede shoes. Every dang day, except for Fridays. On Fridays I vary with jeans and a Hawaiian shirt.

  97. msenlightened 8:39 pm
    Assuming you mean the oufit your icon is wearing: “Close the door (that I hadn’t opened (lurve you, my grandmother)!(So glad I only met you twice) you are letting the flies in!”
    BTW, about jeans. If the back pocket is enough to the side so’s I’m not sitting on my wallet? All is good.
    Oh, and I had a wallet that wouldn’t fit into that back pocket on most of my jeans, and a pair of jeans with a back pocket that wouldn’t hold a good wallet.

  98. I own the same polo you’re wearing in the photo. It’s a nice, comfortable shirt.

    For work, it’s business casual for most of us (I work in the HQ office of a metal products manufacturer), but jeans and t-shirts are fine for those who work on the factory floor itself or in areas like the testing labs. I don’t mind it, since I used to work for a company that required ties or jackets for men four days a week.

    Outside of work, I just wear whatever around the house or running errands, though I stick to nicer jeans or khakis and a collared shirt or sweater when going out.

  99. @Silver Tyger: Given where I live (Seattle area), I’m lucky that formal office attire is rare outside of conservative industries. Which unfortunately would mean that a job here that did require it would probably be unhappy if I showed up in a proper suit. Alas.

    Fortunately, the chances of this happening to me anytime soon are pretty slim. My spouse’s gig at a Massive Tech Company is solid, and that pays our bills/enables me to spend most of my time at home writing and minding our 9-month-old. I do get cold sweats thinking about what I’d have to do if we were forced to move to the East Coast or something, though.

  100. @Jennifer R. Ewing: the “mystery” of why people care about designer labels is revealed, at length, in the linked article.

    @Chris: men do very much notice women’s shoes. That is why in strip bars and Victoria’s Secret infomercials, the women are wearing high heels and not combat boots or Birkenstocks. It is certainly true that men are not, for the most part, taught to look to women’s shoes as class and status signifiers in the same way women are, but I assure you men notice them.

  101. Uhh, mythago?
    I do not notice an attractive fems footware.
    I notice her eyes first. ;p
    Like in is she looking in her purse for her pepper spray or her gun ;p or is she smiling up at me?

    About “smiling up.” Julie Strain is six one and ‘worth the climb.’ I’m five foot twelve and an eighth. I wouldn’t need a ladder, I could look her in the eye if I had heels on.

  102. Something I find interesting is that guys also get way more leeway in the definition of ‘casual’.

    I’m a Hispanic woman in my mid-twenties (though I often get mistaken for a high school student), and, in the area I live in,

    For example, if I wore, say, a black Dr. Who unisex-cut t-shirt, regular jeans, and my adidas sneakers, I’d be ignored by salespeople if I went to the mall, probably pegged as a high schooler, and thought of as a bit sloppy/uncaring about my appearance.

    For me, ‘jeans and a t-shirt casual’ means a tee around http://www.pacsun.com/nollie/3%2F4-sleeve-colorblock-tee-1541598.html?start=96&cg=womens-tees or http://www.pacsun.com/lilu/ringer-print-pocket-tee-0749457.html?start=242&cg=womens-tees (feminine cut, no slogans or geeky things), converse if I want to be very casual, or cute but comfy flats if not. At least a bit of makeup is the norm (I have rosacea, so I only wear eye makeup and lipstick), and if my hair is just held back in a ponytail, it needs to look slick, with either a fancy scrunchy/tie or a black or brown one that’s not too noticeable. I get away with hauling around messenger bags, but most people probably assume I’m a uni student.

    If I do want to wear a geeky t-shirt and not pegged as socially incapable, I have to pair it with a kicky skirt or at least a scarf and cute flats.

    Dudes I hang out with, though, get to wear plain, unisex geek tees and running shoes and they’re still just ‘casual’.

    I know I still got ‘lucky’, though–I can pass as white (I’m biracial, so my surname isn’t a ‘tell’), and I live in an area that’s over 90% Hispanic anyway.

  103. In addition to the other signifiers, clothing can be a reflection of health issues, too. I don’t wear “comfortable shoes” because I’m unhip; I wear them so I don’t have unbearable pain in various joints. (The next stop will be Velcro when the arthritis gets ahead of me.) I don’t wear big glasses because I’m uncool; I wear them to have the maximum peripheral vision possible, etc., etc. I need all the help I can get!

  104. I’m a SAHM married to a truck driver so most of the time, I wear whatever I want. When I go to school stuff, though, I try to dress similarly to female teachers so that they can identify with me and consider me part of their in-group. Teachers are my kids’ best shot at being able to support themselves someday, so I absolutely make the effort to blend in there. Otherwise it’s usually jeans and a fitted tee.

  105. I find it comical that the military is apparently composed of foot fetishists. Does anyone else ever look at someone’s shoes? Ever?

    S’pose they can critique my cheap sandals all they want, I’m comfortable in them.

  106. Just speaking from my personal experience here, but where I work the “middle class white guy uniform” is what the technical people wear. The black guys wear it. The women wear it. The only people that wear anything else are middle/upper management.

  107. My husband works in IT, and his usual wear is around the “khaki and polo” range. A few months ago, he complained to me about how the women in the office were allowed to wear sundresses while the men had to suffer in pants. I pointed out a few things, such as: 1) his workwear would be considered unprofessionally casual for a woman (I’ve visited his office enough to know the standards); 2) a sundress is not an easy option, considering how hard it is to manage professional and comfortable at the same time; and 3) no matter what she wore, that woman spent much more time both thinking about what she should look like and making herself look that way than he ever would. He got the message.

    I was raised in a rural town by very practical people and never really got into fashion. Then I joined the military, so didn’t have to make decisions about what to wear. Now I’m a middle-aged, middle-class college student. My uniform is comfortable top, jeans, and sneakers. I have to plan in advance to dress up if I intend to meet my husband for lunch, because what is acceptable on him is sloppy on me.

    My university is a small, urban commuter school, and the dress standard is pretty high (among people who aren’t me). I never really thought about how race and class play into that, but now that I know, it seems so obvious. As a white woman, I can show up in a sweatshirt and badly chipped nails, hair brushed but not styled (in its natural state it looks like dead kelp), no makeup , and expect to be taken seriously. None of the women of color I know ever come in looking like they didn’t at least make an effort.

    Thanks for the food for thought.

  108. Race, gender, height all play into this. I’m just over 5 feet and am often mistaken for an undergrad on campus. I find dresses and office-appropriate blouse/skirt combos help me be taken more seriously as an adult. The wedding ring helps too. The necessity of dressing for success comes into conflict with my general laziness and the lack of good pockets in women’s clothing. When I find a skirt with good pockets, I’ll wear them like jeans. Every day with a different tshirt.

    One of my favorite clotheshorse academics blogs at Threadbared – as a small, queer Asian American professor with a punk rock/zinester past – she puts a lot of thought into “First Day of School” outfits.

  109. @Annie Koh: Pockets, yes, egads. Another reason I usually wear jeans. When my mom was still sewing, I made her put pockets in everything for me (okay, not my prom dress, but everything else). You CAN fit decent pockets into skirts without much trouble (that’s what the side seams are for), so I wish more manufacturers put them in.

    The good thing about making men wear a traditional kilt is that they suddenly grok what a hassle skirts are… be careful how you sit, no you don’t have pockets, yes people stare at you, yes we are looking at your butt.

  110. Levi’s are too expensive in NZ for me to consider them. Your $40 505s would cost a New Zealander $125, which is about $105 US (both calculations based on the Australian dollar price on the most reliable online shop I could find). I can (and regularly do) get two pairs of hard-wearing women’s jeans for that.

  111. I worked in IT for fifteen years before a mid-life career change. Thirteen years of my IT sentence was done at the corporate offices of an upper-end clothing company in the Midwest. I have about every advantage possible for a person to have; I’m white, male, tall, and thin, and come from a very loving family that gave me a lot of support, financial and otherwise. When I started work at the offices, however, I had dark, curly hair which came to my waist when stretched, odd facial hair, and a penchant for black, grungy-looking clothing. Thinking back, I probably looked something like Rob Zombie if he were anorexic or a meth addict, though I didn’t look nearly that interesting. I’m certain that the primary reason I was hired is that my brother-in-law worked for the company, and that only because my sister knew I needed a job because I’d blown off the last one.

    I looked rough, but I smelled much nicer. I was always particular about hygiene.

    Regardless of how inoffensive I smelled, I was stuck in the same position for five years. I was an outsider, and even though I turned out to have an innate knack with technology, I didn’t fit the company image. One day I decided to have my hair cut and shave the facial hair. I don’t think it really had anything to do with wanting a promotion — I was just curious to see how I would look clean-cut. I was tired of all the hair. At the time, I was actually thinking about quitting.

    So I got the hair cut, and deciding my clothes didn’t fit my new hair, I spent more than a week’s salary on a pair of shoes, a belt, a couple pairs of slacks, and a two shirts at company store just down the street. They were expensive. Even at a 50% employee discount they were expensive, but there was a sales manager I liked at the store, and I guess I would have done just about anything to get her to talk to me. She didn’t even recognize me at first, but she turned out to be nice and friendly even though I was an employee, so she wouldn’t get commission from my paltry purchase. Thinking back, she was also probably one reason I cut my hair.

    Two months later, I was promoted and given a moderate clothing allowance. I bought more clothes from the store. With the clothing allowance and my discount, it would have been ridiculous not to. I was also treated very differently, and I suppose a 6’4″ guy who looks like a meth-addicted biker probably looked intimidating, so I just accepted the treatment as resulting from the change. People commented on how nice I looked. Coworkers stopped to speak with me and I even made friends with some of them. People began to ask my advice on this or that.

    I don’t think some of those people even realized I had been the freaky-looking guy who’d worked there for five years.

    Four months after cutting my hair, I was invited to the company conference for the first time and handed the Employee of the Year award. That’s something that was almost unheard of for an IT guy. Those usually went to someone in marketing or to one of the buyers — someone who is seen by the store and district managers and well known around the company — someone more “company-appropriate” than the IT staff tended to be.

    A year after cutting my hair, I was promoted again, this time into lower management. I kept buying clothes and eventually married that sales manager I had the crush on. She turned out to be wonderful. Eventually, I was managing the department and reporting directly to the CFO, even though I didn’t have a single document stating that I’ve ever taken a course in anything even peripherally IT or business related. I don’t think that would have happened if I hadn’t started presenting myself differently. Of course, I don’t think that was a typical IT job — not in a company that image conscious. As it was, I was managing the department, while most of the people under me were much more qualified than I was. I began feeling guilty enough that I began working toward a career change.

    The company went bankrupt about ten years after I cut my hair, but by that time I had decided to experiment with pre-med classes. By then, I was in my late thirties, and on the first day back, I walked into class just before it was supposed to start. It was one of those large entry-level classes, and since the professor hadn’t yet arrived, the students were noisy. The lecture hall was nearly full, but there are always empty seats on the front row. A strange sort of hush spread across the room as I descended the steps, and I think for the first time it really hit me how much my appearance had changed. Coming from work, I was wearing slacks, sport coat, and tie, so the rest of the students must have thought I was the professor.

    I applied to medical school. My GPA wasn’t really high enough to get me in, I don’t think. I did all right after my return to undergrad, but I’d flunked out the first time through right after high school — too much drinking and partying and skipping classes. My MCAT score was pretty good, but nothing spectacular. I am, however, a tall, white, healthy-looking man who is just beginning to get gray in his hair, and the interviewers said they were really impressed by my “excellent recommendation letters” and implied that the letters might have gotten me the interview. They really seemed to like me, but I knew I didn’t really have much chance of getting in. They probably thought I was more disciplined and wiser than I actually am, and that’s also when I started to feel like something was wrong somewhere, though I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. I was accepted shortly afterward.

    I felt like I’d played some sort of dirty trick to get that acceptance letter, and kept waiting for another letter or a call telling me it was some sort of mistake. No mistake was admitted, though, and here I am, in my second year of the sheer mind-straining hell of medical school.

    Interesting note, but probably not unexpected: the class, as a whole, is Euro-centrically and conventionally attractive. There are a couple of outliers, of course, but for the most part the class is made up of students that a sheltered white Midwesterner would feel comfortable speaking with, and they generally give the impression of competence. Again, with a few outliers. It’s about 50% white, about 30% asian, and about 20% middle-eastern or south asian. There is one black male in the class. By the way, those “outliers”? Frighteningly and intimidatingly intelligent and driven. All of them.

    The class is almost 60% female, which is probably unusual.

    Despite their generically attractive appearance, the majority of the male students seem to not really understand how to dress up or don’t really care. I remember cringing inwardly when I met some of them during the interview process, and remember feeling strange and hypocritical about my reaction afterward. The women tend to dress better, most of them. Probably because they’d had to learn to do that to be taken seriously.

    I am the oldest person in the class. Many of the other students are significantly more intelligent or knowledgeable than I am, but I seem to be able to project confidence and competence. In discussions, my opinion carries an uncomfortable amount of weight. When we are being grilled by physicians, I am rarely picked upon. If I am asked a question and don’t have the correct answer, I almost always get the benefit of the doubt, whereas if another student were to give the same response, they would be politely ridiculed.

    (Yes, the physicians and the professors are all very polite, but they still have the ability to make students perceived as ignorant or lazy feel about as welcome as gum on the sole of a shoe. At least, that’s what the others tell me. I wouldn’t know.)

    When I am in a group with other students and interacting with patients, I am the one the patients ask their questions of. I’m often mistaken for a physician, and sometimes even after I explain my status, I’ll hear, “Thank you, doctor!” as I leave a room. Attending physicians also tend to focus their body language and comments at me. Few of the other students seem to think this is inappropriate, but it makes me more and more uncomfortable as it continues to happen. I’m not more intelligent than the other students. I’m definitely not more disciplined (how could I possibly be when everything has been handed to me all my life?) I make plenty of stupid mistakes and exhibit poor judgment as often (or more often) than the rest of them, and I feel as though I don’t belong there. I feel as though … no, I *know* that I took the spot of someone who was more deserving — all because I’m white, male, tall, thin, dress well, and have a bit of “distinguished” gray in my hair. I haven’t encountered any resentment from the others, though. They don’t seem to think I’ve unfairly taken the place of a friend or family member who applied but didn’t get in. Instead, I’m asked for advice about coursework, about what might be appropriate to wear in this or that situation, and about life in general. I’ve tried to explain to a few how much tried to screw up my life when I was younger. They laugh. I don’t think they believe me. If I’m in a study group, I now try not to say a whole lot, because if I say something that turns out to be completely wrong, they would often rather believe that they don’t know the material than that I don’t, which is just … freaky.

    When I’m a physician, I will likely make more money than most new physicians in whatever specialty I choose. I suspect I’ll also have a better chance at getting into a more competitive specialty. Not because of my exam scores, which are mediocre at best, but because I got a lucky genetic dice roll and have and know how to wear clothes that are likely to impress during a residency interview.

    The thing about the clothes is that I have ten years of nice, well-made, conservative clothing bought on a clothing allowance which increased each one of those ten years. I have fifteen sport coats and never spent “real money” on any of them. Ten or eleven very nice suits, not including two fricking tuxedos. Who the hell owns or needs to own their own tuxedo, much less two? I only bought them because I had the extra clothing allowance money and I thought they were kinda cool. I wore one to my wedding and one to a friend’s wedding. I think that’s it.

    I have enough dress shoes that I can wear one pair every day, giving them plenty of time to dry out between wearings and extending their life. They’ll last me the next twenty years if I continue to take care of them. I may never have to buy another pair of dress shoes as long as I live.

    I would like to own more jeans and t-shirts so I’m not so damnably overdressed all the time, but I’m a student whose workload is so heavy that I can’t spare the study time to work even part-time. Somewhat ironically, I can’t afford to dress more casually. My wife supports me, but she is now a mental health therapist working with boys in state custody — she would happily sacrifice to buy me new clothing if I said I needed it, but I can’t excuse the expense. She needs clothes for work. And so I continue to dress as I have for the past twelve years, except that I wear scrubs when I can get away with it. But scrubs are a uniform, too, and they say, “This is a person you can trust to take care of you!”, and since I’m a confident-appearing early-forties white male, people aren’t assuming I’m a medical student or a nurse or a physical therapist or an orderly or just some random guy who figured out that scrubs are probably the most comfortable uniform ever devised. They assume I’m a doctor, even though my ID badge clearly says “medical student”.

    If I had been born black instead of white, I wouldn’t be where I am. If I were unfortunate with my metabolism (I don’t work out, I eat whenever and whatever I want, and I’m still inexplicably thin), my opinion wouldn’t carry the weight it does. If I were female and white, I might have been accepted, but could I have competed with the other applicants, that extremely competitive female 60% of the class who are used to working twice as hard to be accepted as a student of science and medicine? I doubt it.

    Oh! Poor me! All I have are nice clothes to wear! The weight of all this guilt is just too much to bear! It may sound like I’m complaining about all this, but if there’s a complaint here, it’s not about my advantages, but about how messed up society is. I know how extremely fortunate I am. The guilt I sometimes feel is nothing like the frustration and emptiness I would feel if my appearance resulted in the opposite reaction than it does. I have a wonderful life. I just don’t feel that I deserve it; I feel like a fraud.

    I’m a fraud with an amazing wife, a wonderful family, an envied place in a good medical school, and some really nice clothes. I rarely get treated with anything but respect, and I’m often treated with bewildering deference. This is one hell of a screwed up world.

    I’m sorry this turned out to be such a long post. I didn’t realize I had written so much until just now. TL;DR may definitely apply here.

  112. Wow. I could have written this, even down to the part about growing up in Southern CA in the 70s and 80s and its influence on my taste in jeans. I’m female, but I tend to dislike fussing over clothes too. Fortunately, I live in a casual city (Sacramento) and work in a casual profession (teach biology at a community college–if I want a mantle of authority, I can toss on a lab coat). My hobbies, writing and dog agility, also tend to attract casual people. I wear minimal makeup when I work or go out to dinner–just enough to hide the effects of aging on my eyes (thinning lashes and darker circles under, even when well rested. Just love getting old, not). I want to be comfortable first and foremost. Most of the people I hang out with are the same.

  113. Standard uniform for women where I work, I was amused to discover, is black pants, flats and some kind of shirt or blouse. We are mostly stats nerds, but jeans & Tshirts are not approved, so this is the next level up. I mostly wear knit tops, to avoid ironing.

  114. Thank you Aaron. My initial inclination was TLDR, but I took a second look after all. I am very glad I did. Extremely thought provoking and interesting – I recommend anyone that skimmed it to take another look.

    I’ve never thought much about clothes other than always wearing a suit to an interview, and being able to generally dress down as much as any given job I was working allowed – which as a white male I can get away with. I did start dressing a bit better in casual environments (which in this case means going from really tattered cargo pants and whatever tshirt with a logo was ready that day to nicer cargo pants (I like pockets) and nicer plain colored tshirts or collared shirts, which did result in more dating and I think in general a better perception of me among people.

    I hadn’t ever thought of how different a world I would be in if I wasn’t a white male, at least not in the context of clothing. Brings a bit of a different perspective to my compliments on a black friends clothing, which is generally always nice.

  115. My one flashy accessory is my Oscar Armanno calf length, black leather trenchcoat that I found in the retro section of a good will store. Otherwise my clothes are quite generic and nondescript. I prefer polos over t-shirts and I like cargo pants. Shoes are no-nonsense workboots, their only criteria being comfort.

  116. I don’t like shopping for clothes and so I’ve been glad for a while that my SWMness makes it less of an issue for me than it is for others, although I hadn’t realised just how important it can be.

    I’ve spent most of my working life in the IT departments of large financial organisations, where the uniform has slowly changed from suit, shirt and tie to trousers and shirt with no tie. But it’s still a uniform and pretty easy to find. Outside of work I tend to wear zip-offs and whatever T-shirt is on top of the clean pile. With a fleece in the winter. I drifted away from wearing jeans at some point and no longer own a pair. As I am now in my mid-forties I occasionally think that I should grow up a bit and perhaps graduate to polo shirts, which I will probably do as my T-shirts wear out. All of my T-shirts are souvenirs of one sort or another and most are over ten years old so this shouldn’t take too much longer.

    I have three types of shoes (five pairs in total): smart black leather for work which live under my desk at work; waterproof not-really-hiking-boots for when it’s wet; and slip on boating shoes or similar for casual, because they’re comfortable.

    So it takes me under a minute to choose my outfit for most occasions. Less time for really formal events, for which I have my one full dress outfit. I do feel that the customs of conventional society are particularly unfair on this point, in that ladies are expected to wear a different outfit for every major event, with the concomitant time and expense finding one, while I can just get out my good suit, maybe get it cleaned, and I’m ready.

  117. Priorities differ – someone once said to my then girlfriend “Look, you dress superbly and you have some pretty expensive jewellry [which she bought herself] but you drive that ratty old VW Bug. Why?” To which the deadpan reply was “Well, no-one wants to sleep with my car.”


  118. I live in jeans, but I’m a stay at home mom and can do that. When I need to dress up, I’m always stunned at how much nice clothing for a plus-sized woman costs. If you want really nice clothing that *fits*, you really need to go the custom (or at least altered) route.

    My daughter went to a preschool that was twenty minutes away. My town is very urban, with a broad socio-economic population, very geeky, etc. In my town, my jeans and black shirts are as close to “unmarked” clothing as a woman can get. But in the town where The Child went to preschool, the houses start at $2 million and apparently jeans start at about $500. (I sent her there because it was a nature-centric outdoor school.)

    I started choosing my clothing more carefully on my way to drop her off. No sneakers, but nice clogs. No more tatty black fleece but a natty barn coat. My shirts covered the brand name on my jeans. (However, I’ve been told that the truly sartorially savvy can look at the leg seams and determine if I’m in $50 or $500 jeans.) Happily, if you identify as “outdoorsy” in New England, you can do a lot to look upscale without spending too much by shopping exclusively at LL Bean.

    One of my friends called me shallow and ridiculous, and said I was buying into a “strict classist stereotype.” She said I should screw that.

    I pointed out that a few tweaks in my wardrobe could prevent a bad first impression. I didn’t want my daughter not getting invited to parties with her classmates just because their moms thought I was some urban freak. (I am, though. Total urban freak.) It wasn’t buying into the BS, it was acknowledging that it exists and doing the bare minimum to not have it bite my in my size-20 butt.

    The preschool moms got to know me and that I was, indeed, an urban freak. They decided if or not they liked me on my own merits. I didn’t have to overcome the hurdle of *that* bad first impression.

    (I was still fat, though, and had to deal with that. For the first four months they clearly identified me mentally as “one of the two fat moms.” I know this because they constantly mixed up me and Sue. Sue is also fat, but she’s six inches taller than I am, a brunette with short hair (I had long blonde hair), and wore cycling spandex, as opposed to LL Bean. She was clearly of Mediterranean descent and I’m clearly Scandinavian. Also, her child was a boy and mine was a girl. The only thing we had at all in common was that we were fat.)

  119. TL;DR threat summary:

    John dresses like most everyone else from California to New York to German but many disagree with his choice of jeans. And its harder to be a woman or play on even harder difficulty settings.

  120. Some of the commentary upthread reminded me of a line from Midnight at the Well of Souls, by Jack Chalker: You can’t be a noncomformist if you don’t wear the right uniform.

  121. The one weird thing about all of this from my German (scientist education, tech job) perspective is that I find polo shirts utterly weird (to me and most people I know, they scream “LOOK OUT, THIS IS AN AMERICAN!”). Also, I did wear a suit for my (successful) job interview, but no tie (since it’s a Dr. Evil-suit, I can’t wear a tie with it ..)

    At the office, I wear pants bought at an outdoor-store (but not ones with visible cargo pockets) and usually some type of knit sweater over t-shirts. My various bosses did quite often remark upon the fact that it was expected that I didn’t wear a suit, since if a customer were to come by he would never trust my technical opinion if I were to wear a suit (since that would scream “sales-person”). Our one sales-person _does_ wear a suit …

    One other variant on the whole uniform thing is that while still a student, I used to have a job on the side in adult education (is that the correct term?) where we would train people for IT-jobs. I was the Unix/Linux-and-security trainer. I got a _lot_ more respect when wearing black cargo pants and a hoodie than when dressing up a bit. Because in the hoodie (and with the long hair and goatee) I fit the stereotype that these people had about someone who knew shit about security …

  122. @Michael: if someone wears a suit to work at an IT company everyone thinks the guy is going on an interview. About 10 years ago I was doing just that. My boss asked me if I had an interview I said ‘no, I forgot to wash my cloths’ He laughed and was dumb enough to believe me. I think he realized a couple of weeks later when I quit.

    It does weird me out a bit when IT guys dress too nicely. Something is off about them.

  123. I believe that clothing is the conversation you have with the world, and your article lined that out perfectly. Based on your picture (supported by your article) the conversation is basically saying that you are relatively conventional, middle class, largely unconcerned with fashion but willing to invest in looking appropriate. You are not deliberately careless, your dress does not display a discomfort with self or body image, nor does it display a particular pride in physical appearance or fashion. Rather it displays a basic level of comfort with self and the world.

    Like all other forms of communication, even if we are careless of the message we are sending, our mode of dress sends out a message that others are picking up on.

  124. I was just at an Apple store and some of the workers (possibly of the Genius variety) were wearing various knit caps. Unacceptable in most work places, but adds some quick geek cred to someone who is meant to Think Different.

  125. I’m in the interesting position that I a.) work for the federal government and b.) move to different countries/continents/cultures every few years. For the record, I’m an IT specialist for the State Department. Overseas, my work attire depends on where I am and what position I fill but for the most part it’s dress pants and a nice shirt. Occasionally jeans if I’m pulling wire, dealing with the mail (yes, mail is part of communications ergo it’s part of my job) or something else dirty making.

    Now I’m back in Washington DC, working for the “mothership” as we say, though not in the main State Dept building. Even as a low level program manager, which is a lower standing position than I’ve had overseas, I’m expected to wear a suit every day. Casual Friday, for me, means I might be able to get away with Dockers and a polo but only if I don’t have any meetings anywhere even internally. (My director has made that very clear in a variety of emails recently on dress code.)

    I’m kinda enjoying it, even if it’s a hassle. I’ve always liked wearing dresses and skirts, but people would make such a huge fuss about it that I wouldn’t. Being expected to wear nice clothing means that I don’t get hassled when I wear skirt suits or dresses. I do wear sneakers on the way to work and change shoes when I get there, but that’s almost it’s own fashion code in DC. Most of the women I see on the metro (some men too) are dressed in really nice suits and sneakers. Mostly cuz those shoes hurt if you’re walking more than a few blocks.

  126. @Aaron: at least, unlike a lot of guys in your situation, you are aware of it, instead of assuming you are due that respect. Further, you are obviously working your butt off to learn what you need to learn, to earn the respect you are already getting. Also, I suspect that a lot of the folks you think are really hard hitters, etc probably have the same ‘I’m not worthy!’ thoughts you have.

    I have always worked jobs where a uniform of one sort or another was required, even if it was a company t-shirt paired with jeans, khakis or capris / long shorts. About ten years ago I joined a respected lineage organization. I was soon treated with some respect because I am an experienced genealogist, but otherwise treated … Kindly, but sort of like I was the country cousin. I was wearing polo shirts and jeans to meetings. About four years ago I changed jobs, and had the time and funds to purchase some upgraded clothing. I started wearing ‘business casual’ to meetings… Nice slacks or long skirts, button down shirts under nice jackets… Suddenly I was getting asked to attend state conferences, help out at genealogy workshops held by other chapters of the organization. I was recently asked to take a position as one of the state officers involved in helping other ladies prove their lineage to the satisfaction of our National genealogy section. Now, mind, I was also doing my best to network with the new contacts I had made, making sure folks were not only aware of my qualifications but also my willingness to travel to attend events, etc. And, modesty aside, I have been involved in genealogy for almost 45 years, have been teaching a night school course in it for more than ten years, and really do know my way around a pedigree chart. But I strongly suspect that if I had not upgraded my clothing, I would not be anywhere near as far as I have gotten to this point. I had the skills and experience to make sure I didn’t trip going thru the door, but I suspect it was the newly upgraded appearance that helped open the door… I hope hat makes sense. And if you really haven’t been trained or have experience in how to ‘dress properly’ and haven’t a lot of experience with make up, hair dressing, and so on, it can be difficult. I still look at myself and wince, for often – while I may no longer look like an aging hippie, to my eyes I sometimes look dowdy rather than sharp (in part because I’m somewhat pear shaped) – but I am learning… And I’m sorry, the ‘how to dress for success’ books aren’t that much of a help!

    And when I’m at home I still wear my slop around aged hippy clothes… Jeans, slacks, t-shirts.

  127. I find that as I age my sartorial tastes are going up. I’m a white male 42yo computer programmer, and my workplace has a “business casual” code — but “casual” can be fairly casual. Jeans and T-Shirts would not be frowned upon.

    I used to wear jeans, but I found that I like khakis/slacks more comfortable. I used to wear T-shirts, but button-up shirts are more comfortable. Since I found it’s convenient to carry my smartphone in a breast pocket, button-up shirts have been more the rule than the exception (t-shirts rarely come with a breast pocket). During warm weather I almost exclusively wear Hawaiian-style print button up short-sleeved shirts from Wal-Mart.

    I have wide feet, and finding dress shoes that fit properly is nearly impossible. Sneakers are my day-to-day footwear.

    At one point I made a very important discovery: when the dress shirt neck fits properly, ties don’t strangle. This drastically changed my attitude towards ties. I’m now more willing to wear them, and am comfortable with them, but I still usually go a year or more between wearing one.

    Most of my sartorial choices are about being comfortable, and second about looking good while doing so.

  128. I work for a Portland financial services company and there is a strong divide between the operations side and the sales folks. Literally – the sales cave is downstairs, while we are the second floor. Sartorially, we upstairs types are nearly always in the official Northwest Business Casual camp with jeans, short sleeve shirts or sweatshirts, and comfortable shoes. But the sales folks are strict about jackets, slacks or skirts, and snappy shoes. The gents may eschew ties if they are seeing a client they already know, but that is about the limit of their freedom of choice.

  129. Re: pockets. One of the reasons I’ve switched to wearing mens jeans (besides numbers that mostly mean something) is that they have HUGE pockets. I don’t carry a purse and shoving my keys, wallet, and phone into womens jeans was a tight fit. In mens I have room to spare. If I was hippier it wouldn’t work though, which I think sucks.

  130. For what is worth, today is Halloween. For my students I am wearing completely formal Scottish Highland attire today. The woolen tartan kilt, sporran, hose with darts, guille-brough shoes, sygian dubh, Bonnie Prince Charlie jacket and vest, broach and broom, tuxedo shirt, and bowtie. Most of them have only seen such in movies, magazines, and on television. Needless to say, the students are fascinated. They use their camera phones to take pictures to prove to their parents what a crazy teacher they have. Normal school days are slacks, dress-shirt, and tie. All the rest of the time I dress like Scalzi, only I prefer Wrangler jeans. When a school-kiddo I remember some short story by O. Henry, “Clothes Make the Man” maybe for a title. That story taught me just how much social pressure bears down upon us as to how we should dress in public. So I conform. It is what we middle class people do (most of the time).

  131. I have a friend who’s a profiler, and within 30 seconds of meeting me, he correctly guessed I’m an art director from my appearance. Levis, motorcycle boots, black v-neck T-shirt, leather jacket, one visible-yet-tasteful tattoo, multiple ear piercings, no makeup, perpetually disheveled hair. If I dress differently, no one believes I’m an art director, and I instantly lose credibility as a creative.

    The Levis are less a status choice than a godsend for my waist:hip ratio. Having a waist 13 inches smaller than my decidedly wide hips is… problematic… when trying to find pants. Being built like a Frazetta model isn’t all fun and games.

  132. I think of my standard gear as basically being a secret Star Trek uniform — black pants and shoes, bright-colored top, bam, done. Oh, and this article really pissed me off.

  133. After ruining a tie and couple pairs of khakis on chem labs gone wrong, I gave up and switched to jeans and polos or henleys. Sadly, high school science teacher doesn’t pay as well as Hugo-award-winning-author-and-freelance-copy-editor, so Levis – as much as I love them for the selfsame reasons – are out of my range. Also, I still do occasionally ruin a pair of jeans, so I just stick with the Sam’s Club and Costco brands. At $13 a pair, I don’t mind so much. I do still avoid Lee jeans, though. And Wranglers are ok, but they don’t really fit right. Old Navy jeans are right out.

  134. I don’t have anything to add on the larger issues. Although I dress remarkably similarly and am grateful to work in an industry (media) where jeans and a t-shirt are completely fine.

    What amused me (quite a bit to be honest) was thinking about what the most expensive thing I wear is. On a day to day basis, it’s probably my socks. I’m a knitter and it’s been a number of years since I’ve worn store-bought socks. A skein of sock yarn averages about 20 bucks. Add in the cost of my own labor (16-20 hours for a pair) and my socks are easily the most expensive thing in my wardrobe. Unless of course I’m wearing a shawl/stole/knit jacket/sweater… Of course I make and wear these things because I love them, not because of any sort of thought as to the money invested.

  135. As a single mother of 3 kids, underemployed for most of their lives for various reasons, we only bought clothes once a year–with our tax refund. We received an enormous tax refund each year because of earned income credit (being paid to be poor), so I’d buy each of my sons two pairs of pants, a new pair of shoes, and at least 3 shirts. I’d also save part of the tax refund so I could squeak out another pair of shoes and some school supplies in September. Now that they’re in college, accumulating massive student loans but with any luck degrees that will pay off for them better than mine did, I am saving a little money for the first time in my life. It turns out that it’s cheaper to have them live elsewhere. I budgeted money to give the youngest one, but for the others, I’ve just been covering medical expenses. When I heard a story about a woman who spent $50,000 to clone her dog, I thought about how we could have lived for two years–almost happily–on that much money, and I’m almost glad that we were so poor so that my kids didn’t grow up thinking that was a good use of money. My mother gave each of them a thousand dollars when they were in high school, and they spent it fairly quickly, one on eating out and one on things he’d wanted, like a fur hat. They were totally irresponsible with the money because they’d never had any money before, but they learned a lesson from spending it, and both seem to be handling their money responsibly now.

  136. You can only push the white-male-IT-engineer privilege so far. Years ago, I told my husband that he had to buy new clothes and shoes. He hated to shop for clothes, and he said, “Everybody at work wears a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. I look fine!” I told him to go look in the mirror and ask himself: If that person walked up to you on the street, would you expect him to ask you for a quarter? While everything was clean, his sneakers were run down at the heels; his jeans were faded and thin almost to the point of holes, and his t-shirt was clearly tired.

    He pondered his reflection, and then spent some time online. He figured out how to order jeans and polo shirts that fit, and he’s replaced them regularly ever since.

  137. Sunidesus, as another knitter (and in fact I have a cabled cape pattern of yours faved on Ravelry thanks to your posting in a self-promo thread here a while back), I know what you mean. I haven’t knit enough socks to wear them exclusively, but yeah, for sure my most expensive items are my handknits, with the very rare exception of a special-occasion dress. I’ve been to three weddings this year and wore knit tops of expensive hand-dyed novelty yarns to two of them. (The third was in the Dominican Republic, where I did not wear handknits of any kind.)

    I’m fortunate enough to be able to wear whatever I want to work, which is the same as what I wear at any other time. This tends to be oversized t-shirt, usually sporting an animal (yay for The Mountain), jeans (pockets! pockets! pockets!), and some sort of semi-dressy but fairly flat comfort shoe, a Mary Jane or ankle boots. But that’s not to say I don’t care about what I wear; I can spend just as much time stressing about which shirt and shoes as anything else. My thing about dressing, the thing that makes me feel pulled together and ready to face the world, is coordinating my jewelry (earrings, rings, watch) with my shirt and shoes. Sometimes this will extend to coordinating my underwear with my outerwear even though no one but me will know. Having stuff match or coordinate makes me feel good and not sloppy, and I’m sure that’s reflected in my demeanor — so while it’s not on the level at all of dressing so that other people take me seriously, I think it’s related.

    I do sometimes wear skirts and opaque tights, but only if I can find skirts with pockets for my cardkey, so it tends to be denim skirts and the rare fluffy skirt. I wouldn’t mind having more options than just jeans, and more shirt options as well, but I’m just not shaped the way off-the-rack clothes are. Pants other than jeans (and only specific styles of those) are just out of the question unless they’re custom-made, because if they fit below my waist there’s a mile of extra fabric AT my waist (that is, they fall off). Button-down shirts that fit around my chest are massively too wide at the shoulder and have cuffs at my fingertips. So I’m very, very lucky that I don’t have to wear a suit or anything of equivalent dressiness, because I’d have to have it custom-made if I didn’t want to spend the whole time in it feeling self-conscious for wearing things that obviously don’t fit right. This is in fact why I started knitting, to make sweaters that fit ME instead of a set of cylinders. Admittedly, if I put the money toward custom tailoring that I do toward yarn I’d have quite the wardrobe now. But if I didn’t have the funds and yet had to dress up… well, that’s what the article was about, after all.

    The funny thing is that when I was a kid I wanted to be a secretary (go sexist social programming!) so I could wear a suit, and I always envied the kids who had to wear school uniforms. That was long before I learned how difficult it is to clothe my body shape, and long before I ended up spending half my life on a college campus and taking commuter trains and otherwise doing things other than sitting in air-conditioned cars and offices. And developing my finely honed outrage at the expectations of shaving and high heels and other routine female tortures to prove our worth to society…

  138. The most interesting thing to me here is that almost everyone is already aware of all the semiotics. No “what?” and not much “gee, I hadn’t thought about that”.
    My own “style” is almost entirely thrift shop, one of my favorite hobbies. I have a closetful of Good Label shirts, but still get sticker shock when prices on ordinary men’s office shirts get up to $4.99. Once in a while, I carefully cut off a designer label, if it’s too prominent.
    As an itinerant programmer, I can easily match any office. Mt closest contact with Full Suit is when a head hunter insists I wear one for an interview and I gently tell him he’s nuts.
    And incidentally, the mojo of the Levi’s brand is incredibly durable. I have a lot more Dockers than Levi’s because, even though Levi’s owns Dockers, they’re a couple of bucks more expensive.

  139. Robin – *blush* thank you for saying you like my pattern :) I really need to write up some of my other stuff. But it is just so much more fun to knit things than it is to write up patterns so that other people can understand them!

    So very with you on things not fitting. The ONLY top I have that fits correctly is a sweater I knit (short rows FTW!) And forget finding pants that fit. I have to have everything hemmed. I’m shorter than the “petite” size, capris sometimes work as normal pants depending on the style. The vast majority of “nice” tops don’t allow for women who have… assets… but aren’t fond of showing off said assets. So I am very thankful for the career I fell into that allows me to dress the way that I feel comfortable.

  140. I’m another Levis fan (because of the waist-to hip ratio thing that valtrull pointed out) Worth a look if you’re curvy.

    Clothing is a sore point at the moment. I’ve just moved to NZ where I’m a vet at a Southland practice (deep in the country). I work in a uniform polo shirt and uniform fleece, jeans, and hiking trainers. Spend the weekend working or hiking (walking trousers, tees, fleeces, trainers) I am 4’11. Multiple piercings, ponytail. From the back I look about twelve. Get carded a lot (I’m 31).
    We moved here with one suitcase eight months ago, and we’re saving for a deposit on a house so there’s no point spending a lot on clothes I’m hardly going to wear. Clothes are expensive here I miss my English wardrobe!

  141. As a professional nerd it’s almost the case for me that if I “make an effort” to “dress nice” in a work context that makes people take me *less* seriously (or ask what event I’ve dressed up for); such is the strength of the assumption that “nerds dress casual”.

    Some of my “casual” clothes are very expensive though; it’s not always a cheap look. At the moment I’m wearing a high-tech (high-cost) thermal base layer (I get cold a lot), hand knit socks and jumper (if I cost my time based on my salary they’re worth hundreds), designer jeans, and a bra that cost more than I want to think about (at least it fits). I’m less into Tshirts with funny/geeky slogans on them these days (they don’t last) – but they are certainly not cheap items either. The big win is in shoe-comfort; oh gosh, not being pressured into wearing SHOES OF PAIN is awesome.

  142. White woman who grew up very working class here. I lucked out and got into technology, so those jeans and t-shirts that I fought to be allowed to wear as a little girl (instead of dresses, skirts, and granny slacks) are still with me. Almost all the guys I work with are jeans and tshirt people too, and nobody says boo about me not wearing makeup, so I fit in fairly well. IE: If bigshots/customers are being shown around the office, a memo goes around asking us to wear shoes, shirts with collars, and jeans/shorts with no holes in them.

    Some of the other women who work here dress much better though, especially if they are working in non-tech positions. The accountants and admin assistants dress much better than the developers, even the development managers. Only exception to that rule are the tech sales people – they generally dress well even when not on customer sites.

    Oh, and Dakota jeans from Marks Workwear House for me. :-) Good fit, durable construction, cheap price. I buy three pairs at a time about once per year, as that’s how long it takes for my thigh teeth to work through them. My newest t-shirts will be a year old at Christmas. My sneakers are at least 3 years old. As you can tell, I fit the “ladies like to shop” stereotype not at all. My male partner holds the prize for that one. He dresses FAR better than I. For a while he worked in a warehouse and he was embarrassed to be seen in public in his work clothes (which were not substantially different than my work clothes, I might add).

  143. I am now a full professor, but when I was a grad student, I wore all the authority trappings at a big university in the south where such things signaled that I was in charge. Now, it is obvious I am in charge, so I can get away with wearing casual clothes (it helps that this is Minnesota in the winter, so more formal clothes are not practical).

    However, a junior colleague in another department, who is both black and of Caribbean origins, likes to mansplain to me about how I *must* wear a suit or I will not be taken seriously. I am thus in the bizarre position of whitesplaining to him that I, indeed, as a rich white lady, can get away with being tweedy and disheveled because students will accept that from me as an expected full professor costume.

  144. other rick: I see your point and agree with you. If my boss had offered me the sum of his advice *and* offered any advice in gaining skills in areas that I felt I lacked, I’d take it more to heart. Since he did not, my impression is that his view is that such skills are not important, or at least not *as* important, as the superficial things he seemed most concerned with.

  145. As a woman who is much older than I think of myself as being (yay for being self-delusional, ’cause acting my real age would make me sad), and who is self-employed as a dog walker/pet sitter, I pretty much need to wear jeans and t-shirts (being jumped and drooled on by dogs and shed on by all the critters requires sturdy, non-fur attracting, and easy-to-wash clothes). Most of the t-shirts have sayings that are animal-related or otherwise show my varied interests (Dr. Who/reading/certain bands) and are shades of blue, green, or black. I’m much bigger than I want to be, and if I had a job where I had to wear formal, professional (more ‘lady-like’) clothes, I would be sunk. Not only would it cost me a ton of money to fit my 5’11” 250lb frame (and this after 20 years of thyroid problems and yo-yo dieting had me spending way too much on clothes that fit me for a while, but then I needed bigger or smaller sizes – can’t forget all the undergarments, too!) all over again, but I would end up looking far older than I want to or feel comfortable doing.

    When I have to meet potential clients for the first time I have a t-shirt with a saying about animals by Ghandi that, while it’s clearly a casual item of clothing, shows my ‘philosophy’ and then my own happy-to-be-interacting-with-your-pet attitude helps clients understand that how I dress is really not what their money will be spent on. I make sure they know that my expertise and training is what they’re paying for and that I’m sensible enough to have sensible attire that I don’t mind getting dirty if I need to do anything to make their pet happy (and, hey, I’m going to be dealing with poop every day, and even blood once in a while, so fancy clothes are not sensible). So far it’s been working well for me.

    It’s those non-work times, the family get-togethers (birthday parties and weddings and funerals) and especially the upcoming seasonal parties that are the toughest for me. I’ve got a dozen sweaters and blouses ranging from simple-but-stylish solids to holiday-sparkly that go with my slightly dressy black jeans or my two pairs of black dress pants. I haven’t worn a dress or skirt in fifteen years, and unless some incredible magic slims me back down to a size14 or smaller, I never will, and I’m pretty much fine with that.

  146. Clothes. Wow. I’m just an amateur but here are three things my mom taught me.

    The Sam Vines theory of clothes, which works best when you develop a style rather than following fashion. It works especially well with shoes and purses, i.e. leather goods.

    Never buy a pair of shoes (or anything else) that doesn’t fit. For some people that means buying wides or narrows. If the store you shop at doesn’t carry your width as well as your length, shop somewhere else. In general, stuff that doesn’t fit won’t feel good and doesn’t look good on you.

    Always try stuff on. Companies are weird about sizes, and cut can change what looks best on you by a size or two.

    And something I noticed:

    I worked for a company where I interacted with three classes of people. There were no official uniforms, but you could tell someone’s affiliation by what they wore. Techs wore jeans and t-shirts (often with a sports team emblem); engineers wore khakis and colored shirts; and management wore dark slacks, white shirts and a tie. The best part though, was that you could tell that at sometime in the past, there had been a casual Friday because on Friday the older engineers and managers all wore the gaudiest Hawaiian shirts I’d ever seen.

  147. Back in my Usenet days, “Dress for success: war a white penis” was attributed to late soc.motss poster Tovah Hollander. I don’t know for sure it was original to her, however.

  148. Years ago when I was a temp during my college vacations I actually had an entire wardrobe of low end office wear (skirts and blouses mostly, no suits since I was just a receptionist making barely more than minimum wage). Luckily my job before that was retail where we were supposed to dress fashionably (and got a 15% discount) so I had a reasonable collection of stuff.

    Now I’m a scientist and I’ve worked in labs for so long that jeans and t-shirts are the general uniform. It wouldn’t make sense for me to wear nicer things if I’m going to get buffer or loading dye on them, and since most of my colleagues came up in university settings we need major prompting to dress any better than students. These days half my job is admin so I can get away with wearing sandals (no open toes in the lab – I keep a pair of garden clogs in my office for when I’m doing bench work) but if I “dress up” (i.e. wear anything more formal than a button down shirt) people start asking me if I’m going to a funeral or an interview. I do try to wear a nicer top when I’m going to seminars or otherwise hanging out with people I don’t see every day, but that’s about it. But there is a bright line between the science staff and the admin staff. The admins dress much better than the rest of us – office casual or better. I’m sure some of that is the illusion of meritocracy around the science staff, similar to what John talked about for creatives.

    But I also live in central america and people generally “dress” more for everyday things like food shopping and most people over the age of about 15 won’t wear shorts for anything but exercise or yard work. My work wardrobe is actually kind of a problem when I want to go out since I don’t have much except workout clothes, jeans, and t-shirts – and at the other end stuff I’ve bought for people’s weddings. But I get away with a lot as a Gringa – I’m a tall, pale skinned, blonde woman in a hispanic country, so I don’t blend. It’s basically white, and therefore probably rich, foreigner privilege to dress down.

  149. I got to thinking about clothing as it related to a job I used to have. My boss had gotten into white-collar work from the military via law enforcement and his idea of the cost of clothing was firmly in that frame of reference. He insisted that I dress like a successful financial planner’s assistant, but the stuff he wanted me to wear would have eaten so much of my paycheck that I would have defaulted on my rent! One day he breezily told me that I needed to buy a dinner dress for a thing he was hosting, and he would cover it. It cost $150 (this was 15 years ago) and he was shocked. He quit bugging me about my cheap cotton cardigans after that.

    My current business wardrobe is half Wal-Mart clearance and half tops and blazers chosen for durability, comfort, and conservative style. I am now a vendor for a souvenir company, so I spend half my time talking to bosses and half my time hauling boxes. Hence my current getup, a tab-sleeved tuxedo-front black linen-blend tunic blouse from a catalog whose name I don’t recall, worn over cornflower-blue Wal-Mart jeans and black Wal-Mart socks (they wear out in about three weeks but they’re cheap and they fit). Footwear is considerably more casual than the same job might call for elsewhere because this town is notorious for rotten weather. I will be wearing an extra pair of socks for comfort inside heavy, roomy, stiff black knee-high slip-on waterproof boots and nobody will bat an eye.

  150. Another story: My husband, an assistant manager at a building supply store that is part of a statewide company that is owned by some big company in Denver (turtles all the way up), lives in comfortable black working man’s jeans (usually Carhartts), sturdy shoes, and either polo shirts with the store’s logo or gimme-tees from a vendor. Nearly everything he owns is black except the gimme-tees, because it all goes together that way, and everybody around here is used to that. He is going to Denver for a networking meeting, so he went out and bought crisp new Carhartt jeans and long-sleeved black button-downs. He wore this outfit to work once to get used to having it on and his co-workers anxiously asked him if they had missed a memo about one of the big bosses coming to town!

    Corporate wants him to walk around in polyester slacks and a white shirt with a puffy vest on top, but nobody here is willing to do that. That may fly in Denver, but not here.

  151. When I’m doing my day job as a web developer (and most of the rest of the time), I’m in jeans (no particular brand loyalty, whatever I can find that fits decently and isn’t ridiculously expensive), casual tops and sneakers. When I’m doing my side gig of being a concert photographer, the tops get a little less conservative. Band t-shirts come out of the closet. And on the odd occasion when I have to attend some artsy fartsy event, I pull out my I-iz-an-arteeest outfit of black jeans, black flats and an appropriate black top. Usually something that flatters the rack. *g* For anything else? I probably have to go shopping.

  152. I dress up and always have. My parents went from poor to upper middle class and my appearance was always an indicator of their upwardly mobile status. As a high school teacher, I have a wide range of uniforms that would be appropriate, but I go for heels, dresses, jackets, and complete”outfits” which are much dressier than most of my coworkers. The bonus is that others have jumped on my fashion bandwagon and now more people are getting the where are you going? questioning looks and comments. I see my presentation as respect for myself and others. It may be costly in time and money but I see myself and others as worth it.

  153. There are times (few and far between, I admit), when I wish, as a straight white female, that I hadn’t been hiding behind the door when they handed out the clothing style gene (I am firmly convinced that, like the ability to spell, which I do have, style is something you’re born with). Also that I was shaped more conventionally. I wear men’s jeans and khakis because I have never, ever found a brand of women’s trousers that fit me, but aside from one really ill-fitting interview suit, I haven’t been able to find dress-up clothes that fit since I was a slender young thing, thirty-odd years ago, even if I knew how to buy them.

    I have no sense of style at all. But I would like to look dressed-up sometimes. It’s just not going to happen in this lifetime. In the meantime, I live in jeans (Wranglers), khakis (JCPenney house brand), and Penneys house brand T-shirts and turtlenecks, with LL Bean men’s sweaters over top when it’s cold.

    I wouldn’t know how to put an “outfit” together if you paid me. Thank all the gods I live in the Pacific Northwest, where, as they say, you put on your nicest jeans to go out to a fancy restaurant.

  154. Hello, first time commenting here (I think … ).

    I’m in Australia and lucky that I’ve never worked in a corporate environment where heels or skirts were the norm, since I’ve never been able to wear heels, and suits – blah. Even in my years in the public service in the 80s and 90s, it was pretty much wear what you like as long as it’s clean and neat. I’ve worn tartan trousers in a Centrelink office and goth jewellery with a customer service uniform (anything to take attention away from the electric blue knitwear, urgh urgh urgh). These days I work in a tiny business (three staff) and while the guys wear uniform polos with their jeans, it’s as much because it means our idiot general manager at head office is the one forking out for clothes, as anything else. I tend to swan around in long skirts and tunics and my own knitted creations, partly because I’m back-office most of the time and partly because I’m not wearing uniforms again ever, if I don’t have to.

    Jeans brands … well, clothing costs a LOT more here than in the US. $50 is cheap for women’s jeans, and I’m talking Katie’s or Rockman’s own brands, not something like Levi’s, which would start at around $80. My jeans are as likely to come from Target or an op shop (thrift store to USians) as anywhere else.

    tl:dr is that I’ve been very lucky in this regard in my work environments, and don’t give a damn what others think of what I wear, status-wise, except when having to go for job interviews.

  155. Living in a wealthy seaside town, clothing most definately maketh the man (or woman. Mostly the woman). You can pretty much guess where someone lives and how much money they earn by their style. The closer you are to the beach, the richer.

    The super rich, old money look like homeless slobs, drive antique cars held together with gaffer tape, and have large properties, usually overlooking the beach. The richest woman in town drove a tatty 50 year old car, wore tatty jeans and a jumper more holes than wool.

    Then there’s the inherited money, went to the private schools (we’ve got 2), and had people to do the work for them. They dress neatly, expensively, wear discreet but costly jewelry, expect service and get it. They shop in the clothing stores in town, which the average person can’t afford.They usually live near the beach, it takes big money reserves to buy near the water.

    The ‘my husband earns so much money I don’t have to work’ brigade really let you know it. They don’t leave the bedroom without full makeup, hair done, designer clothes and heels. They drive huge four-wheel-drives, send the kids to the ‘good’ schools. They stand out in the supermarket for the perfection of their look. The local gym does a roaring trade, the latest trendy class is always packed. It’s the husbands of this group who wear the jeans and polo shirt. A polo shirt is more up-market than a plain old t-shirt, like…

    …the workers wear. Those of us who’ve lived here before it got popular, or live on the ‘highway side’ (as opposed to ‘the beach side’) tend to dress in more normal clothes. Jeans and a t-shirt. Shorts and a tank top. Comfortable, neat clothing to wear at home. Even (the horror!) work clothes in the supermarket queue! Even those people who made the seachange to ‘country’ living and bought a few acres can be distinguished from the people who actually use their land. They never wander the village street in muddy clothes, their Range Rover has never seen a speck of dust (real work cars are rusty utes or dusty station wagons).

    Of course, the shop keepers can pick the money at a glance. I have been ignored in more than one clothing store, clearly I don’t look wealthy enough. That is, unless they happen to learn the family home is on one of the biggest properties in town (which doesn’t mean there’s excess money, but it gives the appearance of being rich.) Appearance is everything.

  156. I’ll confirm that thing about shoes on guys going unnoticed. My default, nearly-all-occasions clothing is black jeans and t-shirt (warm weather) or button-front shirt (cold weather), leather jacket if necessary and possible. Not for work though, there we’ve got work uniform.

    I tend to go to metal concerts, and occasionally put on a necktie just to be contrary. It’s been a few times I’ve been asked if I was really there for the music – till I pointed out that I was wearing New Rock boots with spikes or other ornaments on them.

    It’s curious how conformist to their own standards even metalheads can be…

  157. For me, this is a highly relevant piece. I just got a promotion; for the previous 4 years I worked in an auto-garage type setting, where jeans, sneakers and shapeless, short-sleeved company-logo polos were the typical attire for the office staff. No one, and I mean no one, cared in the least what anyone wore. I was grateful for this because the daily commute ate up gallons of gas per pay period, leaving zero disposable income for clothes. Occasionally I’d “splurge” on a 12-pack of striped footy sox at Big Lots, or a pack of underwear from Wally World. Everything else was from “before” — 2009 and earlier, and it was faded and threadbare. I own two bras. One is the right size, but 6 years of wear have stretched the elastic to the point that it doesn’t really perform its intended function. The other is newer, but a size too big — a friend’s mother died, and she gave me this new-in-box bra. It fits “well enough,” but it will be nice to eventually buy the brand, style and size that are right for me, so I don’t have to dress in layers.

    Okay, so now I’m much closer to home, making more money, and instead of worrying about putting gas in the car, I’m now worried about my image. It’s a real office, with a real dress code. Three weeks in, and I’ve used up most of my office-worthy stuff. It’s casual, not dressy, like you see in the training videos. I’ve purchased one pair of pants at a thrift shop ($2.00) and another at Walmart ($14); I try to keep a low profile so people won’t look too hard and realize where I shop. I find it astonishing that people can actually look at unmarked garments and pinpoint the brand and the store, but this is something I’ve experienced as far back as elementary school and it no longer surprises me.

    All that having been said, I will add that a) I like my new job very much; b) I really like wearing something different every day, and c) I look forward to gradually saving up enough money to buy new, not used, clothing in fabrics and cuts that conform to the upper-middle-class image that my employer cultivates.

    I identify and sympathize profoundly with anyone who experiences stress due to the intersection of clothing style and class stereotyping.

  158. I wear the exact same as Mr. Scalzi, except whatever jeans I have, including generic jeans from China (Sears) that cost $10. (8$ at Black Friday prices). Instead of generic polo, I wear a black T-shirt from the many that have been handed out at software dev meetups. No one has ever noticed that I hide them inside out since, like Mr. Scaldi, I do not want to promote Adobe Flash or the Research In Motion Blackberry backstage tour, even though I am thankful to these companies for providing me with free clothing which, on me anyway, is (according to my girlfriend) really good looking. Google wants to sell glasses for $1500, but if they could find a way to give away pants for free, the world would be theirs. “Your friends have got your back; we’ve got your ass covered.”

  159. Comments are too tl;dr, but have you considered that some of these people might be checking other folks out?

    I mean, I do that kind of reflexively. Even where clothing is concerned, I am not trying to make judgments except for, “would I want to date this person?” Obviously there is the ring check, but then there’s also stuff like, superhero t-shirts and goatees are pluses, while Birks and haircuts more expensive than mine are minuses. Not really a value judgment, I don’t think.

  160. Here’s an interesting piece of semiotics: During my freshman year, I went to a Little Ivy in a bedroom community for New York City. It was an old New England river town that had a few bright spots of commerce surrounded by blocks and blocks of bricked-shut buildings.

    Now: The storms began in October, and I turned gratefully from the flimsiest jacket I had ever worn in my life to a proper set of outdoor clothes, rejoicing that the muggy heat was at last gone. Before then, I had been one more college kid in a town that didn’t like college kids much. But with my outdoor gear on, people scattered out of my way when I went shopping, glancing at me nervously. I stopped to think about it, looked around at my fellow students, and realized that only two people I had seen on campus dressed for this kind of weather, and one of them was me. The other was the guy from rural New England in his bright yellow head-to-toe ensemble like the man on the can of sardines. I was wearing a wine-red rainproof parka, broken-in jeans, and practical black slip-on rubber boots with plenty of room for tucking in my pants legs–what we call cannery boots or Ketchikan sneakers. Nobody else dressed like this. Not the other Alaskan students; they all came from bedroom communities for Anchorage. Not the locals shopping or driving or teaching. Nobody but me–and the homeless people.

    They smiled at the guy with the buttercup-yellow fisherman’s getup, They got nervous whenever somebody wearing heavy-weather gear for landlubbers appeared on the sidewalk.

    It was a weird feeling, wearing the clothes that had made me invisible back home and being singled out as a social deviant thereby.