Office Acculturation 102: The Uniform

In yesterday’s post I gave an introduction to the language of the cubicle jungle.

Today I would like to give some pointers on how to dress to blend in with appearance in order to pass as a proper professional.

Clothing and appearance are essential semiotics for passing in a corporate setting and depending on one’s functional role and rank or the culture of the organization, the required uniform is very different.

Here are some examples of various office attire requirements and their signification:

Khakis and polo shirts: for roles like engineering where you are required to use your brain for solving actual problems but not expected to be client or senior management-facing and therefore not required or encouraged to exude any kind of fashion sense. This would intimidate others and workers who can think should not not be a double-threat of they want to keep their jobs.

Suit and Tie: for executive roles where you are earning a higher paycheck and are not required to think as much. In this role, the job is to give orders and be able to “network” (e.g drink expensive booze and talk about your resume). Intimidation is a requirement and the layers of polyester blends are like a force field.

T shirt or wrinkled button-down and Jeans (with sneakers): you work in IT and deal with computers. Since the digital infrastructure is the life blood of any corporation but the IT person typically has nothing to do with its core business offering , he is basically asserting virtual-unimportance with his attire even though he is likely earning the same paycheck as the guy in Khakis. This keeps the executives from realizing their own ineffectualness and keeps the universe in balance.

Jeans, T Shirt and Blazer: you are a creative. Your job is to have big ideas and be aware of trends. Wearing jeans and a t shirt shows you are youthful enough to know what’s cool and the blazer says you are important and are allowed to attend meetings with executives.

Now, it is important to note that if you are female you can get away with just about anything if you are working in a male environment. If you are at the executive level you should try and approximate a suit with matching polyester coordinates and wear shiny shoes. Showing a little leg or cleavage also helps intimidate the boys. But since women are more effective in general in executive situations it is sometimes best to keep your intimidation tactics on a cerebral level so the dudes don’t get wise to your power. If you are a female and not an executive you should try and be a bit dowdy with your apparel choices so your male peers will be forced to focus on your skills rather than your appearance. But you may want to wear a pleasant fragrance so you can survive long meetings in small conference rooms with all those stinky boys. 😉

These are a few examples and based on only one slightly biased anthropologist’s contextual experience.

Please feel free to elaborate on the list as you see fit. I am speaking, of course, to that one guy in Croatia who has been reading my blog.

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7 thoughts on “Office Acculturation 102: The Uniform

  1. Well done! Found you through LinkedIn link. Looking forward to reading more posts!
    Paul from Zagreb 😉

  2. Also, because I am considering a career change (a teacher considering corporate anthropology or at least entering the corporate world), what does the “office anthropologist” look like? Where/how does she/he fit into this world?

      1. So, the suit and tie crowd? But not the execs, more like those who are trying to please the execs. Because they didn’t even warrant a mention in your article, we could perhaps call them the “corporate sheep or cattle” or “wanna-bes?”

  3. And that is where I’d like to be, because I am neither creative nor smart. And I’m being serious. Sounds like a lot of fun!

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