Monday, January 31, 2005

Casually dressed or dressing casually?

It’s a random day off from work in 19 Minutesland. In preparation for a trip out to the gym, I’m hanging out in a college sweatshirt – Vanderbilt. I’ve never been to Vanderbilt. I know of only one person who attended the school – one of my wife’s high-school friends (though I can’t remember whether it was undergraduate or grad school). I’m not 100% sure I know where it even is. Frankly, I had to look down at my chest to confirm how to spell “Vanderbilt”.

I probably have no business wearing such a garment – or the sweatshirts I own from various other schools I didn’t attend – Virginia, Macalaster, the Scripps Insititution of Oceanography, Paul Smith’s College, the University of New Mexico – but I wear them with pride. It’s pride that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Cavaliers, the Fighting Scots, the (I don’t know… Plankton?), or sports teams at any of the other schools.

Rather, it’s pride that my wardrobe has gone largely unchanged since junior high school (actually, it was called “intermediate school” in my day, but I digress). My 11th grade history teacher once told me: “You know what your problem is, Mitch? You’re a schlep.” (I was tempted to reply, “You know what your problem is, Mr. Schultz? You’re an 11th grade history teacher.” But instead, I rubber-cemented-down all the items on his desk, a prank that didn’t have quite the desired effect but was interesting to watch.)

The problem with high school (yes, it’s the only problem with high school) is the teachers who see themselves as mentors and the career aptitude surveys never ask: “Do you want to be able to wear flannel shirts, sweatshirts, and jeans to work?” If they did, they’d know there are plenty of would-be journalists out there who are being stifled because they’re being told that they’re schleps.

I did a brief stint as a PR flack in the Washington, DC area in between two gigs in public radio. Aside from the depressing nature of fetching coffee for reporters and pitching them stories I would never have covered myself, the worst part of the deal was having to dress up for work. I don’t think my co-workers ever cottoned to my Snoopy ties, and I was constantly urged to find a higher-grade of pants. I found my way back to flannel and jeans as quickly as possible.

Now re-ensconced in public radio, the university at which I’m based has a “casual dress” summers policy – basically, between Spring commencement and the start of fall classes. And the biggest problem we have in the newsroom is figuring out how to be “more” casual. So I usually add a Snoopy tie to my sweatshirt-and-jeans ensemble.

No comments: