Back to our normal wackiness.
Okay, I'm still trying to figure out the Milwaukee dress code. I've lived in a variety of places in the last decade, and the last couple of stops, at least I knew where I stood.
In Washington, DC, I never quite managed to pull off the standard look. That look was: boring. I didn't own enough gray suits, nor enough black shoes to match my fellow professionals. And I didn't mind that, really. I thought the tweed blazer, solid color cotton shirt, screw-ball tie, and khakis gave me a distinctive-yet-approachable look.
My boss thought I needed more expensive-looking pants. I thought that would have necessitated ironing them, so the better solution was to move to Flagstaff and go back into public radio, where the only occasions that required wearing a tie were a) interviewing a US Senator, or b) going to a funeral. There were some optional tie occasions, too - there were people that managed to wear both ties and Birkenstocks to weddings, say. But I could safely wear a flannel shirt and jeans to work and look like roughly everyone else in town.
Like I said, I'm still trying to figure out the Milwaukee thing. It's still public radio, so my one gray suit stays in the closet, but so do my flannel shirts. But the real problem can be summed up by a recent workday:
My schedule included a trip to get the car registered, followed by my typical public radio workday, followed by an extremely atypical appearance at a charity fundraising reception and dinner.
This came on the heels of a lecture and dinner with a bunch of academics and out-of-town journalists the previous week in which I was the only male not wearing either a jacket or a tie, making me feel vaguely like someone's kid brother who'd been invited along.
So despite the fact that the fundraiser promised to serve chili, I wasn't about to fall for the underdressing trap. I dutifully threw on my DC wardrobe - khakis, dark blue Oxford shirt, blazer, semi-nice shoes. I threw a tie in my briefcase as security. (My briefcase, of course, doesn't conform to DC standards. But that is a topic for another day.)
Anyhow, I was a little overdressed for the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles, especially among the various teenagers who were there for their driver's tests. But, you know, I probably wasn't the first person ever to stop in at the DMV on his way to work. However, the DMV had issued me two license plates, which is one more than my Arizona-born car could handle, so I went off in search of a front license plate bracket...
...meaning I probably was the first person ever to stop in at Blain's Farm & Fleet on his way to work - at a public radio station, anyway. A lot of Blazers in the parking lot, but not a lot of blazers in the store. As much as I've tried - and regardless of what I've worn - I've never succeeded in being able to hold my own in any place where auto parts are sold. I'll go in to buy a couple of quarts of oil, and someone will ask me whether I want 10W30 or 5W30, and I'll be exposed as a fraud. Of course, Farm & Fleet didn't have any license plate frames, so they did their best to send me to a place that I'd look even more alien - a salvage yard. I'm not sure how Milwaukeeans are supposed to dress for a salvage yard, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the blazer-and-khakis ensemble. They referred me to a VW dealer, either because they didn't have any license plate brackets, or they figured I'd feel more at home there.
So after three hours of license plate excitement, I made it to work - the one place I feel relatively inconspicuous. I check my e-mail. At the top of the list is one from the woman who invited me to the fundraiser. It includes the following note:
I am wearing jeans, so feel free to be casual!
Did I mention that I don't get the Milwaukee dress code?