Friday, November 23, 2007

Office attire

The company I work for is a privately held French firm. The partners are all naturalized French citizens - they of Lebanese descent. Most of their families, and those of many of my colleagues are still in and around Beirut.

It's a cool place to work. They let us be. As far as attire is concerned, they don't care one bit. We dress to our nines only when we go to the client side. Rest of the time, everyone is casuals - Jeans and t-shirts, even on weekdays. Yes, they are nice to us. Which is why I was stunned when I saw my teammate wear "Israeli Defense Forces" T-shirt to work. I casually asked him if he didn't think that it was kind of inappropriate. He said "It's just a T-shirt man! My friend got it for me". Following which, he hurled a mild accusation at me for making a big deal out of it. I smiled and changed the topic. I admit, I have heightened sensitivity to things, but somehow this unnerved me, and I began wondering how much are our T-shirt messages meant to demonstrate what we stand for. Maybe it struck me as odd because I feel the company is being nice to us by not insisting on proper business attire, and my colleague shouldn't misuse this freedom.

It really is a T-shirt. There is little reason for one to be sensitive, or to believe that it portrays ones allegiance. Like a foreigner wearing a t-shirt with a bold "Om" emblazoned across it, doesn't mean he believes in Hinduism, or is remotely spiritual. The figure of Ganesha has become more or less a commodity, till a bunch of religious fanatics find it on a piece of clothing and create a furore. We argue - it really is nothing but a t-shirt.

And yet, I still feel that there is a thin line between coolness and impropriety.

Now playing: The Beatles - While My Guitar Gently Weeps


Kartik said...

The real question is where does one draw the line? or would it be better if someone did it for you? There never is a right answer.

Mo said...

Well, if one has the freedom, one must choose responsibly. In the office environment, it is merely about not sticking out, to ensure one is not being noticed for the wrong reasons. If that t-shirt was worn on a beach, nobody would care, perhaps.

I think to avoid such situations, most companies enforce dress codes.

Oh, and the same colleague was caught wearing a different T-shirt after lunch. Which means, someone more senior did notice and ask him to change it.

Ga-Joob said...

i guess you wrote this post before lunch... :D

but seriously... you have a tee with headphones on it!!
Btw, was his 'defensive' tee offensive to the corr? har har.

Mo said...

Who is the t-shirt with headphones offensive to? You?

arun said...

Where does one draw the line is rather subjective. It was rather inappropriate in this case only because the main partners in the firm are Lebanese and it is important to respect their sentiments (which I am sure ran quite high during the war). It might be "just a t-shirt", but the clothes you wear are supposed to be a reflection of the kind of person you are, so it does make sense to put some thought into the social aspect of what you wear, rather than "I'm too cool to care". At least in a professional setup.... still vividly remember the Indian guy working full time as a TA at NUS, who was walking around with a "Sex Instructor" t-shirt. Would have been cool on the beach (I guess) but I would not have been in the least bit surprised if he got knocked off the staff.

Lihtnes said...

Some days, you pick up a t-shirt that looks clean and is wearable for the day. Only then do you think about what it says and who it might humiliate/enrage.

This dude might not actually have considered if his shirt will affect his employers. Now that you asked him about the shirt, I can bet a hundred bucks he wont wear it to office again, though he tells you he dont care.

Mo said...

You are probably right about him not realizing it when he wore it in the morning. But we all know that things are a bit sensitive on account of the recent events.

As I wrote in my comment above, the dude was actually caught wearing a different t-shirt in the afternoon. Which means someone else (prolly my boss) did notice and ask him to change it.