I went to the bank the other day to do some routine banking. It was Friday, which in this day and age often means casual dress at places of business. The institution at which I bank is actually a fairly casual sort of branch most days anyway, so there really isn’t much difference between the attire of the front-line staff on Thursdays and what they wear on Fridays. You might see jeans instead of chinos or a t-shirt instead of a turtleneck, but really, you have to look to see a difference.
I’m cool with that. Really. It is perfectly possible to look nice and wear comfortable clothing while still maintaining an air of professionalism, especially when you’re working as a bank teller in a local branch. On a drop-in basis, I have no problem with dealing with someone whose dress makes me feel at ease, as long as they’re neat and tidy and clean. Now when I make an appointment to talk RRSPs, I expect the standards to go up a bit. If I make an appointment to see you and talk and dress seriously and professionally, buddy, you’d better be wearing a suit and tie, even if it is Friday.
But back to my experience with the tellers. I was standing at the teller, when another teller walked by behind the woman with whom I’d been dealing wearing negligée. Yup, you read that right. Underwear. A camisole. Satin with lace around the top. Fairly low-cut, too.
I’m not a prude, nor am I unappreciative of bodies of either sex. Anyone who knows me will acknowledge that I tend to slide towards liberalism when it comes to sexuality and, frankly, in films I’d rather see genitals than gore. I’m also not entirely against the idea of dress-down Friday nor am I anti-lingerie. What I do object to is the complete lack of appropriateness of certain pieces of attire to certain situations.
For instance, it’s one thing to walk around a beach or park in summer public in a halter top and low-rise jeans. It’s another to wear such clothing to school. One can (and, depending on one’s aims, should) wear gauze tops and minimalist undergarments downtown on a Friday night, but they’re probably not appropriate when appearing in court (as a client or a lawyer).
John and I were talking about this the other day and we came to the conclusion that one of the things that is rapidly disappearing in today’s North American culture is nuance and subtlety. Instead of leaving the effects of a sword swung through the air to the imagination, films spell it out for us in geysers of blood. Instead of using clothing to accentuate bodily features and thereby stimulating both imagination and desire, we paradoxically divest ourselves publicly of attire and, along with it, imagination-induced anticipation. What is more relevant to my particular banking experience is that we do so in situations in which sex is not called for.
I should not be obliged to mentally wrestle with whether or not I can look at what is being publicly displayed while at a bank or other professional place of business. You know the mental gymnastics; cleavage is directly in front of you, often at eye level. Regardless of your sexual proclivities, you dare not look (or admire, as the case may be) even though the view is being handed to you on a silver platter. If you stare (be you male or female), you’re rude or possibly harassing. If you’re determined not to look, you’re distracted and ruffled. Strangely enough, I haven’t noticed a male-equivalent of the stripped-down phenomenon in women. The most overt male clothing-less body flaunting I’ve observed thus far is at certain fitness centres, but that hardly falls into the same category as a bank.
“Etiquette” is an old-fashioned word in today’s world, but one whose foundations need revisiting. The basic purpose of etiquette is to facilitate interactions between people. The rules that surround who sits where in weddings, for instance, are designed to leave guests feeling respected and comfortable. The bottom line of “good manners” is that you judge the situation and behave in such a way as to make those around you comfortable.
Proper dress is a part of good manners and good manners are integral to working in society. If you work professionally (in something other than the equivalent of the red light district), dress professionally. If you visit a professional, dress like you want their respect and not like you hope they’ll shave a bit off the bill in exchange for eye candy. They won’t. In fact, you’re probably paying them extra not to look. If they do look, don’t expect a discount. Why would they pay for something they’ve already gotten for free?
Be nice. Wear professional clothes in the professional workplace.