Business Casual

Linoleum. Dust motes floating in the air. Fake plants. Flourescent lighting. The sound of daytime television turned up too loud. Abandoned shopping carts. These are the things that inexplicably depressed me as a child. Not all of them do now. Dust motes in the air make me happy. Linoleum makes me nostalgic for those rare moments in school when the smell of industrial cleaning products was noticeable but not too strong and the air wafting in through the grate-covered windows from the city streets was sweet and clean and my pencils were all sharp and my teacher was smart and nice and I felt glad to be alive and like I would one day be important and my table was sharing some kind of secret, kicking each other softly under the desks, thrilled and innocent.

Fake plants, flourescent lighting and loud daytime television still depress me, along with a myriad of new additions over the years (poured concrete, office parks, sugar substitues, moving walkways that aren’t moving, outdated yet time sensitive yet still recent books in used bookstores (i.e., the 1994 Guiness Book of World Records), email forwards, suburbia. Abandoned shopping carts are almost quaint, and when photographed at dusk by talented artists, can be beautiful.

But what depresses me more than anything these days is business casual clothing. I despise it. Luckily, I almost never have to wear it. But several times a year, some parent actually wants to meet me before they entrust their child and a fair sum of money to me one afternoon a week. They want to “see my resume” and “have an interview.” This is rare. The majority of parents call me hurriedly on the phone from their offices and leave checks on the dining room table. But sometimes they want to play “this is a real job” and I have to play along.

My minimal contact with parents means I can get away with wearing almost anything. I try to abide by a few simple rules: Do not expose too much skin to adolescent boys and try not to wear anything torn or frayed. So my business casual occassions are few and far between, and this makes them all the more offensive and confounding to me.

I hate the swishy stretchy sheen of business casual wear. I hate the expense and environmental impact of its dry-clean only rules. I hate its conformtiy. I hate the colors, the cuts, the fabrics of business casual clothing. I hate the 2% Lycra in the shirts. I hate Tencel. I hate collars and buttons. I hate shiny things that aren’t silk or satin or velvet or velour, none of which qualify as business casual. More than anything, I hate silk-blend sweaters, and most of all, I hate short-sleeved sweaters, which are one of the cornerstones of business casual. And don’t even get me started on the shoes.

I hate how business casual clothing is made for no other purpose than sitting on your ass in an office all day. You can’t wear it on a long walk. You can’t travel in it. It wrinkles. It stinks when you sweat. It has no pockets in which to put useful things like bus tickets to far away places or notebooks or drinks or drugs or snacks. Business casual clothing hints at no subculture and has no personality. Its purpose is to obliterate differences and allude to nothing. Its subcultlure is capitalism and its personality is catalog shopping, network television, and forty-five minutes on a treadmill.

And the word. What is business casual anyway? At least a suit is a cohesive garment with its own language and system of symbols. Suits have workmanship and subtle details of personality. Business casual clothing doesn’t even have that. It is formality without detail, without language. It is the uniform of ultimate neutrality, made by the employees of one corporation to be worn by the employees of another.

I don’t mind uniforms, if they are uniforms of times and places where people were strange and free and doomed and wild. I love when people dress as sixties mods, or seventies rockers, or inhabitants of Weimar Germany, or even some Platonic ideal the Williamsburg Hipster. The achievement of perfection in any form of fashion is an elusive and aesthetic goal. Our clothes can make us feel like ourselves, or better yet, like who we want to be but aren’t yet. But the only reward for the achievement of perfection in business casual clothing is that people with money will find you non-threatening, and you won’t look unique or insubordinate. Is that who some people want to be but aren’t yet? If you wear those pants for long enough, you will be.

When I put on business casual clothing I feel like I am masquerading as everything I hate most in the entire world, like I am dressed to live the life I never wanted. Am I being dramatically adolescent? If I am, it’s only because I still dress like one.

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