Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Tyranny of Uniformity

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As some of my twitter followers know, my work recently introduced a uniform. Their rationale was that we were moving to the city (the office used to be located in the industrial area of the airport and the dress code was "business casual" at best) and it would look smarter next to the perfectly coiffed employees of other corporations and government agencies we would be sharing the building with. As if we couldn’t stand someone from another company to look at us in the elevator and think “God, why is she in civvies? Is that a pair of cargo pants she’s wearing?”

My entire school life, I wore a uniform. In primary school, I wore a blue smock. I can’t think of any other word to describe it, the style was interpreted in many ways by enterprising mothers who sewed them for their daughters (quite common in those days, and in a country town). The boys got to wear a blue button-up shirt with grey shorts. On Fridays, which was sports day, girls got to wear a red t-shirt and black netball skirt with black “runners” underneath. Runners were supposed to lend some kind of dignity to any accidental flashes of underwear, but looking back I fail to see how. Your normal undies used to poke out the sides of the runners anyway. Later, girls were allowed to wear black shorts, a trend I embraced as it was much easier to concentrate on high jump without worrying that the boys were looking at my runners.

In high school, we had a boxy grey blouse and maroon tie, teamed with a knee-length pleated grey skirt. For sports, we wore blue polo shirts with maroon skirts, shorts or trackpants. You can probably guess which the preferred garment was for teenagers – even in high summer, when it got to 40 degrees, you could still find smelly boys wearing trackpants. Parachute material was the most popular, if I recall correctly. Anyone wearing heavy pajama-type cotton trackies was ostracized. Kids can be so cruel, especially maroon parachute-panted ones.

Now, at my company, when a uniform was decreed necessary, a department committee was formed. Yes, organizing and deciding on uniforms necessitated a committee. Deliberations went on for weeks. Certain items (such as clothes made out of actual nice material) were unable to be ordered, due to budget constraints. The colours were chosen and everyone’s worries that we would end up looking like Ronald McDonald in our corporate logo shades were put to rest. The end result was an understated range of white button-up shirts, navy trousers and skirts and your choice of a navy vest or cardigan with logo embroidered on the left hand chest.

At first I was unconcerned. It would make dressing myself in the morning much easier, I told myself breezily. The fact that I hadn’t worn a uniform since high school and hated it then didn’t cross my mind. We were given the opportunity to try on a few samples and ordered sizes. The samples were horrid, but we consoled ourselves that perhaps it was because they were “similar” styles to what was ordered and not going to be at all like the final product. A few weeks ago, the uniforms finally arrived. They are horrid. The polyester in the pants and skirts are static-y. The pants themselves are just amazingly badly cut – I don’t think I’ve ever worn a worse style. Despite purporting to be a “relaxed fit” the waistband falls undernearth my bellybutton in the front and shows my asscrack at the back when I sit down, so they are really more like hipsters. The blouses gape at the front buttons on anyone remotely chesty. The wool cardigans and vests are the only saving grace – but god help me when it comes to summer and I can’t cover up my gapey buttons with the vest any more.

I’ve actually rebelled and stopped wearing the pants. I have two pairs of black pants and one new pair of navy ones that I have started wearing. Nobody has noticed. The uniform people actually came to our office to hear everyone’s complaints a week ago, but we have heard nothing from them since.

The other problem is that even though you can give people nice, neat, ironed ensembles, the reality is that when they put them on more than half look like a sack of shit tied in the middle. Whether it’s innate laziness which prevents the use of the iron, or the style simply doesn’t suit those with long/short legs/torsos, you just can’t make everyone look presentable in a uniform. Thus, glancing about the office today I realized that the idea of looking all neat, tidy and corporate seems to have failed in a colossal manner.

I hate this uniform. I wish they’d just given me the $200+ they’ve spent on allocating me four shirts, a skirt, pants and a vest and sent me out to buy something for myself. I hate that everyone on the train or who sees me walking to work knows what company I work for. Most of all, I hate not being able to choose my own outfit every morning. Who would have thought?

What’s the worst uniform you’ve ever been forced to wear?

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