Category Archives: Aesthetics

The Tie

When I started my career some 21 years ago as a junior engineer at a technology company located in Connecticut, the standard work attire consisted of a button-down shirt, dress slacks, shined leather shoes, and a tie. Most of the employees wore an undershirt beneath the dress shirt. Managers and businessmen always wore suits, upper managers wore 3-piece suits. If there was any official dress code “policy”, no one ever bothered to point it out. I was considered a bit radical when summer ended and I continued to wear short sleeve shirts (I can’t stand having my forearms covered).

A few years later, the company was split up, and we were purchased by a California-based company. After a couple of years, a new policy was announced – “casual Friday”. Every Friday, we were allowed – even encouraged – to dress in casual clothes – defined as jeans or cotton slacks, knit shirts, comfortable shoes, and (definitely) no tie. The reasoning was to allow a level of “relaxation” for the final day of the work week, as well as to match the trend in California.

After a few more years, and yet another corporate buy-out, “casual Friday” had gradually expanded into casual every-day, and the quality of clothing being worn had slowly devolved to the point where the company needed to reinforce a proper dress code policy. We were again encouraged to wear casual clothes, but more carefully defined, though the restriction to one day a week vanished.

At that time, a definite separation of dress behavior occurred. More managers and businessmen returned to wearing formal attire, though the suit had largely disappeared.Mostengineers embraced the casual wear, and rather quickly began the slow degradation of what was considered casual. Older engineers, and (though not universally) the more capable engineers continued wearing formal clothes.

That was about 10 years ago. Today, the collapse of the dress code is just about complete. Almost all engineers, almost all managers and businessmen, even our senior managers, can be found most days wearing at best the old “casual” standard; at worst, jeans and a tee-shirt. Ties (for all but unusual days) have vanished from the building. The dress code has begun to merge with the sexual harassment policy (no shorts, no short skirts, no muscle shirts, no offensive slogan tee shirts).

I still wear a button-down shirt, dress slacks, shined leather shoes, and a tie. I have embraced casual Friday, and I did give up the tie for about the last 6 months, but I have put the tie back on, and its staying on. In a building of 500 employees, with about 300 engineers and managers, I am now one of perhaps 5 employees (and very possibly the only one)wearing a tie when not visiting with a Customer (many of whom, incidentally, do not arrive at our facility wearing ties).

So – do the clothes worn affect our professional behavior?

Absolutely.

The choice of clothing worn represents to others an individual’s emotional frame of mind, or attitude. It is not representative of the exact emotional state of the person, as this can change throughout the day without requiring continual changes in clothes; rather, it portrays the individual’s expectation of what their emotional state shall be, or should be for that day. Hence the practice of wearing black for mourning, bright colors for gayiety, wrinkled or loose clothing for relaxation, and pressed clothing with plain or simple pattern in muted colors for seriousness. Of course, there are exceptions in which clothing may be chosen for practical reasons separated from attitude – low cost, high durability clothing for occupations involving hard physical labor; damaged or even dirty clothing for hard labor performed at home. The use of uniforms is indicative of occupations in which emotion is not considered a proper component to one’s job activities.

It should be emphasized again that the selection of clothing may be not one’s actual expectation of emotional state, but what one believes others expect that state to be. It is this that explains in part the spread of changes in my company’s dress code. The company sends a message by “relaxing” the dress code – don’t take the job so seriously. Loosen up. Thisis accepted by some as a command, by others as an affirmation of their actual attitude toward work, and by others, over time, by what they see as a change in the Company’s attitude, as reflected in the clothing, and indeed the resulting behavior, of their peers. Once this dynamic starts, most will not resist the trend toward greater and greater expectations of relaxation. The Company’s former productivity cannot be recovered easily.

As I saw after the Company attempted – temporarily – to stop the decline, therewas a subpopulation of employees whosaw what was happening (perhaps without fully understanding), and resisted the loss of seriousness, focus, concentration in the larger population, by holding on to the “old ways”. Interestingly, I myself discovered during this time that by continuing to wear a tie (the most visible of the clothing elements to generally disappear), my presumed status in the Company rose in situations where my actual achievements were not well known. I have joked that “he who wears the tie runs the meeting” – but by and large this became increasingly true.

As I stated above, I did give up the tie for several months recently – perhaps the peer pressure finally began to affect me as well. But I found that I indeed “feel” more appropriate in a tie when at work. It has been through introspecting on this “feeling” that I have been led to understand the role of clothing in the portrayal of attitude, and its effect on the wearer and those with which he interacts.

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Notes from the ARARI Meeting

Doug and I attended last night’s February meeting of Ayn Rand Admirers of Rhode Island, hosted by Ellen and Harris Kenner. This was in the usual form of dinner at a simple restaurant, followed by dessert and discussion at the Kenners’ home. I greatly enjoyed myself, as I always do at these meetings.

In content, this meeting was less social and more substantive than usual, driven in part by the presence of two college-aged newcomers from Brown University, in whom Ellen appeared to have particular interest. There was also an elderly couple present, new to the group, one of whom had been introduced to Objectivism less than a year ago. I found this fascinating, given the usual impossibility of reaching anyone over age 30 with Ayn’s ideas.

Two elements of the evening I found notable.

Typically, the Kenners select a short video of interest to show during the meeting. This month, Ellen had selected the performance of a (famous?) female wrestler on the television show “Dancing with the Stars”. The premise of the show apparently is to take non-dancer entertainment professionals, and give them a week to master a form of dance, working one on one with a professional dance instructor. These folks then compete against each other, and (in a very predictable format), one or more of the “players” in the game are eliminated each week. The clip shown was of this wrestler dancing a Samba (I think). The performance was extremely impressive, and the woman majestically beautiful. That was the reason for Ellen’s selection, as an example of performance Art in the Objectivist sense.

My reaction was one of disinterest, and of slight disgust. Reflecting on the reasons for this “emotional” evaluation, I find that I am very generally unmoved by any visual art, and particularly unmoved by performance art. This, in turn, is an unresolved puzzle to me. As for the source of the disgust, I believe it has everything to do with the nature of the television “show”. Had the dance been shown without my knowledge that it was part of one of these “reality TV shows”, I do not believe I would have experienced the disgust (though I still would have been disinterested).

My reaction (or lack of reaction) to visual art does not imply that I do not “understand” art. I can recognize the relative value of various art forms, from the horrifying (Van Gogh), to the positive aspects of the Romantic artists. But I have never been overwhelmed with positive emotion in the presence of a visual artwork.

The second exchange of interest last night was a brief discussion of what I’ll term the “harshness” of Ayn Rand and her early followers. For the benefit of the college students, the first several minutes of A Sense of Life were shown. Prior to this, as introductory background, Ellen (and others) described the general demeanor and style of Ayn (and Piekoff) through a few anectodal stories. These included the Phil Donahue appearance in which Ayn refused to answer an audience question that began along the lines of “I used to believe in your philosophy, but then I grew up”, and even a conversation between Piekoff and Harris, in which Harris was told he was a “coward”. The theme here was that Ayn and her early followers were at times sharp in their handling of other people, particularly people in whom they suspected dishonest motives. This is a characterization which I have no reason to discount, but which I feel was often justified.

Ellen then proceeded to say that more recently this sharp edge of the Objectivist leaders has softened, as they attempt to become educators and “reach” more individuals. After listening to this, I offered a “second opinion”, as I described it. In my opinion, Ayn’s harsh (others used the word “fierce”) commentary was precisely what was needed to confront individuals with Reality. Anything less, in the situations mentioned and others of similar kind, could begin to sound not only soft, but apologetic. Ayn in particular, and the Objectivism movement in general should never be apologetic for any of the consequences of the philosophy. Reality certainly will not apologize, and neither should those who properly identify it.

Ellen answered that she, as a psychologist, was often willing to “lay it on the line” with her clients, but did not believe that proper communication with those wishing to learn about Objectivism could contain this element of harshness and be optimally effective. (Please note that these are NOT Ellen’s words, this is my integration of the meaning she conveyed in her answer – I am not very good at memorizing dialogues).

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