May 16, 2013
Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade is leading millions of American men along the path of career destruction.
It wasn't his play against the Bulls in the NBA playoffs. It was his ridiculous suit, a purple polka dot number featuring skinny capri pants, showing plenty of leg.
That's right. D-Wade — the pride of H.L. Richards High School — wore capri pants, or "pedal pushers," if you will, baring much of his naked calves to a national TV audience.
TNT studio analyst Charles Barkley ridiculed him, and as a proud Richards Bulldogs alumnus, I was horrified. At least Wade's pedal pushers weren't velvet (I hope). But still.
This terrible episode looms large because it's getting warm outside and the last thing America needs are men following D-Wade's lead by showing leg at the office.
Jobs are scarce. But every summer, if you watch the front door of any office building, you'll still see men walking in, wearing shorts.
"Not in the firms I'm aware of," said Lou Dobbs, host of "Lou Dobbs Tonight" on the Fox Business Network, when I asked him Wednesday about the shorts thing on the WLS-AM 890 radio program I co-host with Lauren Cohn.
Shorts at work, said Dobbs, are "usually the attire for people working in tech companies, to show how different they are from us, and how they don't give a damn."
"And the rest of us come up a little short," said Dobbs.
I couldn't see what Dobbs was wearing, but I figured he was in a dark suit, starched shirt, tie and hard shoes.
"And I shined them myself, by the way," said Dobbs.
That's the kind of attitude American business needs, because it seems American business has become dangerously casual.
Let's face it. Most Americans dress for work as if they're going on a picnic, and they won't give up their Fall Out Boy T-shirts unless you pry them from their cold, dead fingers. My casual shirts of preference are those comfy ones you don't tuck in, because we chunky fellows hate the tuck-in thing.
At least I've never worn shorts to work. If there's one thing that drives me crazy, it's guys wearing shorts and sandals at the office.
There are worse things of course. Let's be realistic. Say you're sitting on the "L" and the person in the seat behind you is quietly eating chicken, and later you realize to your horror that the chicken-eater deposited the bones in the hood of your hoodie.
It proves you should never wear a hoodie to work, either. Or ride public transportation with a chicken eater seated behind you. But shorts are an even more frightening harbinger of the apocalypse.
"Shorts are just not appropriate business wear and I think flip-flops aren't business wear," said Peter Post, of the Emily Post Institute.
And yes, his great-grandmother was Emily Post, the world-famous etiquette coach. Men wearing shorts in the office would have horrified her. She even hated the wearing of white after Labor Day.
"If people look at your clothes and think, 'What are they wearing that for?' you wore the wrong clothes," said Peter Post. "Really, it's a question of what's the company's norm and try to adhere to it. Don't try to push the envelope, and that's where I think people get into trouble. They try to push the envelope."
But the problem with the envelope is, there is no envelope. Some rich old hippies burned it. First it was Casual Friday. Now it's Lip Ring Tuesday.
Years ago, I wore a tie and jacket to work. Everyone did. The men covering City Hall, the federal building, the criminal courts and the county building always wore a tie and jacket. Women reporters dressed appropriately, and still do, but the men have gone caveman.
When Sam Zell owned the Tribune for a time, he was a casual fellow, so the dress code at Tribune Tower became so loose that it's a wonder we just didn't come to work in loincloths.
What's odd is that while middle-aged folks dress casually, what with our untucked shirts and baseball caps, humming that we've only got 100 years to live, younger people are looking sharp. Like wolves. And soon they'll eat the geezers for lunch.
A young woman I know named Courtney put it best. "Being young makes it easy for people to dismiss you, so you don't want shabby or over-sexualized clothes to give them another reason to sit you at the kiddie table," said Courtney, ambitious, bright and hungry.
She also offered some dress tips. She hates shorts for men. And no shorts either for women, and no flip- flops, cleavage or sky-high heels. Open-toed shoes for women, insists Courtney, require a pedicure, "If you don't have one, keep your claws to yourself."
For both sexes, Courtney prohibits facial piercings, "and don't get me started on tongue rings."
And for men and women, but most often it's men, the trousers must not dip and display any region of the lower spine.
Displaying the lower spine is a definite career ender, except perhaps for plumbers, where it's expected. But lower-spine display in the office is something that many women complain about. Ask them. You'd be surprised.
"Crack kills," Courtney said. "Cover it up."
And don't wear capri pants either.
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