I guess having a dress code is a thing of the past, and that’s fine with me.
I did my time. Starting from the first grade, I spent the better part of four decades wearing one sort of uniform or another.
In grammar school, I wore blue pants with a gold stripe, a dark blue knit tie, and a light blue shirt with “Assisi” written on it. That meant for eight torturous years I had to prove I wasn’t a sissy — by running away from the tough kids in my Brooklyn neighborhood.
High school was even worse. We had to wear a jacket and tie, which was fine during the winter. On hot days, though, the temperature was unbearable, and a wool jacket put you that much closer to a heat stroke. One day it was so hot our lay English teacher, Mr. Lombardo, allowed us to take our jackets off. The Christian brothers, who ran the school, would have never capitulated. Everyone took advantage except one big kid, Frank Rutkowski. Mr. Lombardo kept prodding him, thinking all the kid needed was encouragement. I noticed Frank turn beet red and when he finally took his jacket off I realized why — the entire back of his shirt was shredded and ripped.
Some folk have had it tough dressing their kids for Catholic school, especially when Mom was a widow. Frank made do with one shirt, and more than a few of the guys were charged with washing and ironing their clothes. My mom laid out my wardrobe for me — like I say, I was no sissy.
I went to work on Wall Street after college. Everyone dressed the exact same way: charcoal suit, white shirt, and muted tie.
Our big thing was Casual Friday, which allowed us to dress down to jeans and a sports coat. I refrained from wearing my paisley PJs and Day Glo make-up, assuming clients would be reluctant to purchase mutual funds from me. I was probably right.
I knew my Wall Street career was over when my friends in Sag Harbor talked me into throwing my Florsheim winged tip dress shoes off of Long Wharf — I couldn’t afford another pair, and anyway, my suits were getting tight on me.
The local newspapers, thankfully, for the most part, don’t require a dress code. When I went to work at the East Hampton Star, the most popular accessory was a pocket pencil holder, which I hadn’t seen in years. John Charde took a lot of heat for his but he was onto something — he went off and started a computer company before the rest of us even knew what the internet was. The joke was it wasn’t in his pocket at all, but a hereditary slit in his chest that evolved over generations. This kind of nonsense passed for humor at The Star — that and some bawdy gerund jokes that made the rounds.
Nowadays game jerseys are all the rage, sporting the names and numbers of famous athletes. The licensing fees are enormous — the NFL generates $6.5 billion. But when people buy Tyreek Hill’s jersey, after he’s accused of beating his three-year-old, or a Kareem Hunt jersey, after Hunt beat and kicked a woman while in a drunken snot, we have a problem.
My father was an orphan raised by relatives in Pennsylvania. He went off to nursing school and was the constant butt of jokes from friends (his and mine) because of his all-white uniform. My friend Craig insisted Dad was a Good Humor man.
It took me years to realize that after watching his dad and uncle die from black lung disease that he felt pretty damn good in those bleached whites.
I think it’s safe to say women pay a lot more attention to what they wear without drawing the ire of women’s groups, just as it is safe to say they can’t be trusted to operate an automobile safely. I would wager to say women spend roughly three times as much time in front of a mirror than men do, but then again, men tend to have more important jobs, so they have less time to be selfish and vain. I think most women’s groups would agree with that.
Me? I still oscillate between the Catholic High School look circa 1965, the Bell-Button Day Glo craze of the ’70s, and the Calvin Klein ’80s, when jeans cost more then Gross National Product of Russia. Occasionally I’ll lapse into a time warp and take something out of the recesses of my closet and wear it in public, scaring children and dogs alike.
As far as work goes, though Casual Fridays are a thing of the past, I’m anticipating a positive reaction to Birthday Suit Wednesday, at least here at The Independent.
Rick Murphy is a six-time winner of the New York Press Association Best Column award as well as the winner of first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and the Suburban Newspaper Association of America and a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.