The language of Suits and Denim: A time for everything
Gate 16 of Sydney's domestic airport is a quiet affair on a Friday night. The 1740 flight to Canberra is running late, but less than ten would-be flyers wait for a miracle that their flight home might still come on time.
"Hello, everyone...." the airport service woman intones over the intercom, summoning a fleet (no less than five) to their closing flight. She's a rare breed who start with the niceties before berating the final stragglers.
The corporate travellers stick out like a jockey's rod on a soft bed of folded flanelette. The forty-something casual on her iPad and the hipster in her high boots side-eye the rest with that lingering pity of "you sad, stiff bastards; can't you lounge like I do?"
Fortunately, when your clothes actually fit, sitting around in a suit from 7am to 5pm is less than painless.
I'm a firm believer in work-life balance, and I don't think it hurts to remind your colleagues that, although you can whip each other to get the day's work done, you might still be a bogan in your soft, mallowy heart who wants to relax into your potato sack at the end of the day (because, unless there's an exception, I'm going home at my regular hour). On Fridays, I usually wear jeans with something sharp on top to assure my stakeholders I still appreciate and respect the time they've given me.
On Fridays, upstairs says "let's work", but downstairs alludes to later possibilities of "beer o'clock?" (Not as dirty or promising as it might sound, sorry, all.)
When I arrived at my colleagues' office this morning, they took one look at me and asked, "You're from central office, aren't you?" But the sneer said everything else: big brother in their power suits have come down with their high ideas and no real concept of how things happen in the real world... please let me crush your illusions.
Although I quickly convinced them I was still human ("Goddamnit, I feel like a contractor!"), that got me thinking: "What's wrong with being a contractor?"
A few days ago, a colleague mentioned that he was glad we didn't have to work with a certain company.
"They're bullies! They'll come in here with their sharp suits -"
"Hey, I wear a suit."
"Those other guys have no idea! They'll start barking and demand we work their way, they're so inflexible."
Contractors: disconnected, stubborn, not so adaptable to change or playing with others (at least, how they work); plain mean.
Now, of course, one sample can't represent the whole pool. I've worked with constructive, enthusiastic and truly gracious contractors in my time. But the enforcement of this sour persona from a few has meant old stereotypes stay in our consciousness.
It's probably still true that much animosity towards contractors and these big brothers in their dark suits stems from distrust due to money. However, the higher you climb, the further you stick your neck out, and the longer you work to make sure your head stays attached for all that you're accountable. That many-figured salary is compensation for risk. The old joke about execs getting paid to do not very much is even funnier today because, for the majority, it's simply not true.
Organisational cultures are changing, but the suit remains the symbol of formality and sobriety, of the moment everyone sits that little bit straighter to attention and puts thoughts of beer o'clock aside for the moment.
The suit is, for some, their suit of armour. For others, a simple opportunity to enjoy its fashion. For me, it's the uniform of a well-established tradition and business language. It's also bloody annoying (read: expensive) to regularly dry clean, so it only comes out on special occasions. Nobody doubts that it's your intention to be taken seriously when you wear a suit (whether or not you achieve that in the end has nothing to do with what you wear). When I wear a suit, it's an unspoken cue, a nod of respect.
The best piece of advice my dad ever gave me is that there's a time for everything.
So, I'll still be wearing my suit to play it safe with colleagues I've yet to meet. And if, when beer o'clock rolls around and we're feeling comfortable enough to throw around an aside about each other's face or mother, next Friday, it'll probably be a day for denim.
(I'm more inclined to drink white wine than beer, actually, so let's crack open some of that Shaw & Smith.)
Reclining on the couch from my palace in the sky Friday, 1 June 2012