Have you ever noticed that the type of beverage served at an event can tell you a lot about what dress code to expect? I don’t remember when I realized this, only that it happened about the same time I noticed the state of the public bathroom indicated the type of service I would likely receive wherever I was.
Perhaps there’s a written social code listing this information somewhere, but it seems to be accepted in the United States that if it’s:
- Coffee—expect business networking attire (unless with friends, then casual clothes are the norm).
- Afternoon tea (not that there are many afternoon teas anymore)—wear your nicest clothes.
- Beer—-jeans, of course. And now that the weather’s getting warmer, probably flip flops too.
- Alcohol and cocktails—once reserved for your dressed-to-impress outfits, now generally it means crowds of people with very little clothing on, aka undressed.
Then there are the wine events.
Gentle Penguin, if you were invited to a wine reception, what would you think is appropriate attire? Until about a year ago, I would have said unequivocally, business attire or formal dress clothes. Not quite opera, but at least on par with the philharmonic. Of course, I see people in jeans at the opera these days. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find that everyone was wearing jeans at a recent wine reception I attended. Well, everyone but me.
I have nothing against jeans. I’m wearing a pair right now, in fact. They’re fantastic for working at home with two dogs on a sunny day in early spring. Warm, protective against the chilly breeze and any bugs that might be out, immune to the mud on my dogs’ paws when they tell me it’s time to pay some attention, and with the right sweater (white with thin navy stripes that parallel the boat-neck collar), I could still receive clients if there were ever a science-or-health-writing emergency.
To be clear, this blog post isn’t meant as social commentary on the dressing down (or undressing) of America. Quite frankly, I think that ship has sailed and while I’m not quite on it, I’m not quite not on it either. Wait, what? Well, I am writing to you during a normal business day in jeans and not my power suit or tailored business dress. But then again, on a weekend, you’re likely to find me in a tailored dress or suit pants and heels because I like the way they make me feel.
That’s just about the moment I came across a quote by Jacqueline Bisset from one of my favorite movies “Appearances matter. They always have, and they always will. Regardless of your philosophies or morals about it.” So to each their own style. I’m fine with that. Or at least I thought so.
That day, standing out at the wine reception in my tailored dress, I felt perfectly comfortable surrounded by jeans and polo shirts. Until the barrage started. It wasn’t one person, or even a group of people. It seemed that everyone in attendance felt my being overdressed was upsetting the social norm. I don’t remember receiving a memo saying it was okay to wear jeans to wine receptions! I admit, it shook my confidence.
And now, with another wine reception invitation in hand, my head says to reach for the jeans. But my soul is shrieking in revolt.
I try to reason with it. “I wear jeans when I visit vineyards and wineries. I wear jeans when I uncork a bottle with friends at home. And I definitely wear jeans when I’m picking grapes and making wine. So there’s no harm. Right?”
My soul, rather angrily, yells back. “Look, sweetheart. You don’t undress when you have cocktails. You don’t ever break out the flip flops. And you certainly will NEVER wear jeans to the opera. So put your big girl panties on…and wear your navy blue dress for the wine event.”
That’s when I came across the online storm over a Harvard Business School report on dress codes. In the report, the researchers state that while it’s still true people judge you by what you wear, apparently that no longer means dressing well is esteemed. Instead nonconformity is esteemed…aka wearing sweat pants everywhere. However, read a little closer and it seems that it’s not the sweatpants or even the nonconformity that people are esteeming. Rather it’s the confidence that such nonconformity projects.
Does that mean I will be adopting sweats for the upcoming event? No way. I do NOT feel confident in sweat pants.
So I scour my closet looking for clothes I do feel confident in. Not this, nor that. Oh, good heavens, certainly not that! Turns out, there are quite a few outfits that don’t inspire my confidence. I withdraw them and pack them up for charity. Then I peruse my closet again.
I’m left with only my favorite clothes. A thought bubbles to the conscious part of my mind—I will get to wear my favorite clothes every day now! I smile and feel suddenly excited…but also confused. Why does it feel like such a revolutionary concept? I mean, I feel positively superhero-like with only my favorite clothes left at my disposal. Why didn’t I ever do this before?
Do you suppose that it just might give me some superhero-like power? I kind of feel like it already has. But then again, a good wine sometimes makes me feel that way too.