Last week, vigilantesteez left me a note asking how my personal style compared to that of my coworkers:
Hey man, another fellow Chicagoan here. Great tumblr! I’m sure you’ve addressed it before, but how does your style compare to your contemporaries at the office?
This is a bit of a complicated question. I work out of two offices (state capitol building and downtown Chicago) and there’s kinda-sorta three dress codes.
When I’m at the capitol for legislative session, the dress code is typically a suit. It’s actually in the state Senate rules that all gentlemen in the chamber must wear a jacket and tie (the state House chamber has no such dress code, and there’s no dress code for women in either chamber). Suits aren’t required, however, I tend to wear them — much like every other staffer, legislator, lobbyist or statehouse worker on session days — because it’s a fairly conservative environment. Have I bucked the trend and gone with odd jackets or no-socks? Sure, but you won’t find others often doing that. So, that environment is fairly formal.
When I’m up in the downtown Chicago office, there’s sort of two dress codes: when legislators are in the offices and when legislators aren’t in the offices. Some coworkers will wear a collared shirt, jacket and have a tie around if we know legislators are in the offices for meetings that day, however, most days it’s a very casual environment. Polos, khaki chinos, jeans, tennis shoes, etc., are kind of the norm here.
So, why do I wear a jacket and tie every day?
Well, our offices share the same floor as several other offices, including the governor’s office. From what I can tell, the governor’s office staff always wears suits. Often, visitors come up to the floor and once in a while I happen to know some of them waiting in the lobby, say “hello”, and they’ll be with someone who I don’t know and will introduce me. This happened once, a long while back, and the person with whom I wasn’t familiar asked if I was an intern.
For a while I thought it was my age, but I realized that question wouldn’t have been asked if I hadn’t been dressed like an intern (baggy chinos, untucked dress shirt, sporty “dress” shoes), but rather someone who looked mildly professional. After realizing this, I decided that it was time to dress better and stop being mistaken for an intern.
While my older colleagues have the choice to dress however they wish and not be mistaken for an intern, I don’t think I have the same choice because of my age. Just because there’s an option to “dress down” doesn’t necessarily mean that you should or must do it. I got a little bit of guff from coworkers when I started “dressing up for an interview” every day, but after doing this for well over a year I can pretty much wear whatever I want and look natural doing it.
My style in comparison to others in the office is definitely less conservative in a lot of ways — despite the fact it might be considered sobering around #menswear types. I don’t mind wearing fabrics and colors that are a bit loud, maybe even saying “GTH”. I’m one of only two people on staff who wears a pocket square. I definitely have my clothing altered for a slimmer, younger, modern cut — especially with trousers going no break. I don’t want to look like I’m dressed like a typical midwesterner from the suburbs.
So, I do try to differentiate myself, even if we’re all under the same dress code and putting on a suit. I might test the boundaries a bit, but at least I don’t look like an intern.