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Readers' response to my column on how badly some people define "business casual" dress has really surprised me. I half-expected to be deluged by nasty missives from all those whose wardrobes I so harshly criticized and those executives who are ardent defenders of clothing for comfort in the workplace.
Instead, letters, e-mails and voice mails arrived endorsing my suggestion that everyone take a second look in the mirror before venturing out to be seen in public, let alone to go to the office or get on an airplane.
Many of those readers' responses are worthy of being shared with you and not left to languish in my fan mail folder.
One reader from an insurance company in New Jersey wrote: "I absolutely agree with your column. Business casual can get much too casual."
He added: "One other peeve can be added to yours -- the need to acquire a whole new wardrobe. It wasn't so bad when it was Fridays only. Now our office has gone to BC (business casual) from Independence Day to Labor Day. Business casual seems to involve a little of what I call a summer mind-set. It's definitely less businesslike, especially among the younger set, even with restrictions like 'no jeans.' "
He signed his letter, "Regards," noting parenthetically, "that's business casual, too."
I, for one, would buck that company's policy and dress for business at least Monday through Thursday.
An insurance professor sent me an e-mail, commenting: "I just read your humorous/serious column on casual business dress and what some people wear on airplanes. . . .Given that comfort is a factor on a longer flight, we might grant some leeway, but some folks apparently don't know where to quit (or, in some cases, to begin). My wife says that if they make her czar of the whole world, she will pass a law that all persons must have a full-length mirror in their homes. She has been known to threaten to put a Post-It note right on a person or to report them to the fashion police. Personally, I find that sitting in an airport, especially a big one like O'Hare, can provide a real laboratory experience in the subject of personal expression. And if they make me czar of the world, I will ban tank tops for men. NO exceptions."
I agree that people-watching at O'Hare can be quite amusing, but I still don't want to sit next to some of those people on an airplane. And as for tank tops for men, I'm inclined to say they are OK at the beach or in the semi-privacy of one's own backyard.
A reinsurance company executive from Bermuda said in his fax: "My congratulations on your column regarding dress code. I strongly agree with all the points that you made. Unfortunately, it is extending itself beyond the business area. Last week I had to draw the attention of the Dinghy Club management to the standard of dress at various lunches and dinners."
He also noted that "traveling abroad, it is quite appalling to see how tourists dress, even when visiting more exclusive restaurants, hotels, etc., particularly regarding sneakers at all times."
As a sailor, I agree we should all spruce up for meals at a yacht club. But the Bermuda-based executive is even tougher than I am. I can live with sneakers, if they are clean and tied.
A broker, formerly of London and now in the United States, commented in his letter: "Somehow, wouldn't it look stupid if everyone at, say, Lloyd's, dressed down real casual on a Friday? They might as well be shoppers in any supermarket."
Actually, I've seen shoppers at some supermarkets who were better dressed than people at some offices.
One reader simply tore out the page and circled my question: "Can I be the only one who does not want to sit in cramped quarters next to a half-dressed stranger?" He wrote: "Kathryn -- I do not like to sit next to half-dressed strangers. Nice article."
An executive secretary sent me a copy of my column with the simple message "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"
To her and all those who wrote and also called, you are most welcome.
Publisher and Editorial Director Kathryn J. McIntyre and Editor Paul D. Winston publish columns on alternate weeks.