The Uniform

Header photo: © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Today’s post is by Sherrilee

I’ve been thinking a lot about ties recently. Last week while I was waiting for the tech guy to figure out my computer, I noticed that the online support tech icon was a male figure wearing a tie. It made me laugh a little that the support company would think I would feel better to be helped by someone in a crisp white shirt and a tie instead of a scruffy guy in jeans and a sweatshirt.

The tie does definitely seem to be the uniform for men. Everywhere you go, dressed up men wear ties: at work, at church, late-night tv. For some job descriptions, like debate candidates, it’s not just any tie; if you want to really be part of the crowd, it has to be a red tie.

I wore a tie once. One Saturday, when I was still in the bookstore, I wore a denim skirt and vest to work. I borrowed a tan knit tie from my wasbund (he had to tie it for me); I thought I was pretty darn cute. At the Southdale B. Dalton store we had a huge stepped table for all the bestsellers and Saturday was the day we received the new lists for the following week.

That meant that big piles of books needed to be moved around, with the new and hot items toward the front. That day with my list in hand, I spent about an hour moving all the books around, beefing up some titles, moving other titles off the table. As I straightened up to take a look at my handiwork, I realized too late that the knit tie was stuck between two books. It was like a mountain of falling dominoes; the top stack of books collapsing onto the stack beneath it and then spreading down and out from there. People walking by the store stopped and clapped.

I went to the backroom and took off the tie; I’ve never worn one since. But I have felt really sorry for men who have to wear a tie day in and day out.

Have you ever had to wear a uniform?

78 thoughts on “The Uniform”

  1. Can your count dressing you schools colors to compete on sports teams as wearing a uniform? If so, dress up in uniforms as a member of some track teams and a basketball team. Also, I woked at a McDonalds when I was young. Do the clothes you wear when working in a McDonalds count as a uniform?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fresh out of college, I worked for a time in the display department at Dayton’s. Men on the staff were required to wear a coat and tie, which made no practical sense since the job was physical and dusty and the pay was too crappy to support a wardrobe. I guess the fact that the costume was unsuitable was what made it a uniform. There was no point in wearing a good coat and tie or in ever cleaning it, so the coats and ties worn by display department tended to be scruffier and more disreputable than jeans and a sweatshirt would ever have been.
    After a youth of wearing clip-on ties on the rare occasion that a tie was called for, I had to learn to tie them not only forwards but backwards so that I could put them on mannequins. That skill came in handy later when I was working in advertising agencies and budding young executives would come into my office before meetings to have their ties tied.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I agree – uniforms aren’t always thought out. 99% of the time I sit in my cube, communicating via email and phone, but my company policy says I can’t wear sweatpants, or sweatshirts or even tennis shoes, which would be the most comfortable. Sigh.

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  3. Oh yeah, I’ve worn uniforms; plenty of them.

    First at the boarding school. Guess it made us “inmates” easier to keep track of. They may also have been intended to make it more difficult to distinguish between the haves and have nots. We had several different uniforms for different seasons, some of which I liked, others not so much.

    Next, when I worked at the children’s hospital in Basel, we were issued uniforms. Light blue and white striped cotton shifts and white aprons.

    Then, as the au pair for the Danish diplomatic family in Moscow, another cotton uniform with an apron (think Downton Abbey kitchen staff). Never felt so ridiculous in my life! I recall vividly one evening having the Danish ambassador and his countess wife over for dinner. I was both the cook, server, and dishwasher. The serving part required a different apron than the one used while cooking and doing dishes, and at least once during the evening I found myself in the dining room with the wrong apron on. Didn’t much matter. At that point the ambassador was so inebriated that he with some regularity stumbled into the kitchen to try to fondle me. Still gives me the creeps to think about it. Nothing like trying to fend off unwanted advances while trying to maintain some sort of dignity and look professional at the same time.

    There have been other uniforms as well, some real and required, others self-imposed, trying to look the part. I shake my head when I think back on my days at KPMG (19t80-85) at all the suits (this was before women wore pantsuits), complete with little bow ties. What was I thinking?

    Mt current uniform: whatever is warm and comfortable.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. My worst uniform was at Ole Piper Inn in Northfield. Leather skirt and beige body shirt w/ puffy sleeves. The leather skirt was HORRIBLE – although it certainly made you always bend at the knees rather than bend over at the waist. Unfortunately for one poor schlub, the short skirt was too much temptation which led to him being doused by a pitcher of cold beer. Luckily there was a witness so I didn’t lose my job over that.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. If I gave a damn about clothing I could see vs’s jibe about “a scruffy guy in jeans and a sweatshirt.” I’ll have you know, vs, jeans and a sweatshirt is what I put on when I’m dressing up. 🙂 My attire 90% of the time is a sweatsuit top and bottom. That’s too casual for my daughter, one of the few areas where she and I disagree. At my age the only person who cares about how I dress is my daughter. Well, my daughter and myself.

    I was encouraged to wear a tie when I worked at the MN legislature. Hated it. When I left the building each day the tie was the first article of clothing to come off.

    My fashion guru is Henry Thoreau, who wrote: “Beware, then, of all enterprises that require new clothes.”

    No, actually, my fashion guru is David Sedaris, the most famous elf who ever worked at Macy’s Santaland. His description of his green velvet elf costume drips sarcasm, and it sums up my feelings about costumes. At one point he says, “I had two people say that to me today: I’m going to have you fired. Go ahead, be my guest. I’m wearing a green velvet costume. It doesn’t get any worse than this. Who do these people think they are? I’m going to have you fired, and I want to lean over and say: I’m going to have you killed.”

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      1. Don’t worry. Yesterday when Young Adult and I were talking about where to go for brunch she said “You’re not going to wear sweatpants, are you?” That should tell you about MY normal around-the-house uniform!

        Liked by 3 people

    1. I had a feeling that Thoreau was going to come up sooner or later. Of course Thoreau didn’t have many job prospects. He worked in the family’s pencil making business and taught briefly. And he only had himself to support, so he could afford to be doctrinaire.

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      1. Too many people (I think) are eager to spot inconsistencies in Thoreau. For example, the home he was proud of having built for so little money was mostly donated to him by his friend Emerson. Although he was not as radical as he suggested he was, I always give him some slack because he operated in such uptight, Victorian times.

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        1. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

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  6. I suppose the long, bathrobe-type thing I have to wear when I am the assisting minister at church counts as a uniform. The poor youth serving as acolytes have a hard time tying the rope belt around their waists and often need help from us older ones.

    Our church choir wears robes, and the bell choir wears Polo shirts with our names and a bell embroidered on the left front. I despise them. They have short sleeves and are shapeless. I hate having cold arms.

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  7. We have photos from the Edwardian Era of female relatives in various stages of mourning dress. The dresses start out all black and then gradually have more and more light colors. I think of those dresses as uniforms.

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    1. Brownie, then Scout (although not too long). I was amazed that these days Girl Scouts usually don’t wear a uniform to meetings – or if they do, just a bit of it with their regular outfits. When Young Adult was in scouting, the only piece they had to bring to each meeting was the vest.

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    2. I had forgotten about scout uniforms. I was both a cub scout and a boy scout, though my experience with boy scouts was checkered. At the time I experienced scouting, which was the late fifties and early sixties, scouting had a distinctly paramilitary feel. I can’t say whether that still pertains. In my time, I suspect it was because the fathers who were the scoutmasters had, for their most recent and possibly only camping experience, the army and boot camp. Boy Scout camping at that time entailed a lot of marching in formation, the occasional obstacle course where one was expected to crawl under barbed wire through the mud, and war stories around the campfire at night. It was also an opportunity for sadistic older scouts to terrorize and mistreat younger ones with impunity. My time in scouting was brief.

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      1. Ugh, that doesn’t sound appealing at all. My girl scout experience was much more positive, and from what I’ve learned, much different than most American girl scouting experiences. We were taught all kinds of skills. Skills like orienteering, patching bicycle tires, tying all kinds of knots, cooking over a campfire, things to consider when pitching a tent, how to be good stewards of the environment, and last but not least, all kinds of songs and rounds to sing around a campfire. No selling of cookies was involved.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Let’s see, there was the hospital lab in high school, where I got to wear a nurse’s uniform (I actually loved that one). That might be it, but there were plenty of places in the late 60s and early 70s where I was required to wear a skirt… waitressing, teaching at the Catholic school. I was so elated when I moved into public school ed. and could wear long skirts and pants, but more practical for teaching kindergarten where you’re bending over all the time, or sitting on the floor!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, I also was a Candy Striper in high school.

      Teaching second grade in the sixties with my short skirts but leotard stockings was a “leaning over” challenge, but we were not allowed to wear pants of any kind…some sort of “dress code” imposed by the principal, I suspect.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Renee reminds me: One of our current choir “uniforms” is black bottoms and white tops, with colorful scarves or ties for visual interest. for spring concert it’s black bottoms and bright solid colored tops…

    For our Showtime (retirees) chorus, though, we have purple sequined tops for the ladies, ties for the guys, and for Christmas season long red dresses with a lacy gold jacket. These render me the most dressed up I have ever been in my life!

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    1. I WISH we could even have colorful scarves. We have two choir uniforms. Daylight Savings – black tops, black pants/skirts. Central Standard – white tops, black pants/skirts. This really bugs me but I have to admit that the “discussion” that happens any time our choir director tries to discuss other options just makes my head spin.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Nuns’ habits present an interesting case study in uniforms. I can’t claim to know much about them. But it seems that some orders insist upon them as a way of dramatizing the separateness of nuns from general society. And some orders have done away with special dress because they prefer to emphasize that nuns are not separate from general society. This suggests that uniforms are a way of signalling that the wearer is a member of a group more than they are an individual.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s true of all uniforms, isn’t it?
      Since they have no practical purpose, I think of neckties as a token of bondage— to a master, to a group to an ideology or to custom. About the only one of those I will assent to anymore is custom.

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    2. I was highly amused sometime ago listening to a couple of middle aged Benedictine nuns complain about their younger sisters’ interest in going back to wearing habits. The older ones said the younger ones had no idea how hard they had fought to wear normal clothes.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I wanted to be nun once, but only because I loved the St. Joseph sisters’ habit. Damned good thing I didn’t sign up, as they did away with the habit a few years later. One question I do have about nuns, what’s with the ugly shoes they all seem to wear?

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  11. VS’s and my choir has a crude uniform: Black top and black bottom during Standard time and white top and black bottom for Daylight Savings. We had to come up with some rule to minimize the yearly debates.
    Otherwise, Brownie uniform, blue uniform for Candy-striper type volunteer job (no stripes for Hartford Hospital), sturdy tie shoes for private high school (and skirts that touched the ground when kneeling), skirts and dresses except when senior Stanley Hubbard was in Florida when in accounting dept of KSTP.

    Wasband#2 and I visited my sister in NYC a few times and once when we came home, wasband decided that he liked the NY “uniform” of all black. He went out and bought a bunch of shirts and jeans. I thought that was so affected.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. My first uniform was as a student nurse – blue and white pinstripe dress that I thought was hideous. Finally graduated to the “full white” – dress, pantyhose, sturdy nursing shoes – not very practical for working in pediatrics. Later we were allowed to wear white pants with colorful uniform tops. Moving to NICU, we were provided with hospital provided and laundered scrub dresses – first ones were white cotton, later switched to blue cotton poly. Eventually we switched to OR type scrubs (pants and top) – far and away the most comfortable. Footwear morphed from those uncomfortable and very expensive “nursing” shoes to white tennis shoes, then to whatever was the most comfortable for being on your feet for eight to twelve hours at a time. It was so nice to come to work and change into “jammies”.

    My church choir uniform is black top, black bottoms with a variety of stoles. Black on black is my usual attire when accompanying choirs in concert.

    And then there was my Brownie uniform in that hideous shade of brown……..

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  13. Other than sports team uniforms, I don’t think I ever wore a uniform per se, other than what was generally acceptable for the job. Suit and tie for financial planning, even a suit and tie while being a teacher back in the late 70s and early 80s (although I was a throwback, about 3/4 of the male teachers didn’t bother with coats or ties. Some wore jeans.)

    I do believe that we all wear uniforms by default. We dress the way we feel most comfortable for the situation, which gives us a certain identity when we are seen in public. I see someone wearing leather pants and vest, I think “Biker.” I see someone wearing a coat and tie, or a woman in a business suit, I see wealth, power, white-collar, etc. I see someone wearing clothing with logos all over the place, I think, “deep desire to belong to the in-crowd). I could go on and on. but my point is even when we wear something at home, what we choose to wear tends to put us in a certain group of people, intended or not.

    Chris in Owatonna

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    1. Does it count if we have no idea what group our choice of clothing might put us in? It sounds to me as if you are putting the people into uniforms as much as they might be.

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      1. Yes, Bill, I think it does. I put myself in the “clueless” group. My “uniform” tends to be golf attire in the summer (“golf” shorts and “golf” shirts), and jeans and mock turtlenecks under sweaters in winter.
        If people put me in the category of middle-aged-white-guy-golfer, I’m comfortable with that label.

        But I could also be seen by others as wearing a uniform that says, “dull dresser;” or “no fashion sense;” or “privileged white guy a**hole who must be filthy rich because only rich folks play golf.” With any of those uniform categories, I’m not so comfortable, but I can’t do anything about other people’s feelings toward clothing and uniform … or golf. 😉

        I pretty much dress for simplicity, comfort, and to not call attention to myself or cause people to put a label on me.

        I dress that way mainly because I’m no sort of fashion trendsetter, nor do I care that much about wearing the “right” clothes to make me seem rich, famous, hip, whatever.

        Chris in Owatonna

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think that’s true, Bill. Leather elbow patches on tweed jackets, as opposed to three piece suits; what comes to mind? Combined with style of glasses, haircut, tattoos, etc. also send all kinds of signals to others.

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        1. If we are all in some sort of uniform all the time, whether we mean to be or not, doesn’t that make this whole question sort of moot?

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        2. Maybe I should have expressed it this way: if a lack of uniformity can also be considered a uniform, does the idea of “uniform” mean anything?

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  14. A sunny and cold morning!

    I have been pretty lucky in my life to have had a lot of jobs where I can work on my own; usually no uniform required.
    Was in 4H and not Scouts so we did get T-shirts sometimes.
    Marching Band had uniforms and at first it even had spats! And later the big furry hat.
    Church acolyte required a robe.
    For a couple years I was the ‘butler’ out at Mayowood for the ‘Christmas Teas’. The local formalwear shop (which was also my first job in HS) fitted me for the part and I would hold the door for guests and serve the tea and just stand around looking stuffy.
    The best / worst part when was the local theater ladies came for the tour knowing it was me. They’d pinch my cheeks and harass me as I bit the inside of my cheek.

    I was lighting a show at Mayo Clinic one day and we were invited to lunch with some of the big shots (well, ‘big shots’ in regard to the show). I clearly was not dressed for that. That day I wished I had worn sleeves. The playwright, Tom Williams (from St. Paul) asked me if it was my aspiration in life never to wear sleeves? Because his was never to wear shoes…

    At the college now I’ve mentioned my sleeveless shirts (and no one has called me on them yet this year!) but I do have a nice black shirt w/ the college logo and ‘Hill Theater’ stitched on it. Both long sleeve and short sleeve.

    Had a lovely breakfast yesterday with one of our troop who was in Rochester for the day. It was fun!

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  15. Me: 1) football uniforms, of course. 2) first 3-4 years of teaching (69-74 or so) we were required, the men, to wear dress slacks and a dress shirt and tie plus jacket or suitcoat unless it was warmer, when you could take off the jacket, not necessarily hot, all rather fuzzy. School secretaries patrolled the hall or the principal or vice-principal to report rule-breakers. The poor welding teacher–only in that sense, otherwise the biggest jerk I have ever known–had burn holes in his dress clothes no matter how much he covered himself because he was not allowed to wear full coveralls. Women wore skirts and dressy tops. At the end of my career teachers were wearing ratty jeans and ratty tops. Somewhere in the middle would seem wise.Gym teachers had to come to school in dress clothes and then could change into clean and proper gem outfits. Janitors were not required to wear those janitor outfits, but they did, which would make for an interesting sociological study. I don’t think they do that any more.
    I cannot think of any other uniforms in my life. No scouting. No job.No military.
    Uniforms are an interesting topic form many points of view as people have alluded to above or as people have said .People tend to dress to their tribe, in all sense of tribe. Catholics and protestants in Northern Ireland can tell each other apart, in part by subtleties of dress. The Target required red top makes sense to me. You can identify them (but do not wear a red top into Target or you will be asked to help customers, by the customers) but they do allow for individual comfort and taste.
    Scouting is a fascinating phenomenon from several points of view. My son did an love Webelos and Cubs, which was out of character for him then and now. The whole Girl Scout cookie world is fascinating.

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    1. That brings to mind another aspect of clothing as uniform and that is clothing as signifiers. The rich choose certain brands and certain clothing logos not because they are better made, necessarily, and not because they are not manufactured in some third world country but because they are a way to identify each other. On the flip side, have you ever noticed how the cheapest shirts are always made from the ugliest prints, even though it doesn’t cost any more to make a tasteful print than an ugly one?

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      1. The very rich folks who come into Two Harbors from exclusive Encampment Forest wear jeans and sweatshirts, but you know they are rich.
        We went to Branson a few times because I often worked in that area. The older-age folks who frequent Branson dress in a tribal pattern: Women in sparkly things and puffed and or badly bleached hair, variety of slacks in good taste or unflatteering to their old bodies. Men in ill-fitting clothes, loud shirts, pants that look like a dressy version of janitor pants, sports coats that do not match the rest of their outfit. Caps denoting something military, I think their own history or for their children. Profusion of flags in both sexes, men in pins or on caps. Women on their tops, usually with sequins or sparkle.
        Always wondered why cheap clothing is so often gaudy. Is it because their records indicate such prints are preferred by those buyers?
        A friend gave me a tshirt that says Clyde on it for the name of a company (he does their tax work). This is the highest quality material in any tshirt I have known but that design is poor, weird orange print on white shirt. Why one and not the other. (I think these are to be given or sold to employees.)

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      2. Along those lines, I’ve noticed that a lot of clothing for women who are heavy is god awful, both in terms of print patterns or style, or both. Either “they” think that women who are overweight 1) don’t care what they look like, 2) have bad taste, or 3) don’t deserve better. Unless you want to spend big bucks, finding stylish clothes for older women is difficult.

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  16. The Hutterite families I see around town are easy to spot. It is funny to me, though, when I see the teens in their traditional garb wearing colorful sneakers and texting on their cell phones.

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    1. I wore a lot of blaze orange as a hunter, Renee. I wanted to be almost obnoxiously visible 1) so my partners wouldn’t accidentally shoot me and 2) so landowners would understand I was too conspicuous to misbehave or do something sneaky on their property.

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  17. Rise and Shine baboons!

    I am way late today–different time zone plus house guests, and my routine is OFF.

    I could go on and on about uniforms: fashion, fund raising for band uniforms as a teen, usher uniforms, etc. What we do to fit in. I hope I can write more later about this. Great topic!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Oh, yes, band uniform…wool, heavy and worn in many summer parades. The summer of 1958, MN Centennial parade in St. Paul. I don’t know what the temperature was but it was HOT. People on the sidelines would come around with smelling salts when we paused. My feet swelled out of my white buck shoes so bad, I never got them back on that day. wool. heavy wool. What were the powers that be thinking?

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  19. Navy blue gym uniform in junior high – a one-piece cotton thing, buttoned up the front, with elastic around the waist and around the leg openings, making it sort of puffy. A less than flattering look.

    Burgundy choir robe for church.

    Fire-engine-red polyester pantsuit for my first job at KFC. This was worn with a red bandana. And of course a name tag.

    These days I have a T-shirt emblazoned with the name of my dragon boat team. I think that’s the closest thing to a uniform that I’ve worn in the last forty years or so.

    I used to wear ties for awhile in the era of Annie Hall, probably about the time VS wore hers at the bookstore. I think I still have a few – maybe I’ll dig out a couple and see if I remember how to tie them…

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  20. 35 years ago, I went through a tie binge. I somehow learned how to sew men’s silk ties and churned out a dozen of them for Xmas presents

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