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Worse Than a Low Paying Job, Low Paying Job with Dress Code

Worse Than a Low Paying Job, a Low Paying Job with a Dress Code

Martha Rosenberg
August 3, 2011

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"They Pretend to Pay Us and We Pretend to Work" used to be attributed to the employment situation in the former Soviet Union. But in today's "jobless recovery," US workers are also performing low-wage jobs with no benefits, future and, sometimes, purpose. Jobs whose main perks are air-conditioning, access to the Internet and fidelity to the dictum that an already employed person is more likely to get hired elsewhere.

Needless to say, people don't display a lot of apparel respect for such gigs. That's why around this time of year, many companies circulate a dress code memo.

These codes always appeal to "common sense" and "good taste" even from companies whose concept of good taste includes making employees wear price item buttons for store merchandise at their collarbones.

Memos usually begin banning jeans, shorts, cutoffs, T-shirts, tank tops, undershirts (aka "wife beaters") sweat pants and workout clothes (read: Lycra and Spandex), tennis shoes, boots and sandals.

Then the memos segue into their Sex and Alternate Lifestyle section and ban miniskirts, bare midriffs, "excessively low-cut or revealing clothing," clothing that has "holes, tears and a ragged appearance" or that is "obviously ill-fitting," leather jackets, sunglasses, "special colors" and "club insignia" (they do not mean drum and bugle corps) and hats, bandanas and "distracting" headgear.

Then the memos add their updated-since-1999 codicil which bans visible underwear (thongs), low risers, tattoos, inappropriate jewelry and "extreme hair colors and styles" fearing an employee corps of Amy Winehouses.

But of course there are plenty of loopholes. Would the see-through, tissue weight halter dress from Urban Outfitters be considered "excessively low-cut or revealing clothing", "obviously ill-fitting" or "underwear"?

Is a tube top a "tank top" or a "bare midriff"? Are crinkle cotton gauchos with a draw string "workout clothes" or "shorts"? Are flip flops with plastic flowers sandals?

Under what category would the axle-grease-covered blue-jeans jacket your boyfriend left in the closet when he went out to get a back of cigarettes and never returned be banned?

At what point does a do-rag become a bandana? Do cotton leggings get busted under the sweat pants or underwear provision? Will shiny leggings get busted under workout clothes or "special colors"?

Since Crocs, also known as clown shoes, aren't strictly sandals, would they be called "clothing that has holes"? Or are their neon orange and pink hues "special colors"? Would Capri or high water pants be banned as "jeans" or "shorts"?

Of course, Fridays are the true test of the memo's teeth because they are the day when fashion traditionally goes de trop. And sure enough, on Fridays dreads tumble down, sock disappear and bikini tops peak out of "ill fitting" tops in a collective expression of,"They Pretend to Pay Us and We Pretend We Got the Memo."

*************

Martha Rosenberg's first book, tentatively titled "Born with a Fritos Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health" will be published by Amherst, New York-based Prometheus Books next year.

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