Monday, February 19, 2018

The New Business Uniform

Photos by Salt Water New England
During the rise of IBM, suits, white shirts, and ties became the business uniform for men.  Some were more expensive and less expensive, just as there were low key and flashier varieties.  Some clothing companies even came to prominence for, as with IBM, selling safe, high end options that supported an air of authority.



Today, in certain enterprises - albeit not nearly as homogeneously nor explicitly - a rough equivalent may be the business casual staples of khakis and oxfords, especially for non-client facing activities.  Belts can, as ties did, be used for some subtle individuality.  And as with suits, there are more expensive and cheaper versions, and low key or more flashy.  Unlike suits, however, khakis and oxfords can age gracefully into weekend use.

In these work environments:

a) For men, what is the favorite concomitant footwear?

b) For women, what is the equivalent uniform?

Obviously, there are other uniforms, often organized by region, industry, or organizational culture.

53 comments:

  1. Khakis and oxfords here, with quality American belt for business daily wear. As one who walks a great deal daily and has had my share of foot problems, I strongly prefer not to compromise on comfort. Traditional leather soles in traditional mens footwear simply do not work well outside of short walks to a carpeted urban office, which is not my environment.

    I do not mind spending the going rate for the better Mephisto and Finn Comfort shoes, which are stylish and very presentable as well as very comfortable. One pair of Aldens accepts my preferred orthotic footbed, that is for the dressier occasions. My Rancourt handsewn Baxter ranger mocs are appropriate and agreeable on more casual days. I would absolutely be confident in bespoke Russell Moccasin country gentlemen shoes if I could ever schedule their production. Allen Edmonds now has few models whose last fits my feet, and their quality has declined in any case. Samuel Hubbard shoes are my new weekend favorite, make in Portugal by the co-founder of Rockport Shoes, exceptionally comfortable and presentable.

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  2. I too am devoted to khaki trousers and oxford shirts, with lambswool pullovers in winter. These three are my uniform, seven days a week, from work to weekend, and can be dressed up with a necktie for church or dates as needed. Belts and watchbands are locations for splashes of odd colour or pattern. For too long, in my earliest adulthood, I wore these with sneakers, such as a Nike Tanjun or Roche, since my beloved Alden leather oxfords were of course too fancy for khakis, reserved instead for special occasions with a suit, once or twice a year. In recent days, however, my daily footwear has upgraded from sneakers to a lace-up leather moccasin, which seems to me a fine compromise: casual yet traditional. You need four eyelets (three at a minimum) for a sturdy, all-day fit; boat shoes and camp mocs in contrast have only two at most; and a boat shoe's customary white sole identifies it anyway as a sneaker. It's tough to know what to call this ideal, leather, moccasin-toed, lightweight-soled shoe. Oak Street Bootmakers gives it my favourite name, the trail oxford. Rancourt makes what I wear, the better shoe with the worse name, the ranger-moc. Quoddy makes something similar and calls it a blucher. Perhaps if we could settle on a name, this sort of shoe would be more widely accepted as the ideal and proper accompaniment to an OCBD and khakis.

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    1. Using the moccasin toe as a starting point for the traditional American men's shoe can lead us to at least four different outcomes.
      1. No laces at all yields the penny loafer (or weejun; call it what you will). Is this style popular anymore?
      2. A lace that wraps around the ankle collar yields the boat shoe (or some sort of camp moc, depending on the details).
      3. A lace with several eyelets on the forefoot yields some sort of oxford or blucher moc.
      4. A soft sole, with laces or without, yields the slipper (or house shoe).
      These are a few variations of the classic American pattern for men's shoes. They go well with oxford shirts and khakis in today's casual uniform.

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  3. Every day. A long sleeve OCBD shirt, khaki pants. ( Maybe navy or grey slacks once a week) Most days a tie. In the Spring, early Fall a blazer or lighter sports coat.( South Texas, hot most of the year.) In the Winter, tweed jacket.
    Because I was on my feet 6-7 hours a day, a pair of camp mocs or type of moccasin.
    On a rare occasion, a suit, but they were subject to chalk dust.
    And I was "overdressed" compared to the faculty, or even administration.
    Coaches always were in shorts, t-shirt, sneakers, even in their classroom courses. Most other faculty, jeans and a polo shirt. Administration, jeans, sometimes slacks and polo shirt, normally with the school logo above the shirt pocket.

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    1. And I left this out, always wore argyle socks. The kids loved them.

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  4. For women’s clothes, my co-workers and I seemed to gravitate towards the same uniform - slim pants, button downs, cardigans/blazers and flats. I preferred dresses many days, as it was so easy to throw on a suit dress under the cardigan/blazer. I learned linen and silk don’t look so great after sitting for an hour and a half on the commute, so I nixed those. Wools and cottons in the summer stood up well enough.
    This was in finance, business casual environment in 2000s-mid 2010s.

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    1. This is still the business formal uniform for women - business casual is forever 21 separates and leggings with a tunic it seems, though I am sure the silhouettes have changed. I (an older millennial) wear slim trousers in black, grey, or beige, usually with a crease in the front because they look more flattering, patent loafers (aquatalia) or matte black leather pumps (L.K. Bennet, Aquatalia) or dressier wedges (Aaqutalia or Corkease) depending on how formal my meetings are that day.

      Up top I wear a variety of button down blouses (usually white or grey - I have one chambray shirt for casual friday), shirts (knit tops), pull over cashmere sweaters (everlane!), turtlenecks, or a shell + jacket for formal days. My office is cold in the winter and we are not docked for dressing for warmth even if it's less professional. In the spring, summer, and fall I wear dresses and lighter weight versions of the winter clothes. My dresses mostly the same cut (slim a-line skirt, sleeveless top - works well for my figure) in black in a variety of fabrics with black stockings and the same black shoes. I make my dresses from the same pattern so I have multiple versions of the same flattering perfectly fitted dress.

      There are no other women in my office so I have nothing to compare it to for my workplace environment but this seems to be what most of my friends who work outside of the "startup anything-goes dress code" environment are wearing. Lots of black, black, black, knee length slightly flared skirts and blouses, ankle cropped creased trousers, black stockings or bare legs, and black shoes in a classic heel.

      And against all that black? We let our jewelry do the talking. I rotate through three sets of jewelry - a set of vintage native american silver and turquoise bangles, a set of pearl earrings + necklace given to me by my mom for my 16th birthday, and for extra special days when I need a boost at work it's a set of three solid gold bangles that my dad gave me for my 12th birthday and Tiffany gold knot earrings my dad gave me as a graduation present.

      Chunky costume jewelry is very in, too, but I don't own or wear any. I have a great collection of "real" things thanks to my grandparents and parents and costume jewelry just looks off to me.

      - ER

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    2. If Forever 21 is business casual, then I’m afraid the working world has become even more casual since I left. That’s a shame; there is much to be said for dressing up. It shows respect and also one walks taller when she is dressed. My pants were suit pants, not leggings. I could not imagine wearing leggings to my office.
      I have heard many women say they have a work uniform. They rotate through a few neutral colors and styles that are flattering for their body type. I think that is a smart move, and should I return to a full-time professional job, it is advice I will put into practice.

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  5. Just the basics for me: khakis, OCBD, pull over wool sweater, tween blazer and penny loafers and I, a female professor of the Classics, am off to teach. I love these basics as they take me from classroom to faculty/committee meetings, to FAC and always feeling comfortable and confident. It's so simple and easy, and, in its own way, follows the Dinghy Test (from TDP).
    Thank you for this lovely SWNE. I feel so at home here, yet constantly inspired.
    Suzanne

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    1. What is this Dinghy Test? I have search the web but could not find any references other than the one that you have just made that is not related to repairing dinghys.

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    2. What is the Dinghy Test?

      - ER

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    3. That's funny... I was looking for the Dinghy Test too. Couldn't find anything.

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  6. We have a business dress code at work, fortunately it's not too restrictive. I wear a mixture of modern suits with a shirt and an understated tie, or a chino/blazer combination with a shirt and country themed tie. I have two pairs of the exact same cap toe Derbies but in different colours which I rotate throughout the week. When it comes to work shoes, buy the best you can afford and buy two pairs. You should NEVER need to justify the expense of your work shoes.

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  7. OCBDs or patterned (gingham, tattersal) shirts, khakis, 501s, Ties ( long and Bow) Navy Blazer or Tweed Jacket, foot issues limit the Alden loafers to special occasions, otherwise birkenstocks boston or arizona yes socks with later

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  8. Ladies working uniform observations, London and the Cotswolds 2002 - 2012. Black or charcoal suiting slacks or knee length skirt with matching blazer, variety and colour shown through blouse, cardigan and jewellery choices. Shoes, black leather in whatever heel height most comfortable. No open toes. In high summer a heavyweight cotton dress (no loud prints) deemed acceptable. No bare shoulders. With skirts or dresses, sheer or opaque tights dependent on weather - always. The bare leg was an unspoken no-no (a rule obeyed if you wanted to "get ahead").

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    1. This is very similar to what we wear here in the Midwest - only here bare legs are just fine! The women execs at my work all the way up all wear bare legs regardless of age unless they are wearing black stockings.

      We also have a no bare shoulders rule for meetings but if you're working at your desk in a formal suit you can take your jacket off and have bare shoulders during that time because most shells made for under women's suits are sleeveless for some reason. You just put the jacket back on when you're going anywhere. Men have this unspoken rule, too - jacket off while working at desk, on while in meetings or walking around, only they have dress shirts/ties underneath instead of shells.

      - ER

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    2. Bare legs for professional women are simply vulgar. Wear hosiery, or trousers.

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  9. I am glad to discover I am not alone when it comes to losing the ability to wear leather-soled dress shoes comfortably all day as I have aged. Thanks for these recommendations. I also need help finding a good looking but comfortable golf shoe...

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  10. Count me too among the khaki & OCBD crowd. for footwear its dirty bucks, butcher mocs or weejuns. I do, however, differentiate between khakis; always cuffed and pressed Bills whenever a tie is worn, othertimes pressed PRL. To Scott: for a comfortable golf shoe lose the spikes and go spikeless. I love my spikeless FootJoys which go from home to course to drinks after then home again without changing.

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  11. I am eternally grateful that we don't have a dress code. Way too many mornings in the 80s & 90s spent gluing my nylons on with clear nail polish.

    I mostly wear casual dresses with Blundstone boots for cool weather and clogs for warm. Maybe slim fit black pants with a cashmere sweater & scarf and riding boots, if I'm stuck going someplace fancy-ish.

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    1. Patsy, that's hilarious! I remember that clear nail polish routine--fortunately a thing of the past, along with the pantyhose!

      PS: I meant to write "tweed" blazer (above) not "tween"...
      Suzanne

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    2. Finally threw out my bottle of clear polish recently during a purge of bathroom cupboards. Not something I’m going to miss either.

      MaryAnne

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    3. I am fortunate to never have worked in a formal environment, as once over the age of 10 and my mother could no longer dictate what I wore, I ditched stockings for good. I could never stand the feel of them and, yes, was always snagging them. I can’t imagine having to wear them again as an adult. Gives me shivers just thinking about it!!

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    4. I always carried a bottle of clear nail polish, just in case.

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  12. From the old school: with a dark suit, proper wingtips or cap toe brogues and maybe tassel loafers - from an English purveyor, e.g., Church's, Peal, or Crocket & Jones or a couple of U.S. purveyors, e.g. Alden or Allen Edmonds. With sport coats, blazers, and casual suits, such as seersucker or poplin, penny loafers from Bass or Alden, horse bit loafers, or tassel loafers.

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    1. Hallelujah! Bless you, Sir.

      Best Regards,

      Heinz-Ulrich

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  13. It took me years to discover that button-down collar shirts made out of end-to-end cloth or pinpoint Oxford cloth were far more comfortable than those made of regular oxford cloth.

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  14. I find English chukkas in a dark brown suede or casual pebble-grain penny loafers work well with an open-collar OCBD and chinos. I'm still on the original Dainite sole on the chukkas, 5 years later (though the studs have worn flush).

    If I want to wear a tie, I usually switch to grey flannels or wool trousers, a suitable jacket, and a pair of Allen Edmonds full-strap loafers in burgundy or black.

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  15. Women's business uniform for me consists of a blazer or jacket, flannel or gabardine trousers, a cotton or silk blouse, pearl necklace and earrings. Finish with oxfords if I will be walking a lot that day or a pair of low-heeled pumps if I will be in meetings. Add in a high quality leather bag with no embellishments or branding. I always remember that the outer coat and accessories are part of the outfit in the climate that I live in.

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    1. I second that comment about outerwear and handbags. No blantant branding or logos, but I also consider where and with what outfits I will be wearing a coat before purchasing.

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    2. Also agree about the outerwear and handbags...I would also add in shoes. Nothing worse than dressing well and then seeing muddy, dirty or overly worn shoes in need of repair. I like my comfortable shoes too but keep them clean.

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  16. For business and professional functions as well as Church: Blazer or Sports Jacket, grey trousers (chinos in warmer months), with a tie, Penny, Bridle or tasseled loafers. Occasionally, wear a suit. Always getting compliments on the way I dress from many of those I interact with. However, there are some people who have snide remarks. I ignore them.

    CJM

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  17. Dependent upon the outfit either weejuns, cap toes, wingtips, white bucks or spectators; by, variously, Alan Edmonds, Bostonian, LL Bean. Socks are as colorful as possible, argyles a favorite.

    I wear a jacket and tie to work every day. Bow ties probably twice a week. Repp ties, pattern ties, club ties, solids, foulards, grenadines, you name it. I definitely have an affinity for water fowl. Blazers, tweed jackets, odd sport coats. Poplin, Madras and cotton blends in the warmer months. OCBDs, both solid and university stripe, tattersall, pin point or end to end shirts. Grey flannels or khakis or gabardines or cords dependent on weather. Occasional suits, but rarely.

    Just as GovTeach, I am also in education. Perhaps only three to four other male faculty will wear a tie every day as I do, and I can think of only one other who wears a sport coat or jacket as regularly as I. Most wear jeans or khakis with polos. For me, I think it important to present to my students a professional appearance, one that says "what we are doing every day is important," and how I dress reflects the seriousness of their getting an education. I am approaching sixty, so I know my clothing choices also reflect my age.

    And, well, this is how I was raised. Professionals in my home town wore a jacket, shirt and tie to work every day. Hence, so do I. The students notice, and comment favorably on how it "ups their game."

    Oh, and one other thing. I like to "dress well." Always have, even in college. It is enjoyable. I would feel odd in any other work outfit. I'm comfortable in my second skin, and, it just looks good.

    The Concord Diaspora

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    1. That's great. My son is a college freshman at a private Northeast university and I immediately noticed that the faculty at his school in the biology department (his major)are, by and large, very well dressed, and it projects an element of professionalism that would be lost with the jeans and polo look. Of course, this applies beyond the walls of academia. I am in health care and sloppy dress has infiltrated our ranks too. But I'm with you; its important to dress the part.

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    2. This sounds like a list of what a college student would have needed in, say, 1960, varying only slightly by region. Add a duffle coat or Chesterfield for the North, raincoat or topcoat for the South, plus walking shorts in California and Florida. It's still a good list.

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  18. I hardly wear skirts to the office any more. Save them & dresses for weekends when I can take more time to accessorize and get gussied up. For the office it's a turtleneck, dark slim leg stretchy pants, Faconnable jacket. Tassel loafers for footware most of the time. In the SF Bay Area we have microclimates and a marine layer that can freeze your tush off whatever the season. Office buildings blast the air conditioner in summer; in winter everyone has something to say about where to set the thermostat. Most companies adopt a casual dress code here for a kind of internal equity.

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  19. I wear shirts and (mostly repp)ties to work. If the weather calls for it, I often throw a sweater over or maybe a sport coat (rarely). I wear a lab coat in my office with Birkenstocks on my feet so my look changes when I get through the door. I have a couple of suits that I wear if I need to go to court, meet attorneys or other formalities. But the lab coat and Birks are mostly my life in the office.

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  20. I have observed that among the younger set that's running things these days where I work, a suit is still the thing, worn with a dress shirt, of course, but apparently never with a tie. Oh the other hand, I'm the last one here who wears a tie. I only wear a suit to church, to weddings and to funerals. But I only have about four weeks until I retire (at age 71) and then? No more ties, no more spreadsheets, no more batches, no more audits, no more fun.

    Except on Sunday.

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    1. Well done. Congratulations on your retirement. Enjoy!

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    2. Frankly, it's a little scary. My wife retired from teaching last year. I'll have to make the effort to put on decent clothes a few times a week. Don't know about the ties, though, and I like wearing neckties.

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    3. An update on my retirement here. It's wonderful but honestly, I don't know where the time goes. I don't seem to have any more spare time than I ever did. I maintain my same daily hours, at least so far. But my daily working dress is what used to be called old clothes. I will still "dress for dinner," with something fresh and not so ragged. And I have been keeping in touch with my former team, all of whom left work when I did.

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  21. I work in a very small (one additional person) office, so our work is usually very casual. Jeans, a nice blouse, and a pair of Stubbs & Wooton slippers work very well for me. In the summer, I wear simple shift dresses and a nice cardigan, as it is always humid in the city but cold in our office.

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  22. I have had good luck with Nettleton shoes. If you keep them clean dry polished
    use cedar shoe trees and never wear them two days in a row they hold up. I have a pair of wingtips for over 50 years.

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  23. I've worked in a mature women's retail apparel store for 12 years, during which the garments were always fairly classic and quite dignified. I liked those clothes, bought them, and have been wearing them to this day, both at work and off work.

    HOWEVER - recently, our product line now emphasizes leggings (UGH!), tunics (frankly, to hide the body parts revealed by the tight leggings), hoodies (UGH!), and platform sneakers (UGH!)

    Corporate encourages (but can't legally enforce) our "business uniform" to include these garments.

    I just could not ever wear these items, even if they were given to me for free.



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  24. When I graduated from college in 1987, it was 3 piece suits for men, skirts or dresses for women. As time ticked by slowly, women were wearing more pants, and the men lost the vests to the suits. Now, I work from home 4 days a week and I'm usually in my pajamas until my husband returns from work. The one day I do go in, I usually wear khakis or cords, much to my chagrin of seeing others in the office looking like they've just rolled out of the hamper. --Holly in PA

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  25. Considering all the comments here, can you see a parallel to Malvina Reynolds' Magnum Opus - "little Boxes" ?

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  26. I've worn several business uniforms over the course of my life: a Navy uniform, GQ suits, and outdoors brands when I was in that business. Now that I'm a county commissioner in a rural Colorado mountain county, I patterned my "dress" look after the Texas Rangers - starched and creased khaki or other color denim Wranglers, a white or blue OC Western shirt, boots, a bolo, and a nice hat. I may add a blue blazer for meetings. On a daily basis, I usually forego the bolo and may wear starched and pressed blue denim Wranglers. It's a nice and practical business uniform for a Westerner.

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    1. An excellent example of how your "dress" look changes depending on where you are what you're doing in life at the time. As time goes by, standards change, but I liked this example of how to dress depending on where you are geographically but still adhering to a certain code so to speak of neatness, appropriateness, practicality, and style. Thanks,Keith

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    2. Agreed. Dressing to a code of neatness and quality, but taking in the local dress preferences and style, is respectful and understated. It is a value that I think most of us here think is the most important.

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  27. Still blue or gray business suit, necktie, black toe caps or slip-ons when meeting clients in or out of the office, even tech types. OCBD, fleece vest and khakis in the (and more and more frequent the home) office; just as much a uniform in my field as the suit, ironically.

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  28. There is one sort of business uniform, or more properly a socially acceptable form of dress for men here in Calgary, Alberta. It seems to consist of blue jeans or slacks paired with some kind of "dress" shirt that is usually bluish or lightly patterned. Ties are rare and seem to be found on the younger men who try to be fashionable or older gents like me. The only professions that seem to call for ties regularly are Finance and Law and even those not constantly. This outfit is more often than not covered up with a black windbreaker that often has some kind of logo on it. The less conscious top this off with a ball cap that has the name of a favorite sports team, sunglass company or Under Armour. Black or grey wool blend or polyester winter coats are the go to in the cold weather. And for shoes, brown is a must and it seems to be one of two styles. Either a thin rubber soled extra length in the toebox thing, or a shoe that looks like the cross mating of a sneaker and a hiking boot. Polish is optional for most and a high shine for the younger men. I mentally call this the F- 150 Hockey Dad look and I abhor all that it stands for. As with Govteach, I am in education and still think that traditional mens' clothing sends a message of respect for self and for the parents whose trust I have.

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  29. I’m retired now, but my uniform of matched or unmatched suits evolved to pencil skirt or pants/t-shirt or buttonup or turtleneck in the winter/cardigan/kitten heel or flats. Easy-peasy because my wardrobe only has a few colors and everything mixed and matched. Accessories provided a little variety. DH had it easier, as he just had to fool with golf shirts or OCBDs and khakis. At our office, if you were wearing a suit or tie, everyone asked where you were interviewing that day. Sadly, in our F250 company, most people below executive level dressed less neatly. Hoping that trend reverses.

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