My boss’s boss, David, pulled me in the office today. “Spend some money,” he said. “Buy some clothes.”
I had caught signals before that he wished I were a spiffy dresser, but I thought I had compensated enough. Evidently not. When I related this advice to my family, the menfolk were outraged. One brother hoped I flipped him the bird and quit my job. My father suggested that he would have told him to find some other country bumpkin to sycophantically comply with his fashion obsession.
Neither of those reactions even crossed my mind. To them the suggestion was a moral offense, somewhere just past lying on the way toward prostitution. Such niceties could only matter to worthless sorts of people. I am not sure whether they have not noticed that the female (minority) population right here in town notices and appreciates attire, or if that simply serves to reinforce the degraded nature of such concerns. I easily understand that such things do not matter to my nearest male relations, but I struggle to grasp why it is so offensive that it would matter to anyone else. Who cares if it matters?
My own biggest concern is that I learn to care myself. It is one thing to wear clothes to satisfy people around you; it is something else to look down on other people because of the clothes they wear. I don’t know how well I can maintain that distinction.
I guess I would have felt offended to some degree, but for a different reason. I feel such comments are only the proper right of family or true friends. I gather he is neither. Whether it be my clothes, grooming, eating habits, or amusements, I don’t find it proper for acquaintances or strangers to offer opinion. It annoys me when nurses on clinical offer opinions on what I should do with my facial hair because I feel that is either being rude or too familiar–as I am sure they would feel the same if I started offering commentary on their person. I would feel the same if it were some other aspect of my personal comportment or life. Perhaps they are well meaning, but it is presumption.
And that is what would have bothered me about your boss’s boss. There is nothing sacrosanct about clothing in my opinion, but there are personal boundaries far broader than clothing which I respect (and wish) people would observe, even if (or perhaps particularly if) they have the power and position of a boss.
That’s even more confusing to me. I suppose in the American myth of the Independent Man clothing is completely personal; but in the historically relevant perspective of the servant and master, when you are about his business you represent him the way he wants to be represented. Lucky you if you get to choose your master, but that doesn’t mean you get to decide how he runs his business.
I suppose that depends on the level of servitude you envision yourself being in. If a man hired a cobbler to make his shoes it would not be presumed that he could then tell the cobbler how to dress, even though the cobbler is representing him in the matter of shoes. However, if the man took the cobbler on as his groom, it would be expected that the cobbler would dress as his master required.
Leaving such broad thoughts aside, it still seems evident to me that your boss overstepped his place. If you were not meeting the minimum requirements of your employment dress code it would be his place to inform you. However, in your story you imply that your boss simply feels you are not dressing up to his taste. Yes, I hold that is beyond the appropriate workplace. Most workplace rules state a certain (limited) degree of liberty to employees, even if particular bosses have varying tastes. If my beard were against policy, complaints would be appropriate. But if I was hired on the understanding that a beard is acceptable, the personal preference of employers or other employees is not appropriate. It seems the same should hold true for dress.
But, no doubt, you earn bonus points for pleasing your boss. I don’t disagree that it is savvy to heed the advice of those over you. I was simply expressing why I would see it as out of bounds. But, at the same time, I admit in society those who are in authority are not required to observe the same bounds as the rest of us.
I don’t know about your boss “overstepping his place” as Rundy said, but that does seem embarrassing. Pulling you aside to say you’re not dressing well enough? Ouch. It seemed to me you WERE dressing pretty nicely.