Dilbert Bizarro World

I don’t usually do this. I have been sitting in meetings with a Furtune 500 company and their consultants for the last 12 business hours. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s a great project. But it is a topsy turvy world. I wore a tie. A suit and tie, God forbid. The first few meetings were more casual – at the field office. They gave us “the business” for wearing ties – good natured ribbing for dressing professionally in a engineers-in-the-field situation. Fine. Then every subsequent meeting a humorous comment that we were the only ones in ties – but it was their suburban facility after all, corporate casual and all that. And the joking was all superficial. But now we move to the big leagues. Reserved conference rooms in the corporate H.Q. skyline tower, catered lunch, dinner reservations, etc. At dinner last night we (we = me and my business partner) got “no, seriously guys, don’t wear a tie tomorrow.” We smiled and chuckled. I took it to mean – “don’t feel you have to wear a tie to impress us, or because you think you have to”. This morning I walked in to the conference room and everybody said “nice tie!” I looked up to see that not only was I the only tie in the room, but my business partner had sold me out. Tieless. The only other person in a tie was a …. much bigger wig than me, that’s for sure. But a visiting big wig….and the next time I even looked up he had become tieless. Eventually, through the course of the day, I sneaked the tie off. Unnoticed it did not go. The icing on the cake was at the end of the day-long meeting, one of the corporate bigger-wigs practically pulled me aside and said “I’m really glad you took off the tie.” WTF! When did this happen? Are Fortune 500 companies being run by hippies now? I’m the youngest guy in the room – since when do I represent the “last vestige of a dying corporate culture”? Granted I used to think (like everybody else aged 16 – 20something, except fratboys and other assorted sycophants) that a neck tie represented a metaphorical noose or a leash bla bla bla, or that the suit and tie was the ultimate form of conformity, and not wearing one was beyond mere rebellion, but by golly, actual freedom of expression and non-conformity! But through more sideline observation than practical application I have come to realize several things about wearing a suit and tie. First of all, there is no such thing as being over-dressed. Second of all – where did the assumption arise that the only reason anyone would wear a tie is because they have to? I’m not 5. Nobody is making me wear a tie. Not my uncool parents, not The Man. In a suit and tie, regardless of your actions, on mere appearance you are less of a slacker and more of a go-getter or respectable citizen than the guy standing next to you not wearing a suit or tie. Remember that, the next time you are trying to get a table at a restaurant. Or trying to re-book a cancelled flight at the ticket counter. Why is corporate America all of a sudden threatened by ties? Is ties the way the little guys differentiate themselves from corporate juggernauts now? Is it seen as our feeble attempt to impress them? Or to assuage corporate guilt an a post-Enron environment? Is not wearing them their attempt to convince the rest of us that they are not mere drones but working joe’s just like us. My point is, we are all working stiffs “just like us”. But if you look around, the people that run things are wearing suits and ties. So why not give yourself that little edge? I bet the president of said F500 company wears one. I don’t get it.

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