Addressing dressing

I must be creeping up on “old coot” status given my topic yesterday and what’s on my mind today, but I’m going to go with it anyway.

There has been a bit of a flap the last couple of days about the NBA’s new dress code for players when they are on “league business” which includes road trips, traveling to and from the arena, being interviewed and sitting on the bench in street clothes. Some players and commentators have complained that this is a racist policy since some of the apparel that is expressly banned are the hats, medallions and jerseys associated with the “hip-hop” culture and more frequently sported by black and minority players.

On the face of it they would appear to have a point; if the league were to, say, ban plaid pants, Izod shirts and deck shoes there might be a group of players who felt they were being singled out. Furthermore, I’m a big fan of personal liberty and I seek out the kinds of clothes that make me comfortable when working in the office or my back yard or hanging out.

The players are making a mistake in this case, however, and it’s a mistake that is all too prevalent throughout our culture and not just the NBA, which is why I’m bothering to write about it. The mistake the players are making is thinking that it’s all about them when it’s really all about business. In the scenarios covered by the dress code the players are “on the job” and representing the league and their respective teams.

While it may be ironic to require dressy clothes in a business where the official uniform involves baggy shorts and tank tops, the league has a – shall we say, “vested” – interest in having its players look more professional in the corporate sense since most of the money that pours into the league has corporate connections. While corporations are themselves dressing more casually these days, the salespeople at my company wouldn’t dream of calling on a customer without dressing appropriately as a sign of respect for the people who we want to give us their money. What it boils down to when entering the boardroom or leaving the locker-room is wearing clothes that say “I care what other people think.” Fundamentally it is a question of respect; something that many of the players should identify with because they insist upon (as they should) when other people are dealing with them.

This is the same issue that I see with many people in our culture today. Case in point: last weekend I went to a wedding of some young friends of mine. While a wedding is a happy occasion there is also a certain solemnity to the event. That afternoon I finished working in my yard, went inside and cleaned up and put on slacks, dress shirt, sport coat and a tie. Almost all of the young people at the wedding and reception (with the notable exception of my own children) looked as if they had simply put down their rakes and come directly to the ceremony. I’m not talking humble but clean clothes here; I’m talking blue jeans, wrinkled tee-shirts, sometimes covered by rumpled, unbuttoned work shirts. Oh, there were three young ladies wearing flamboyant prom dresses, meaning they knew it was a special occasion, but were unaware that it’s bad form to be flashier than the bride.

I wasn’t that offended given that it could have been worse, but I did feel sad that a significant portion of the generations coming up are either not hearing, or not receiving, guidance on how to act respectfully when it is required. Dress isn’t the be all and end all of course as there are some people where you can dress ’em up but you still can’t take them anywhere, but the same attitude demonstrated by these young people in their attire also carried over in other behavior. Almost invariably, for example, these youths continued to talk and cavort with each other during the prayers and various toasts to the new couple.

Granted, I came from the flower-power generation that codified the blue-jeaned, bathing-optional look and style. I also had not a few disagreements with my parents on what I wore. Rather than marking me as idealistic and down-to-earth, however, my philosophy then merely indicated my callowness. I don’t write this to glorify insincerity or saying we should judge books by their cover. My point is that the essence of getting along is to get over our “me first” attitude and think about how our actions and attire convey our attitude toward others.

Yeah, yeah, I know: I’m just proving that I’m getting old. But really, I’m not that old. It’s just that I’ve learned …. excuse me for a second –


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