During a recent conversation about collegiality, I slipped briefly into metaphor, remembering my experience with the dress code at a small newspaper in central Massachusetts.
It’s been a long time, but I think part of the rules was that men couldn’t wear jeans and had to wear button-front shirts with ties. This was to give the place some class, which seemed a trifle silly knowing there were no such dress codes at papers with far better circulations and reputations, such as The Boston Globe and Boston Herald.
And I felt oafish and provincial rotating my small wardrobe to accommodate the code — until I observed a couple of my fellow employees, whose wardrobes seemed to be just as small and whose efforts at meeting the code several times more ludicrous. That is, they made the code seem ludicrous, not the clothing.
The attire of the stocky, unshaven Brit was, appropriately, rumpled, ill-fitting and worn. That of the balding, mustachioed editor seemed to consist entirely of green, much of it in the mildly toxic hue of frothy gelatin desserts and furniture of the early 1970s. Both favored short-sleeved shirts.
All of this was within the letter of the dress code. And it was entirely unironic: If these men were participating in an endless, straight-faced scam to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the rules, they refused to let on for literally years. Yet every day’s iterative unveiling was such a devastating affront to the spirit of the code that it seemed astounding that higher-ups weren’t shamed into revisions. More likely they were dazed into apathy.
No one found it remarkable but me, though. Such things are subjective.
I learned from this that there are ways to adhere to the letter of the law while knocking the spirit violently on its ass. The learning has gone on over the years. Mostly by observation.