T-Shirts at Work

T-shirts are the perfect article of clothing. They are easy to put on, cool and comfortable, and require no annoying buttons or zippers to waste time. They come in a variety of colors and I can always find a size to fit me. Unfortunately, I cannot wear them during half my waking hours. Despite their perfection, T-shirts are prohibited by my employer's dress code.

I understand why the company has this policy – to a degree. T-shirts have gained a stigma thanks to rebels in the 50's clad in dirty white tees, hippies in the 60's and 70's donning filthy tie-dyed tees, and a plethora of faded black AC/DC and Megadeth shirts from the eighties up to now. Certainly management wants employees to dress with more sophistication. But what is so difficult about allowing the phrase “clean, plain, colored T-shirts” in the company dress code? Why do bosses think workers perform better in dress slacks and a tie? In my case, the opposite is true; dressy clothes are more restrictive. I take more time grooming – tucking in my shirt, cleaning ketchup stains off of my pants, and such. I strut and posture more – for some reason all people feel the need to show off in dressy clothes. My preening and posturing results in less work output. And I stay away from everyone, a side effect of my fear of being grabbed by the tie and strangled.

To their credit, job site honchos do allow T-shirts on occasion, for example, “Cubs Day.” But why do workplace leaders feel the need to promote a big-city sports team? Don't these bosses know the majority of sports fans already support the local teams? And why sports? Why not arts or sciences? During National Science Week, how about allowing a T-shirt with the iconic picture of Einstein sticking out his tongue? Or a “Leaves of Grass” tee on Poetry Day? Employers also allow shirts with their corporate logo during “show your support for the company” days. But really, what's the point? The audience being advertised to is the employees who already work there. It's not like a worker is supporting the company more rigorously by wearing a T-shirt than by doing a good job. It isn't like a sea of logos from a crappy workplace will increase morale.

Sure the honchos do not want to see their workers in shirts advertising the competition. So they can modify the code to, “clean, plain, colored T-shirts with no artwork or logos.” That's fine with me; I see no need to advertise any company that employs more than 150 people. If a business wants me to be their walking billboard, they need to pay me to wear the shirt. I charge the standard billboard rate.

I also know the guys at the top want to prohibit “questionable” words and phrases on tees, such as “Our Company Sucks” and “Death to Tyrants.” Fine. But should all worded T-shirts be banned? I like to purchase tees from places I've been. How much workplace disruption will a “Waikiki” or “Florida Keys” shirt cause? Perhaps management does not want to be reminded of places better than work, places they'd rather be. And I suppose management would question my integrity and decision making skills if I showed up in a “I Love Camden, NJ” shirt.

Though the dress code explicitly forbids T-shirts, I see many women dressed in tight-fitting tees and dress slacks. It is obvious why this is allowed: the men who make up the dress code have no issues with looking at an exaggerated female form. Since women are afforded this exception, I sometimes push the envelope on behalf of men. For example, on Halloween I'll wear my “Salem, MA” or “Bewitched” T-shirt. The week between Christmas and New Year's, I'll alternate in red and green pocketed tees. I haven't been reprimanded yet; perhaps management secretly admires my audacity, or my belly bulge.

Perhaps company bosses ban T-shirts from the workplace because they yearn to wear them. But because of the unwritten manager code, the one that forces them to wear miserable clothing, T-Shirts cannot be part of their wardrobe. And everyone knows if a company leader is not allowed to enjoy his time at work, no one can.