How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

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Location: India

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Dressing

I'm just back from getting a photo shot at the Placement Office, perhaps to form some online database or distribution to companies arriving for summers and final placements. Everyone was asked to come in formal dress - initially we were asked to come in formal shirt and trousers, a tie and a blazer. This fizzled out quickly, however, because everybody realized that this was not really required. People came wearing formal shirts, but with jeans and sneakers or sandals below, knowing that the only thing required was, in Amol Palekar's words from 'Golmaal', 'shariir ke uparaardh ka lajja-nivaaran' :). Moreover, in this kind of hot and humid weather, wearing these clothes is nothing short of torture.

That brings me to a larger point - how important is it to wear business suits or dresses or such other formal clothing to conduct business well? To make my position clear, I do not, for a moment, believe that you require a particular kind of dress to conduct business well, or to do any white-collared job, in general. We'll leave out specialized uniforms, like those of workers on the shop floor of factories, miners, workers in integrated chip fabricating units, etc. out of the discussion, for obvious reasons.

Here are some of the arguments advanced in favour of 'smart dressing', 'formal dressing', 'business dressing', etc.

1. Wearing formals is evidence of the fact that you mean business, that you are serious and not casual. Refutation: The assumption here is that the way you dress is the way you do all your work too. Obviously, this is laughable. The Silicon Valley software workers showed the way by dressing casually, but doing excellent work. Unfortunately, because of the dot-com bust, people in favour of conservative dressing in the US and around the world got a chance to reimpose their views on the business world and suits were in vogue again.

2. Not wearing formals will make you the odd man out in the business world, where such dressing is the norm. Refutation: Actually, this is not an argument at all, in this case. Wearing of formal clothes is a mutual and societal attitude. It is like casteism in India, although less vicious. If we, as a society, agree to drop this norm, it can be dropped readily. But such a change might affect a lot of people badly (just like doing away with the caste system would affect a lot of vested interests) and so this is never done.

My view is that: the clothes you wear will not actively help you do your work, but they might actually hinder your work, or dampen your efficiency. If a salesman is asked to remove his formal shirt and tie and wear whatever he likes, provided only that it is neat and decent, I believe he will become more efficient and not less so, especially in a country like ours where walking for hours together in formals would be extremely exhausting and draining. In fact, I believe a tie is one of the most superfluous pieces of dress man ever invented.

And finally, it is very amusing to see the use that suits are put to in India (perhaps, learning from abroad): to be worn in marriage receptions, not just by the groom, but by all near and far kin of the groom. Most probably, people will never learn to think about these aspects. That's fine for me, as they provide good entertainment value.





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