Work Mess Code

At different times in the past, I held short-lived jobs requiring dress clothes.  Picking out different outfits for inside work was by far, the toughest part of those jobs.

Making a decision on slacks and tops everyday was no Sunday picnic for me, and I developed withdrawals from jeans and sweatshirt comfort. That’s why the clothing attire for ranch work is the most well-suited dress code for me. Job descriptions around here require what I call comfort and practicality career wear but is probably viewed as the grunge look of the 90’s. The grunge image incorporates rough-looking and well-worn flannel, faded denim, and hooded plaid sweatshirts, which I’ve always gotten into during the winter anyway. I also have sweatshirts turned grunge from so much wear and washing.

I like work wear the best once they start showing a little age: well seasoned and broken-in with all day comfort appeal. Since we’re big on water conservation (mostly out of necessity) I don’t wear a different outfit every day. After a few repeat wearings of the same jeans and sweatshirt, I pull a fresh set out to wear. Perks to this wardrobe are that I don’t freak out when I dribble coffee down the front of my shirt or swipe my pant leg against a muddy pickup.

The only criteria I expect from my work clothes is that they still fit and serve the purpose of keeping me protected from the elements, depending on the season. “Best-dressed” around here means most well equipped for the job or weather. I can change up my same outfit a bit with my brown coveralls, chore coat, lace-up overshoes, or work gloves. I also go for the layered look. In cold weather, long johns or a t-shirt underneath flannel shirts, sweatshirts and jeans do the job.

Regarding footwear, the nastier they look, the better. The amount of wear, duct tape, mud, and manure on a pair of boots is what earns respect. Work boots symbolize how hard a worker someone is or how high maintenance they are about getting dirty. Anybody who shows up to work here wearing clean boots is likely to get razzed.

Part of the grunge look is appearing like a mess and disheveled, which I excel at. I extend the grunge image by putting up my long, stringy, uncombed hair and wearing a visor. Like other grungers, I also prefer an un-tucked shirt which is less hassle.  It’s pointless for me to tuck a shirt in when I can’t hold a pot or two of coffee for very long (definitely a drawback for women in coveralls).

Going grunge is not an impressive appearance, but I don’t have to impress anybody around here (nor have I ever). During the winter, cows don’t care what I look like when I show up with the bale bed pickup loaded to feed them.

I may not work where dress clothes are required but I still experience outfit anxiety. The amount of time I spend deciding what to wear when getting ready for Sunday church feels like a mess of work.

This column was originally published November 18-24, 2007

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