Nothing exceeds like excess: a primer on Lady Gaga workplace fashion.

Fashion freedom is something we salute—especially in the normally colorless cubicles of office land, where any hint of self-expression is a welcome development.

In fact, one thing I loved about my earlier career in rock & roll was that everyone could dress any way they wanted. (If it weren't for a medical condition I had—needing to eat—I'd still be there.)

But in the 21st century workplace, with the increase in Generation Y employees, has the pendulum suddenly swung too far the other way?

Yes, according to a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article 'The Tragic Decline in Business Casual' , which would have us believe that standards for dress have recently sunk to new lows in corporate America.

Clinton Kelly, the co-host of The Learning Channel's What Not to Wear, is quoted as saying:

'Kids coming out of college are watching Lady Gaga on YouTube.

They don't understand that Lady Gaga is selling albums and they're working in accounting. A meat dress just doesn't fly at the office.'

I know what you're thinking: picky, picky. But even if your finance department desperately needs some glimmer of life, some shred of personality, is there no line to cross? Is any clothing permissible as long as it doesn't attract flies? (Or maybe bugs are okay, as long as you don't work in a restaurant or hospital?)

After extensive polling of my colleagues, I've learned I'm not the only one who works in the office barefoot and in shorts (along with an office mate who prances around nude wearing just a collar).

I'm sure you can relate to this if you too work out of your home, with your cat in your lap. But if that's the case and you're reading—in that same article—that office employees are now wearing 'hooker earrings' and 'bondage collars' aren't you thinking it might be time to return to the corporate life?

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  1. i caught lady gaga's raw meat dress on tv and would love to wear one. i could have got away with it in my old job in purchasing where nobody cared about anything, but it's a no go in retail. yet i might get a promotion if i wore hooker ear rings.

  2. The problem with raw meat wear is you have to bring an extra outfit to work (and keep in the cooler) because the original starts smelling just a little funky after a while (though in some companies no one would notice). Biodegradable clothing — obviously the next BIG IDEA in the fashion industry — has so many ecological benefits, we'd have to devote a separate post to them. Not to mention the attention you'll get from your normally aloof cat when you get home.

    I'm glad you've found our sartorial suggestions useful at Business Lessons From Rock. Let us know if you get that promotion. We're here to serve.

  3. I think that there should be some amount of decorum in the workplace and a dress code is as good a place as any. For some reason I see the negative of casualwear in the office detrimental at the low end of the scale.

    In higher administration, Lady GaGa meat dresses are seen as a bold and unique statement. For the average Jill, it is tacky and when there is no talent behind the appearent ambition, career-killing.

    Go with the pack UNTIL you can seize the right opportunity to break away.

  4. Mark, you have OBVIOUSLY never experienced the cool comfort of meat shorts.

    All seriousness aside... I like your conclusion that where there is no talent to back up outrageously-expressed ambition, it's a career killer. Well said. (Sums up the first half of my life in fact.) Also good advice to go with the pack until it's time to make your own move.

  5. John
    Have not thought too much about the dress code in the corporate or un-corporate world. I would certainly opinion-ate that what we wear is certainly a reflection of what we eat!

    The analogy below does fall apart..but maybe generally I could say:

    Corporate world: coat and tie.. EATING: strictly regimented and regulated processed food. Button up and shut up mentality! Delayed gratification.

    Laborers: Blue jeans and shirt..
    EATING: Cowboy style meals and whenever hungry...intermediate gratification...the I'm working...get a job mentality

    Rock stars: Well these guys and dolls are all over the place in what they wear...just like their eating hotel or one food chain after another..whatever is available on the road....immediate gratification...Lets party!

    could go on and on
    maybe later

  6. Mark, I'd go with Gilda Radner: “I base my fashion sense on what doesn't itch.”

    David, you might be onto something. In my rock days anything that moved I'd eat. But I've reformed my carnivorous ways.

    Based on the emails I'm getting, there's no consensus yet on whether this decline in biz casual is comic or tragic.

  7. I actually disagree with the Twain quote because I think that manners make the man. What this means, IMHO, is that you dress in a way that respects the people you're working with on the day. So if you'd in the office, you dress in a way your colleagues feel comfortable. If you're out with customers, you're smart. Respect. Yourself and those around you. It's basic.

  8. Fair enough, Mark. Starting now I'll wear a tie when I blog. I hope you don't mind one from my Jerry Garcia collection.

  9. I had to give up my flip flops on my new bosses insurance agent saw that and freaked, if something fell on my feet.....well, back to shoes at work. dress to be comfortable, and for the job. Sure wouldn't go bare-ass in a courtroom!!


  10. Nick, I'm glad you mentioned that. People forget that "Not Going Naked in a Courtroom" is one of the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" that Stephen Covey writes about. (And it's the one habit I continually forget!)

    Obscured in the humor of all of this (because I never pass up an opportunity for a cheap laugh) is a more serious point. If you've created the right kind of culture in your organization — where employees are encouraged to think for themselves — you can actually let the workforce decide what the appropriate norms are. Taking into account what Mark says about having respect for your co-workers and customers, employees (as a team) can set the rules. (Of course that won't work if you don't have a well-developed sense of team in your office, shop, department, etc. I've known employees who dress a particular way just to piss off a manager or associate.)

    File this under "Workforce Democracy" — which I'll be exploring in my book.

  11. John - I'm honoured that you would put on a JG tie for me. BTW, is there any truth in the rumour that 'Uncle John's Band' was written about you? I deny the allegation that 'Friend of the Devil' refers to me, although 'Touch of Grey' most certainly could!

  12. Workforce democracy?? Pure utopia. It's not going to work in a lot of settings, for example a manufacturing company using low skilled labor. What owner or plant manager is going to let the slaves run the ship??

  13. As I think I've mentioned before, workforce democracy — which comes in many flavors and variations — has been successfully implemented in many contexts, including manufacturing. Ricardo Semler, who has written two books about it, put it into practice years ago at Semco, the diversified manufacturing company in Brazil. Workers make their own schedules, set their own salary levels, hire new workers, and publicly review their managers. And Semco, with 3000+ emplyees (and little turnover), has become a manufacturing powerhouse, expected to exceed a billion dollars in annual revenue in the next few years. The times they are a-changin' (slowly but surely).

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