One of Comedian George Carlin’s classic routines was a comparison of the favorite American pastimes, baseball and football. He talks about the words used to describe their differences. Football has “downs”, baseball has “ups”; football is played in any kind of weather; baseball is cancelled if it rains. Baseball is played in a park; football is played on a gridiron, in places called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium. Part of the routine discusses the uniform. Only in baseball do the managers wear the same clothing as the players. And in football, the team wears helmets; in baseball the players wear caps.
This is just one example of how telling, how important and how utterly identifiable a uniform can be. Industry studies show that more than 33 million employees wear uniforms on the job and that this number is growing by over a million annually. On a practical level, employers and employees alike consider uniforms to be a “fringe benefit”. It eliminates the expense, upkeep and laundering of a work wardrobe. They help create unity, a team-like camaraderie in employee attitudes. Some employees hate them, others welcome them.
Often the decision to require uniforms, or the more desired term, “career apparel” depends on the specific industry involved and often on the level of the individual in the organization. Some are traditional and historically identifiable. Employees rebel when their attire appears to be completely “anti-style”, “anti-quality” or “anti-comfort”. How can morale be boosted if their attire embarrasses the staff? Even designing uniforms is a field unto itself! On the plus side, uniforms can help companies with their own security. A unified look can convey authority, it can identify authorized versus unauthorized personnel. It can make someone stand out or blend in. A badge of honor, what someone is allowed to do, where they are permitted to go, A certain, planned style of dress code or uniform not only can help the company, but also the public. When you walk into a retail store you can automatically know who works there, who can assist you without having to look for a small name badge. When someone comes to your door, you can assume they are making a delivery because they are “wearing brown”. Uniforms are part of the overall branding for a company’s image.
There are countless movies where someone will steal a uniform to fit into the environment and cover up, so to speak their true identity. And, when someone wants to be perceived differently – in any way – what is the first thing they do? They alter their attire, so the perception of who they are can be changed to whoever they are attempting to be. In the film, “Catch Me if You Can”, Frank Abagnale shows how easily this works. He obtains a pilot’s uniform and, guess what? Everyone assumes he is a pilot. The uniform can work in some scary ways.
Some uniforms are created and worn for pure function. Uniforms also stand for identity and image making. Think about how many uniforms you see in a single day. When we see a particular uniform, we know what job, position or profession the individual has. There are people in uniforms everywhere, in every kind of industry and workplace: police officers, doormen, nurses, transportation, utility workers, dentists, service, crossing guards, security, fast food restaurants, janitorial staff, mechanics, letter carriers; the list is endless. There’s no doubt, we automatically make many assumptions based on their attire.
Whether you are someone who is wearing an official uniform, or if you have the flexibility to dress as you please for your job, it is important to remember that in order to play the part, you have to dress and look the part.
Lauren Castle is the owner of Impress Express, a professional image firm, focusing on career development, resume preparation, presentation skills, etiquette and interview coaching. We are members of the Professional Association of Resume Writers. For help with your image, posting your resume, or preparing your internet-friendly resume, contact Lauren directly at 858-459-7400. And, as always, please forward your image and career-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.