Surviving the Federal Sartorial Triangle

Editor’s Note: Mike called in sick Monday. He said it was a headache. We suspect, what with all the heat and humidity, his mind may have melted. Either way, here’s a column from last year’s “what are you wearing” files, originally published on August 21st. Enjoy! sk

The last time I watched Project Runway on TV was, uh, never. I hope to keep it that way.

That said, I am as fashion-conscious as the next guy, which, come to think of it, isn’t saying very much. Still, I do get around to a lot of federal agencies. Also, I work in a medium where people are heard, not seen, which, by the bye, is a good thing. Trust me on that!


But all of the above is a reminder that you are now smack in the middle of what some feds consider the most dangerous-to-sanity period in their respective offices. It is the middle weeks in August when dress codes (if any) fall apart. That means that anything goes and lots of things show!

Call it the Sartorial Federal Triangle.

Some time back we issued a bad taste warning.

Many of you responded that we are now in the midst of what some feds consider the most dangerous time of the year in their offices. The mid-weeks in August when sartorial standards (if any) often go out the window.

Even though this is the peak of the vacation season a lot of people responded.

Here’s how some long-suffering insiders responded:

  • Ohhhh Mike – why did you have to even bring it up? Over the past 30 years, I guess I have gotten so used to it – I block it out! Unfortunately – I’m more tuned in after your article and find myself “seeing” the disgusting dress habits of my co-workers. Just yesterday, I saw a woman, probably in her late 20’s. While not fat, certainly carrying some (ok … a lot) of rear baggage, wearing a spandex mini-dress, right under her rear baggage, with gold platform shoes. Her dress was so tight and short that, as she walked, she had to keep pulling it down. Everyone she passed had to do a double-take and look behind them. Not in admiration, but in amusement – or disgust.

    This is “intern” season and unfortunately, no one has taken the time to tell these kids how to dress. They don’t need to wear suits, but shorts and midriffs (with their belly button pierced) is ridiculous. And again, I hate to pick on them, but especially the “big” girls in clothes 2 sizes to small for them. Their T-Shirt becomes a tube top. Oh my, why do I have to see all this again? How long before I tune it out again? M at Social Security

  • Mike, We don’t have to worry about bare midriff and short shorts this year in Montana. It was 60 degrees yesterday and rained, lightening and thunder most of it.

    We are all wearing our coats and sweaters today, no bare anything!

    We have had a total of 3 days of summer (at a time). And they talk about Global Warming! Could they send some of the warming to Montana?” Linda of the IRS

  • The last time I flew was in 2000. I don’t remember being shocked at the other passengers dress mode. But I guess like anyplace else, it is “anything that covers essential body parts is okay”! Can just imagine what our grandchildren will be wearing in 30 years!!! I was just at my first concert in 25 years this past Saturday, (Kenny Chesney) at the Gillette stadium in Foxboro, Ma. …I told my 39 year old daughter, I would be embarrassed to dress like that, in a public venue. But she said that is the style and she didn’t see anything wrong with it. Lord it was like me talking to my own mother 30 years ago. LOL Each generation seems to do or wear something that the older generations do not think is appropriate.
  • You failed to mention tube tops and the very obese who wear them. It is bad enough that there are people who wear clothes that are a fashion faux pas, but holy mackerel, you don’t know if those tops are going to slip off and run for their lives, or if your about to get whomped by exuberantly generous cleavage. Shelley in Austin
  • We have a dress code for the summer and winter. It is sent to all of us via E-mail prior to the season beginning. No flip flops type sandals, no shorts no cruise type wear at all, business casual is the norm. You can be sent home to change if you do not comply and it will be on your dime. I thought all government agencies had dress codes that were enforced. I just wish that grocery stores and department stores had a dress code for both employees and customers. Deb/DoD
  • While reading today’s column about office wear in August, I was reminded of my early days at GSA when the real estate people were at the Central Office at 18th and F Streets, NW. During the summer of 1971, there were a number of “stay-in-school” kids from the DC public schools working in our division. It was the era of hot pants and platform sandals. Needless to say, the GSA’s dirty old men had a wonderful summer ogling the girls, and, then, in the fall, knocking themselves out when someone called “purple alert” and they’d all rush to the 19th street side of the building to gawp at the girls showering in the unfrosted-windowed bathrooms at the adjacent GW dorm (it was the first year of coed dorms). I was once looking at some floor plans spread out on the floor when a purple alert was called and a co-worker leap-frogged over my head to stare out the window at the oblivious coeds. By Christmas, however, the girls across the street knew what was going on — and hung signs in their windows saying, “Merry Christmas, Dirty Old Men”. GSA Retired.
  • Some supervisors require a certain more professional dress code for their staff: no thong-type sandals, no jeans of any kind or color, no perfumes of any kind, no bra straps showing, no strapless tops, and definitely no shorts. These are usually supervisors with either a military background, or with outstandingly tough guidelines for everything under their control. Other supervisors seem to not care at all, as long as their staff shows up for work and accomplishes their work load. They prefer their staff to work in as comfortable an atmosphere as possible, without the rigidity of a military-style dress code. Seems to get more work accomplished and a happier staff. But the mini skirts with an additional split up the back are always mocked, see-through tops are laughed about, and spandex in the office is just a tragedy. I say that in addition to the tax credits and cash-for-clunkers, the government should offer incentives for appropriate office attire. Come on America, dress for success does not mean pinch it, snip it, crunch it, or be bored to death. It means be environmentally appropriate for your office, neat, and avoid offending others you work with. Be clean, smell clean, and cover it up! Lynell, Fed. Employee

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