Dress circle: Monday morning blues

A case of Monday Blues seems incurable. But I’m here to discuss another kind of Monday morning blues – the dress genre.
I started my career in 2014 in a Big Four audit firm. While that sounds grand, we were getting paid peanuts, and I didn’t know the difference between cost to business (CTC) and actual revenue. Still, it was my first professional gig and I wanted to make a good impression. For a grad student, who loved jeans and liberating t-shirts, I had to buy formal outfits like there was no tomorrow. I especially liked the dark blue pants and a light blue pinstripe shirt with a Parker Pen in the pocket. Sometimes snobbery isn’t such a bad thing. The dress code was so formal that I had worn jeans and a polo vest only one Friday, thanks to the 4th of July celebrations. We needed special written approval from HR! One beautiful Friday, I was in the cafeteria, waiting 20 minutes for 2 minute noodles. An assistant manager, who was close to me, scolded me for wearing casual leather shoes made by Woodland. He thought of them as sports shoes. Bata was my formal shoe choice.

After six months of grueling audits, I joined a bank and depositary. I have been asked to work with American clients. Any of you who have worked in the backend or middle office know what that means. I went there when most of the others were coming out of the technology park after their evening chai. It hurt more on Friday when the ID-carrying pets came out with a visible spring in the steps and bright eyes looking forward to the weekend. After shopping enough to last a year, I continued to wear formal outfits. But I quickly learned that you could wear jeans, polo shirts, round neck t-shirts. Of course, I learned from my manager’s pet mishaps that printed t-shirts were still off limits. So I stowed away a few captioned vests for weekend getaways to the malls – entertainment oases for urban Bangalores. When I was promoted within the bank, I climbed a few floors while working at a time that was human. The dress code was more relaxed as we could wear casual shirts without tucking them in and with the sleeves rolled up. The Batas gave way to Ruosh which I cherish to this day. I had to buy liquid wax to make them shine. Dad rolled his eyes as he had never bought “boot polish” for Rs 250.

I changed jobs and nationalities of the clients I served. Australia buddy! Although I’m a cricket fan who wakes up before 5am to watch The Ashes, starting as early as 4am to hop in a cab is never pleasant. Also, who cares what you wear at dawn? I did. However, these formal shirts were hidden under sweaters and hoodies. As the winters got colder, t-shirts were the main cardigan as I no longer wore formal wear. And they were obviously hidden under the wool of different shades in V-neck, round neck and a few that covered my neck.
“Winter is coming” was the mantra on everyone’s lips. But it was summer everywhere. Yes, the last season of game of thrones was on us. I was basking in the warm, yellow weather as I migrated for the first time to a completely different field and a tech company. Was there a dress code? Not really. I’ve even seen the techs wear shorts to the office as they cycle to campus, which of course they change while sitting at their desks. I liked to wear blues, grays and mustards in formal shirts. Allen Solly’s stag and Celio’s chic French shirts had replaced most of the Park Avenues and Peter Englands. I matched them with black and brown leather belts as well as matching Ruosh pairs. Oh, I was loyal to my favorite brands. On other days, I mixed and matched my footwear – canvas, loafers, casual leather and Clark sandals with ethnic clothing. I could wear a different pair every day! My feet have never looked so good.

Every summer must give way to wet weather. I have had difficult times professionally and personally. I was not in the pink of my health. Coincidentally, I had stopped wearing pink. I called it quits. It was time to reassess my career choices. I enjoyed a few Mondays as I felt it was a well deserved break after 5 ½ years at four companies. My father, who had served the same bank for 37 years, never understood. Additionally, four directorates had changed hands during his tenure as a loyal employee.

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Two weeks turned into two months. My Monday mornings usually started with a positive attitude and hope for new opportunities on the horizon. One Monday morning, I found myself in the hospital in a T-shirt and jeans. We had Ubered the night before. It was one of the coldest nights of my life in a closed hospital waiting room. And I slept on a park bench in another hospital with no roof over my head. It was cold because there was a strange fear. The following Monday I was on my way with two of my uncles in tow. My scalp was bare and I was numb. I wore my favorite Clark sandals to the Ghat to scatter my father’s ashes.

A few Mondays later, I attended an interview at a major international bank. It was put together by my kind mentor. I’m glad I went there. No, I didn’t pass the interview. But the interviewer told me unequivocally that I was in the wrong career tree. It was followed by an interminable period of inertia. Hope kept me going. Rejection emails, no response or engagement from potential employers/clients left me desperate. I eventually got a job at a marketing agency where I had to work with the founder remotely. The first Monday I joined I was wearing polo shirts and jeans paired with my Puma flip flops. I realized he didn’t care as long as I produced content and answered his countless calls without fail. So I showed up on Google Meet the following days in my Performax blues and grays paired with shorts. I also freelanced with an American social media career portal. I was supposed to attend a daily stand-up at 10:00 a.m. I asked a colleague if there was a dress code. He just said, “Man, we never turn on our cameras.” Plus, the stint was as fleeting as Kendall’s perceived control over Waystar Royco on the popular Succession series.

Another listless winter day, I contemplated suicide on Twitter. I was fed up with the deluge of notifications that didn’t do much to improve my job situation. I saw a tweet retweeted by a fellow Tweeterati. The gentleman was looking for writers for his agency. “Open to people with a variety of backgrounds” made my eyeballs pop out like a cartoon character. I invoked cricket and movies in my mail and attached some articles. A week later, I was completely riding a new wave. The dress code? I’ve seen people wearing crew neck t-shirts, Crocs, sandals and ripped jeans! My top row of the wardrobe which has a few nice pairs of formals had to wait. I didn’t want to be a “corporate” copywriter in an advertising agency.

Just as I thought I would be the most laid-back writer, something else awaited me. I was supposed to give a keynote address to a group of aspiring public speakers. The founder was cool enough to allow me to present from his booth. So I wore a smart, casual blue shirt with khaki pants from Levi’s. I paired it with casual belts and pale brown loafers, not that the online crowd could see them. As I was thinking of a tricky headline for the copy, the founder sat down next to me. “It’s okay. Did you dress this way for the opening speech?” I nodded sheepishly. “Why don’t you dress this way every day?” After that polite diktat I struck a balance between semi-formals and casuals mostly draped in Levi’s, by chance a customer!I tidied up the Ruosh as Bengaluru was barred by incessant rains in 2021. They never stopped, as did Sachin Tendulkar’s batting runs, plus I had to walk down an unforgiving muddy path to change three buses on the way to work.

As the world prepared to welcome 2022 amid the fear of Omicron, I received a letter. On New Years, I joined a gigantic IT and consulting company. We were onboarded virtually, like most things in the age of Covid. As the presenter was talking about the dress code, my ears perked up. “Formal, business casual, jeans, khakis are allowed. Ripped jeans, shorts, flip flops and ethnic clothing are not permitted on campus. There is no need to buy new clothes or shoes. And just another thing, we won’t be going into offices until at least the second quarter. Bring polo shirts and shorts (not visible on a call). I’m ready for my first Monday in a new role. What kind of blues are you into?

About Carl Schroeder

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