Share this article

print logo

County’s ‘anti-slob’ code a small stand for civility

I applaud county officials for trying.

It’s tough these days to take a stand for standards.

It’s nearly impossible not to overhear the obscene words uttered at the mall or during a downtown stroll.

Any adolescent can summon an anatomy lesson by Google-searching choice words. From sexting to Skype, technology has fast-forwarded sexual sharing and undercut teen innocence.

Popular songs have enough sexual references to make Masters and Johnson pull up the covers.

Some women’s outerwear looks like underwear. Leggings make skin-tight jeans seem Victorian. Slang references to body parts and sexual acts abound on once-Puritanical network TV.

I’m not saying the apocalypse is upon us and Western civilization will soon be consumed in a ball of hellfire. In some cases, relaxed standards signal a rejection of hypocrisy, an acceptance of openness and the erosion of snobbery and censorship.

But there are times it would be nice – particularly in public places – if civility and etiquette weren’t trampled and left gasping for breath. It’s all about respect for each other.

And if you don’t agree, bleep you.

Seriously: It’s nice to see a government entity build a breakwall against the tide of F-bombs, hypersexualization of pop culture and erosion of public behavior. Responding to complaints from judges, customers and clients, county officials this month instituted a dress code. No more coming to work looking like you just rolled out of bed, are headed to the beach or consider Jerry Garcia a sartorial template.

Proper county office attire no longer includes flip-flops, cut-offs, belly-baring T-shirts or bum-hugging jeans. But enough about the guys.

We gratefully blow taps for jewelry sporting the B-word, F-word or any combination thereof. Thankfully deep-sixed is the office hoodie, workout shorts, garden-soiled khakis, or county lawyers rockin’ their Calvins in court.

The “anti-slob” policy, brokered with union leaders, instructs some 4,000 white-collar workers to “present an appearance that reflects positively” on the county. Any offensive tattoo must be covered. Sneakers are OK only with unripped, clean jeans – and neither in a courtroom. No clothing with offensive, discriminatory or political messages. So save the F.B.I. – Federal Body Inspector – T-shirt for the Saturday pub crawl and stash the “Feel the Bern” cap. Not on county time.

“Sometimes, you couldn’t tell the worker from the client,” noted Artie Rush of the Department of Social Services. “T-shirts, shorts, sandals – it’s not right for business.”

In a better world, the notion would go without saying: You deal with the public, you represent the county, therefore you need to look professional.

Happily, most of about a dozen county workers I spoke with agreed. As a self-deputized member of the fashion police, I’m pleased to report that nearly all of some 50 workers leaving the Rath Building at lunchtime looked, if not GQ-ready, then somewhere between presentable and professional. And at least, since I’m passing judgment, on stylistic par with the typical journalist. Apparently civilization is not yet ready to slide into the primordial muck.

Valerie Meyers of the Board of Elections paired a classic summer skirt with a public-service attitude.

“Appearance matters,” she told me. “I’ve seen workers in hoodies, or wearing low tank tops with spaghetti straps – it’s not professional.”

Rush, the 16-year Social Services veteran, admits he may have inspired a few of Tommy Hilfiger’s nightmares – and contributed to the code’s creation. But he has since abandoned shorts for clean jeans set off with sneakers – and accompanied by a revelation.

“When you dress better,” he noted, “you feel better about yourself.”

One giant step for county workers. One small stride for civilization.