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Some Thoughts About Institutional Service Uniforms

When I arrived in Denver last Tuesday, I stupidly left something on the plane. So I filed a “lost item” report with the airline — United — and was relieved when they emailed me two days later to say that they had my item. I told them I’d pick it up from them when I returned to the airport for my return flight home.

When I got back to the airport on Friday, I went to United’s lost-and-found office, where a very helpful guy retrieved my item. (As he brought it out, he smiled and said, “Look familiar?,” which was a nice touch.) He was wearing one of those standard bland uniforms that male airline desk agents usually wear — something like the image shown at right. The surprising thing, at least to me, was that he also wore a lot of jewelry: two silver hoops in one nostril, one hoop in the other nostril, and another hoop near the top of one ear.

I want to make it clear from the outset that I am not criticizing either the guy (like I said, he was very helpful) or his choice of jewelry (nose hoops are fine by me). But the combination of the bland institutional uniform and the facial hardware made for an interesting combination, and it’s the latest example of something I’ve been thinking about for a while now, so I want to talk about that today.

Let’s start with this: Why was this guy wearing a uniform in the first place? Because he’s part of the large category of people in the public-facing uniformed service class. Cops, letter carriers, crossing guards, airline desk agents, concierges, security guards, train conductors, ushers, bellhops — all of these people wear a uniform to designate their status and authority, and also to communicate a message that roughly translates to: “I’m a professional, I’m a grown-up, I’m here to help you.”

Moreover, the uniform serves to emphasize the institution over the individual. The plain design makes everyone look like an interchangeable cog in the same institutional machine. If the uniform design lacks pizzazz and maybe even seems a bit square, that’s part of the point — the idea is to appeal to (or at least avoid alienating) the broadest swath of people, and the implicit message is that one uniformed worker could be swapped out for another and you’d still have the same customer experience (a uniform experience, you might say). This is also why uniformed service personnel have historically been subject to rules and restrictions regarding jewelry, grooming, visible tattoos, and so on, because the idea is for the individuals to subordinate themselves to the institution and not call attention to themselves via personal expression. It’s the non-sports equivalent of playing for the name on the front of the jersey instead of the name on the back.

This all makes sense, right? You probably understood it already, at least on an intuitive level, before I spelled it out.

But here’s the thing: Over the past 60 years or so, our culture has placed an increasing value on personal expression while casting an increasingly skeptical eye on institutional conformity and sartorial formality. I’m not looking to debate whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing (especially because I think it’s a mixed bag — some good, some bad). I’m more interested in what all of this may mean for service personnel uniforms.

As recently as, say, five years ago, I’m fairly certain that the United guy who helped me would not have been permitted to wear those nose rings. But institutional standards are changing. Here on Uni Watch, for example, we’ve run lots of Ticker items over the past few years about police departments and military branches that are scrapping their bans on visible tattoos, because the bans were hurting their recruitment efforts.

You can think that’s a good thing or a bad thing (again, I’m not looking to debate that here). But either way, it sets up a weird dichotomy, because while tattoos and face piercings are more common than they used to be, they’re still generally considered to be culturally transgressive and still function primarily as personal expressions of “Look at me” nonconformity, a way of saying, “I’m different, I refuse to be confined by society’s silly guidelines, I don’t play by the usual rules, I do things my own way.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, at least when viewed in a vacuum (a healthy society needs some people who’ll push the boundaries), but it seems fundamentally at odds with the messaging that comes from an institutional uniform. Or to put it another way, those nose rings probably would’ve looked fairly normal if that guy had been wearing his usual non-work attire, but they looked really weird when worn with a bland corporate-cog uniform whose design is based on clothing standards from the 1950s. It felt like a case of mixed messaging, and that’s not necessarily what you want with service personnel whose job is to project mainstream accessibility and helpfulness to as many people as possible.

I’ve been sensing a lot of these mixed messages in recent years (it’s sort of weird to see a cop or state trooper with full sleeve tattoos), and I feel like we’re eventually going to need some sort of reckoning to resolve them. Tattoos and piercings aren’t going away, so it seems like uniforms will be the thing that has to change. I’m not sure what those changes will be, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious, at least to me, that the longstanding standards for institutional uniforms are no longer in sync with the people who are wearing them, or with the culture in which we all live.

A few parting thoughts:

• I was recently discussing all of this with a friend, and she mentioned that an early episode of Project Runway had the contestants come up with new uniform designs for the U.S. Postal Service. I looked up the episode — the designs aren’t particularly inspiring, but the assignment was interesting.

• I feel like everything I’ve talked about here predates the pandemic. But the pandemic has clearly accelerated the de-emphasizing of formal dress standards throughout our culture, as more people are working from home and are now much less inclined to put on the jacket and tie or the posh frock.

• That said, The New York Times ran a piece just last week about how some restaurants are trying to bring back dress codes in their dining rooms. The piece includes some good historical perspectives — recommended.


Thanks for listening. When commenting today, let’s please stick to the question of what this all means for uniforms and not veer off into more fraught territory. Thanks.

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Sneaker shown for scale; click to enlarge

Something new to put on the wall: Two of the best DIY woodworkers out there — Kevin “Gashouse” Cearfoss and Gary Dahn of Lumberjack Logos — combined to make this Uni Watch gumball wall hanging. Kevin made the winged stirrup logo, and then Gary made the helmet and sent the finished piece to me. Isn’t that nice? Thanks so much, guys — this will look awesome here at Uni Watch HQ!

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XXIII: Tomorrow is Uni Watch’s 23rd birthday, so I’ll have a special Bulletin column with 23 fun facts, previously untold stories, secrets, and behind-the-scenes anecdotes about Uni Watch. It was really fun to compile, and I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy reading it too.

This piece will be available tomorrow morning to my Premium Subscribers. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do that here (you’ll need a Facebook account in order to pay). Don’t have or want a Facebook account? Email me for workaround info. Thanks!

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The Ticker
By Paul

Baseball News: The Mets are giving away borough-specific caps for each of NYC’s five boroughs over the next few months (from @maybeifollowyou). … The High-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, whose alternate identity is the Udder Tuggers, have collaborated with a local brewery to create Udder Tuggers Cream Ale (from Ray Barrington). … Atlanta wore their gold-trimmed championship uniforms on Monday night. I’m not 100% sure, but I think that’s the first time they’ve worn that design since their season-opening homestand (from @tupelojoe81). … Speaking of Atlanta, Austin Gillis notes that the team has Dale Murphy’s 1986 Gold Glove Award on display at their ballpark. Interestingly, the depiction of Murphy on the trophy shows him wearing a uniform that the team didn’t start wearing until 1987. … Metallica’s two guitarists played the national anthem prior to last night’s Giants/Mets game in San Francisco and had Giants City Connect-themed instruments — except the “G” wasn’t partially obscured by the fog (from @Spesh98). … In a related item, Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez isn’t a fan of the Giants’ CC design. … The Yokohama DeNA BayStars unveiled their “Yokohama Star Night” uniforms yesterday. “The jersey has a Hawaiian shirt-like texture and collar,” notes Jeremy Brahm.

Football News: The NFL is considering eliminating the Pro Bowl. … Greg Mays found a 1924 newspaper clipping indicating that USC was wearing blue jerseys at that time. … Here’s some historical background on some of the Pats’ newly assigned uni numbers. … New uni number assignments for Penn State. … Green Bay fans are pissed off because former Vikings QB Tommy Kramer used the Packers’ logo as a urinal.

Hockey News: Here are some Islanders “Fisherman” concept designs (thanks, Phil).

Basketball News: The WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx will retire Seimone Augustus’s No. 33 and Rebekkah Brunson’s No. 32 on May 29 and July 3, respectively.

Soccer News: The USL Championship’s Oakland Roots are starting a USL W League team, called Oakland Soul, next year (thanks, Jamie). … USL League Two side Ballard FC has unveiled a rather wacky-looking third kit (from Andrew Rhodes). … New home shirt for Brazlilian side Vasco (from Ed Zelaski). … New UEFA Women’s European Championship shirts for England, France, and the Netherlands.

Grab Bag: The newly appointed police chief in Honolulu wants his department to get new uniforms. … A U.S. Dept. of Defense panel has recommended that nine Army bases currently named after Confederate military officers should be renamed (from Timmy Donahue). … The U.S. women’s lacrosse team is playing a team of Athletes Unlimited lacrosse players in an exhibition on June 8. Both teams plan to wear these warm-up shirts for the charity Morgan’s Message (thanks, Jamie). … Comedian Roy Wood Jr. wore Pirates and Penguins jerseys during a recent show in Pittsburgh (from Todd Davis). … New uni and grooming policies for the U.S. Space Force.

Comments (80)

    We’re in an interesting period where the corporate decision makers are still Baby Boomers while the workforce is made up of Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials.
    The unwritten rules of fashion decorum changed massively with the onset of punk rock, hip-hop, and grunge.

    That’s true, but I’d say that the changes actually *started* with Baby Boomers — hippies, long hair, torn jeans, etc.

    My dad was a bit older than the Boomer generation, and he liked to recount that many of the youth counter-culture popularly attributed to the Boomers in the late 1960s was already prevalent in the mid-1950s among the Silent Generation cohort whose men were liable for draft and service in Korea. At least in schools and colleges. Like, Grease and Happy Days were about Silent Generation kids, not Boomers.

    The Grab Bag item about military bases dropping Confederate names is good thing. How in the hell American military bases were ever named after people who fought AGAINST the USA is beyond me.

    We don’t have literally THOUSANDS of honorable and loyal American heroes we can name those bases after?!?!

    I was completely unaware military bases flew the rebel flag. I mean, just consider what is going on, military bases for the UNITED STATES, flying the flag of a group of rebels who seceded from the union and formed their own nation because they were directly opposed to freedoms spelled out in US law. Where else in the world would you see a nation’s military fly the flags of a failed internal rebellion?
    I mean I am all for individuals who choose to fly that flag, let the world know what side you stand on, fine. But how can any government institution fly the flag of a failed rebellion?

    I had NO IDEA that so many bases were named after Confederates. I could have been an Airman stationed at Fort Gordon and my brother has worked at Ft Bragg as an Airman as well.

    Literally thousands of Medal of Honor recipients are more deserving of having US military installations named for them than any of the Confederate traitors. And hundreds of them earned the MoH under the more restrictive modern rules we currently use, rather than the much looser Civil War-era rules.


    Brian, Marcus of Balt, Arrrgh Scott Rogers,

    USAF vet here and have waited for decades for the DoD and congress to rid themselves of this lost cause bs once and for all. It is going to happen, there will be a Fort Audie Murphy in Texas.

    Whenever my regular USPS letter carrier has a day off, the substitute almost never wears a uniform. And, its not always the same person. Last Saturday, my carrier wore Vans, cargo shorts, and a backwards Chicago Bears ball cap.

    Just an example of how uniform enforcement is starting to slide.

    That’s not good. At our place out in the country we sometimes get Fed Ex deliveries in a rented truck – and it is very alarming. You want to know your mail/packages are being cared for by those with authority to deliver them…

    In the 20+ years I’ve lived at my current address I don’t think our mailpersons have ever worn uniforms.

    I think there’s definitely a difference when it comes to people who work in a designated service space (like the airline employee) and people who don’t work in a fixed location, like cops, postal carriers, etc. Having employees behind a counter wear a uniform does seem old-fashioned, but it’s helpful when identifying various types of workers “in the wild,” so to speak.

    I frequently see letter carriers in the official uniform shorts or pants and a t-shirt. It is a little strange.

    USPS employs thousands of casual employees and temporary hires. Sometimes up to a year and more. Since they are not part-time or career employees, they do not receive a
    yearly uniform allowance. Hence, they are not usually in the regular postal uniform.

    In addition, a rural route carrier is a non uniformed USPS employee. You may live in the middle of a mega- metropolitan area, but you still may have a rural route carrier.

    I (still) work primarily from home, so I never really think about what I wear while I work. However, my wife goes into an office everyday and multiple times a week she’ll say say something like, “ugh, I wish I could just wear a uniform to work, it’d be so much easier and cheaper!” I definitely think there’s a case to be made for having these types of work uniforms. Maybe hybrid – “we have a uniform if you want it, but it’s optional.” Yes, a strict uniform limits self expression, but perhaps some people just don’t want to have to think about it. Food for thought!

    I’m still working from home, and I found it necessary for my own mindset to get dressed in the morning: for me that means putting on “real pants” and a shirt that looks good on Zoom. I hardly ever match the “professional attire” standards my office once hard (and have since modified) but there’s something about the ritual of getting dressed for work that’s been important for me. (Shrugs)

    I split the difference on this: a shirt that looks good on zoom paired with shorts, sweats or sometimes even pajama pants. I like to think of the style as “Pandemic Casual.” But then, I work in a fairly casual environment where I can wear jeans, so I’m not that far off from my regular wardrobe.

    Where I live (Japan), uniforms are still standard in many industries, including office jobs.

    As someone who grew up in a poorer family going to school with the rich kids across the highway, I remember wishing my school had had them, as they would have eliminated some social differences and built group identity. I’ve always liked seeing them in the corporate world here.  Here are link, and some from link, link, and link.

    Most Japanese people I know really like them and some even choose their companies and schools because they like the specific uniform style. They like (as JMF’s wife does) not having to choose clothing or worry about whether they’ll be seen as fashionable; the uniform designers have done that for them, as most uniforms look classy and timeless.

    This might not be a popular sentiment anywhere but on this side, but I’d love to see America move back to that.

    “Tattoos and piercings aren’t going away, so it seems like uniforms will be the thing that has to change. I’m not sure what those changes will be, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious, at least to me, that the longstanding standards for institutional uniforms are no longer in sync with the people who are wearing them, or with the culture in which we all live.”

    I am not really sure that conclusion makes sense. Just because we are allowing more personal freedom for employees to choose what to wear or have on their body in ADDITION to their uniform, doesn’t necessarily mean the idea of uniformed personnel is going to drastically change. What could happen is more options could be given within the uniform set, or the uniform itself may become more casual (e. g. no more shirts and ties, just golf shirts) as our standards for work attire in general change. But I don’t see why the notion of uniformed personnel would go away just because we are allowing more personal expression outside of that uniform. In other words, the reasons described for why uniformed personnel exist in the first place aren’t going away, so that need for a uniform to convey the employee’s place in the institution remain. Letting them have a green spiked mohawk doesn’t change the need for them to have a uniform, it simply means society has come to accept the people with green spiked mohawks (or whatever non traditional look you want) can still be responsible and trustworthy people in society and part of an institution you would rely on for something.

    “Islanders ‘Fishman'” in the ticker made me crack a smile. Something I sorely needed this morning.

    A uniform (or at the very least, a dress code) actually does two things:
    1) Identify the employee to customers as an authority figure (which you mentioned), but also
    2) Identify nonconformists to other employees in secured, authorized “back of house” areas.

    While the need for former may be waning, the need for the latter seems to be increasing.

    Uniforms and dress codes are often criticized for being discriminatory or outright racist, so I imagine we’ll see fewer rules going forward.

    The ubiquity of tattoos and other forms of body modification suggests that a more effective statement of individuality might be to avoid them altogether.

    This is how I’ve always felt about goths wearing all black: attempting to show individuality by conforming to what amounts to a dress code.

    George Carlin once said, “It used to be that you’d get a tattoo so you’d be one of the few people with one. Now you get a tattoo so you won’t be one of the few people who don’t.”

    To me, one of the most interesting things in Paul’s write up was the characterization of tattoos.

    I am just one person (with a lot of tattoos), but I find it interesting that they’re still considered to be “personal expressions of ‘Look at me’ nonconformity.” Interestingly, the night I got my first session on my half sleeve, I sat up half the night worried that I have permanently changed the way the world saw me. Which, yeah, I guess is weird, and sort of a natural contradiction considering what I had knowingly taken on. I don’t know, I guess I never really thought of myself as being non-conformist?

    Sort of a fun topic for self-reflection. Thanks for the thought-provoking piece!

    There’s definately been a societal shift towards more acceptance of body modification over the last few years. When I got my first tattoos back in the 90s they were still seen as something associated with criminals, rebels and the less desirable areas of society. I kept them covered at work because I had a public-facing job and wanted to project a certain image, and that’s something I’ve always carried with me. These days, tattoos and piercings have become so ubiquitous that’s it’s almost more shocking to see someone without any – round these parts it’s not uncommon to see shop workers with full sleeves, throat or face tats and huge ear gauges.

    Agreed, Matt. All of mine are able to be covered with a long sleeve shirt. I guess that’s the newfangled compromise, where they don’t *have* to be visible if I feel like the situation doesn’t call for it.

    I remember a saying back in the 70s — “Don’t get a tattoo where the Judge can see it.”

    It very much depends where you are and what you do. I have been making sure that any of my tattoos are covered by a long sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up as when I graduate. Additionally, I’m probably going to have to take out my nose ring and earrings. I’m going into public accounting. Do these things affect my ability to work, no. I graduated with honors when I got my undergrad and am currently a masters student. But will the 50 year old firm partner look down on me for having earrings, yeah probably. So I’m gonna take em out

    I have link
    . It took me 10 years to get it. I waited so long because I was caught up with “how will others view me”, “hey this is permanent, so it better mean something!” and “how bad will it hurt”. I never considered getting a tattoo because it was “nonconforming”

    I’m on a gen X/millenial age grouper, but I really don’t look highly on extremely tattooed individuals in uniform. Of course, this is all my bias coming through, but if I see a police officer, for example, covered in tattoos, I’m going to make assumptions about them. In reality I know folks on all ends of the spectrum get them (heck, my wife has 3 of them now after getting one just yesterday), but I generally don’t view large tattoos/highly covered individuals in the post positive light.

    For better or worse, I’m probably going to make assumptions too. I am more apt not to think that they are non-conformist, but that they may police on the aggressive side.

    “…. then then Gary” – there is a duplicate then in the wall clock section

    That picture of Roy Wood Jr was from a show called The God Damn Comedy Jam that has been traveling around and I can’t reccomend it highly enough. Comedians and local celebs came out, did some comedy, sang a song with a live band. Great vibe and just a ton of fun.

    Also, awesome helmet Kevin and Gary! Just a fantastic addition to the all numerous UniWatch artifacts that most dot UWHQ.

    Ha Ha, must be a sign that I’m getting older when I looked for the Jordan jersey in today’s Uni Watch 23rd birthday graphic.

    I was hoping for an aerial view of the roof on Bubba Wallace’s Cup car.

    I was thinking this same thing. There is value in a uniform as a simple identification of someone who is an employee vs. a member of the general public, apart from any connotations of authority or conformity. Perhaps a simple name tag accomplishes the same purpose, but it is not as immediately visible and identifiable as a uniform. I don’t have any delusions that the person wearing a Burger King or Walmart uniform is particularly authoritative, conformist, or competent at their job simply because they are wearing a uniform. But it is helpful information to have.

    A.) I once worked for a employer who was contracted by a major cellphone company. I managed the warranty exchange department. We wore uniforms (potato sack brown shirts with black pants) while the employees of the cellphone company did not. Eventually, our dress code changed, and we wore “business casual”. We had the standard “no visible tattoos” policy (because tattoos were “unprofessional”, so employees who had tattoos on their arms and hands had to cover using long sleeves or Band-Aids. Even in the full heat of the summer.

    B.) More police forces are allowing their employees to have beards without the need of a “shaving waiver”. It still strikes me as odd to see a uniformed officer with a full beard.

    C.) Many moons ago when I was in the Air Force, I needed a shaving waiver because, as a black man, if I use a razor on my face, I get severe razor bumps. It was something that needed to be renewed annually. Since 2020, a shaving waiver lasts link.

    D.) Which brings me to the Yankees and any other sports team that has a mandatory shave policy. I wonder how/why that policy still remains, especially as it relates to HR law. I mean, we could have had link, if it wasn’t for the policy!

    Your last two points remind me of Gary Maddox who had a “beard waiver” from the Phillies in the 1970s. He had sensitive skin, apparently worsened by chemical exposure in the Vietnam war. Presumably the Yankees would do the same thing?


    You shouldn’t wear a tie with a short sleeved shirt.
    “But Sipowicz does it.”

    I think another reason why piercings, tattoos, certain hairstyles, and certain facial hairstyles are allowed now in certain jobs that would not previously have tolerated them is that certain job fields and geographic locations have more open positions to fill than viable candidates applying. Relaxing personal appearance standards broadens the field to include qualified people who otherwise might not apply for jobs requiring them to cut their hair, shave their beards, cover their tattoos, and so on.

    Yes — that’s why I wrote that police depts and military branches “are scrapping their bans on visible tattoos, because the bans were hurting their recruitment efforts.”

    Fortunately, for the same reason, some employers are not drug testing new hires. It’s beyond ridiculous to deny employment to someone who may have smoked weed in the past 30 days.

    Well unless you’re hiring a public safety dispatcher. Or a doctor. Or a pilot.

    The problem with weed testing is that the testing we have available does not test for weed in the sense that a breathalyzer tests for alcohol. It tests for roughly the last two weeks via hair sample. You could say that it’s OK to err on the precautionary principle but somehow I don’t think people would be happy if alcohol tests for pilots or doctors tested to see if they’ve had a drink in the last week and had “had a drink last Friday” be as firable an offense as coming to work drunk.

    I LOVE the postal pants and shorts. That navy piping. Mmmm. I tried to get a pair but found out you need a code to purchase federal uniforms. I’ll just have to go on wearing boring teacher clothes.

    I had never considered the cog theory – is that a known thing? To me a uniform tells me “Yes, I work for the company, I can take your money or information.” or helps me to find an employee when I need one.

    To an extent I think the combination can itself be an inherent message of a sort of “We take all types” attitude. Tattoos/piercings as a demonstration of individuality, but uniform as a demonstration of acceptance (there’s a reason people can become attached to uniforms as a symbol of status or acceptance – I’ve heard stories of baseball players getting emotional or even crying upon being issued their uniform).

    I’m usually more put off when I encounter a service provider in a uniform that looks cheap/isn’t well made, doesn’t fit well and/or is in need of ironing than I am by tattoos and piercings…though I’d prefer not to see those.

    I’m a Packers fan who finds Tommy Kramer’s urinal all in good fun. There are so many who need to heed Sgt. Hulka — “Lighten up, Francis.” Yesterday, I wrote a 40-years-ago-today local history FB post about the Packers defensive coordinator doing summer theater during his time off in 1982. A couple of Packers hardcores weighed in about how his defenses were terrible (when in fact they were not). Oh, come on. It’s been 40 years. LET IT GO.

    As always, Paul, your thought pieces are my favorites. Thanks for taking the time to do all your deep dives. Some of the best stuff I read on the regular.

    I think your piece today could be part of a larger discussion of individualism versus trust in institutions on the whole. That could go in a few different directions.

    I consider myself pretty progressive, but one area where I go against the 21st-century grain is I actually believe in the power of institutions, public, corporate and otherwise, and want them to be strong. I like the idea we have overarching rules and guidelines that promote fairness and doing good for and towards others. Accordingly, I actually prefer to choose to embrace a “uniform” look.

    Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge Brewers fan, for instance. And I’ve made it abundantly clear I’m the rare Brewers fan that’s kinda “over” the ball-and-glove logo. It’s not so clever to me that I don’t get sick of everyone else telling me how clever it supposedly is. I far preferred the 2000-19 logo set: I liked the shiny, old gold. I liked the script font. I liked the ‘M’ and the barley sprig. It was all very classy and straightforward. However, when the team made the change in 2020, I made the change with my apparel, too. Why? I root for and support the team, so if the team is making that choice, I’ll go along with it as part of supporting them. The way I see it, if that’s the way they’re choosing to represent themselves, and I’m choosing to support them, I should represent myself the way they choose to represent themselves, regardless of my own feelings. Otherwise, am I *really* supporting them?

    This occurs to me when I see fans choosing to call teams by nicknames they no longer use for native appropriation reasons or otherwise. Are you really supporting the team if you don’t even call the team by the name it’s choosing to go by?

    I do think there’s a certain grace, dignity and self-awareness to knowing one can express one’s individualism, yet choose to acquiesce and show one’s commitment to being part of a larger, institutional set of values, appearance included. It doesn’t mean you personally don’t have your own ideas about what the institution should and shouldn’t do, but it does show that, at the end of the day, you’ll go along with the overarching decision-making — unless things get so far from your core values that you decide to sever ties with the institution altogether.

    We live in the age of social media and personal branding. The attention economy gives likes and retweets for standing out, good or bad, incentivizing individual forms of expression. Accordingly, I know my way of thinking is almost antiquated — and yes, I will admit, I have no body modifications or tattoos, though I think I and we am/are (largely) societally beyond looking down upon people who have them.

    But I also think there’s a certain dignity and class to presenting one’s self in a way that says, “I’m here to be my best for the group, for everyone, not just for myself.” I wish we had more of that in our culture nowadays.

    I like it when I see someone wearing a uniform. It means they’re committed to doing their job well and helping that company. I also like it when I work for places that give a group of us something common to wear. It makes me feel like we’re all committed to working together because we do look similarly.

    I like the idea of being uniform. I wish we’d embrace that a little more.

    “But I also think there’s a certain dignity and class to presenting one’s self in a way that says, “I’m here to be my best for the group, for everyone, not just for myself.” I wish we had more of that in our culture nowadays.”

    Yes, please.

    “I made the change with my apparel, too. Why? I root for and support the team, so if the team is making that choice, I’ll go along with it as part of supporting them. The way I see it, if that’s the way they’re choosing to represent themselves, and I’m choosing to support them, I should represent myself the way they choose to represent themselves, regardless of my own feelings. Otherwise, am I *really* supporting them?”

    I’m a longtime now casual Sabres fan and can say I didn’t buy anything with the ‘goat head’ of ‘buffaslug’. Didn’t like either look and saw no good reason for the changes (other than a poor attempt at a money grab). Still was cheering for the team during those eras.

    If they were paying me instead of the other way around, I’d say go ahead and slap a pink unicorn logo on me for all I care. I don’t really think it is “the team” that is choosing to represent themselves that way. The team owners – sure, but anyone below that has little to no say.

    Are they paying you cash? No.

    But are they giving you other things of great value? Entertainment, a sense of community, a feeling as though you’re a part of something bigger than just yourself, a greater pride in your hometown? Yes. Those are things I value more than just about anything other than my wife.

    I see my teams as perhaps the most symbolic thing representing my hometown. Heck, my grandfather worked for Miller for decades. He was *literally* a Milwaukee brewer, in addition to being a baseball player and lifelong fan.

    For me, supporting the Brewers is more than just rooting for an owner or players. It’s rooting for everyone in the community my family has been in for over a century to have happy, successful lives, whether it be with the baseball team we have, the businesses we work for or anywhere else. It’s symbolic of something greater.

    I also see it as a matter of me rooting for the team as it is, not as it was, or as I want it to be. If you have kids, would tell them you wish they still looked and acted like they did when they were seven if you don’t like how they look and act when they’re 14? No, you love them and support them as they are. I don’t have kids, personally, but I have my teams and my community and I support them to the Nth, whether I think their logos are good or ugly and whether they’re in a good or bad place in the standings. Yes, within reason — trust me, it did take me a while to replace my old Brewers stuff with new stuff because discretionary income doesn’t grow on trees. But, in time, I did, because it’s important to me. As a fan and a community member, I see myself as a representative of the team. They’re giving me something I value greatly: Not cash, but something else.

    No, not all owners represent the team or community’s best interest. But many do, and I believe in the owners we have here in Wisconsin, particularly those who own the Packers. And I’ve always said that I think a sports team represents more than its owners, as outlined in this post.

    So yeah, I think that’s a kind of narrow view. I believe in the higher power of sports. Yes, it might be a bit Pollyannaish and pie-in-the-sky, but hey, it’s fun and it makes me happy.

    “sense of community … greater pride in your hometown”

    Since I’m in a smaller isolated city there are no professional teams here or near here. Maybe I’d feel something closer to what you do if the team I was cheering for was a team that was actually in my hometown.

    Sorry if it’s been covered previously (Grab Bag), but the Montgomery Co. (MD) Executive recently called for new police uniforms, in a lighter color (well, not black), to appear less threatening.


    Hmm, so many thoughts on this topic that I hope I’m able to express them properly.

    First off, just a quick thought on this section (also, while I realize this may seem like it’s veering off topic but I swear it ties in):

    “…they’re still generally considered to be culturally transgressive and still function primarily as personal expressions of “Look at me” nonconformity, a way of saying, “I’m different, I refuse to be confined by society’s silly guidelines, I don’t play by the usual rules, I do things my own way.”

    I can’t speak for piercings as I have none, but as someone who would probably be considered relatively heavily tattooed (a half-sleeve on my right forearm, medium to large tattoos on my right shoulder and right leg, and three tattoos on my inner-left forearm as of now, all of which are fully coverable if I so choose, but I rarely do so, even when I was working in an office setting prior to moving to WFH during COVID) as well as being involved in both local and online tattoo communities, I don’t think that there many who are actually tattooed for these reasons. If anything, in a macro sense they seem like the kind of justifications people (not saying you at all Paul, just generally speaking at the kind of people who don’t put nuanced thought into anything) would use to dismiss tattoos because they themselves would never get one (which is obviously a perfectly respectable choice on its own) but can’t understand why others would so it becomes easier to frame it as a “look at me” act of cultural defiance to be inherently sneered at by some as opposed to be a respectable choice.

    Now, where this links with the discussion on institutional service uniforms. I feel like 25-30 years ago, the same discussions would be had about someone in a service position with colored nail polish or (non-piercing) jewelry. It feels like the idea of visible tattoos and piercings is simply an evolution of those some discussions, as opposed to anything new.

    Overall, I must say I also think inherently, body modifications or etc. don’t send a “mixed message” about uniforms, because if anything does the uniform itself not dictate the message? If two employees are wearing the same uniform, should that not indicate that both live up to the standards of whatever the uniform represents, even if one is tattooed while the other is not? (At least that was the way uniforms were presented during training and etc. for the service industry jobs I worked in my younger years).

    Apologies for the long comment, and I hope I stayed sufficiently on topic.

    Side-note: Paul, are you familiar with the changes Disney made to their cast member guidelines last year after decades of protesting and etc. It all fits into the overall thesis here quite well. (I believe it was at least a Ticker item when it happened, though I can’t seem to locate it at the moment.

    The Mets “borough” hats are very interesting. It’s a cool concept (I’ve actually wanted NYCFC to create borough specific/inspired jerseys) but I gotta say strange execution.

    To make the unique “borough” aspect the shape of the borough is something that I would imagine might not stand out to most New Yorkers? If you asked me “what does Brooklyn or Queens look like”, I couldn’t tell you, and I don’t find it that distinctive or pride worthy? They kind of just look like blobs.

    To me it would make more sense to use landmarks, or even just write the borough name on the side in Mets font.

    For example:

    Brooklyn Bridge (Brooklyn)

    Verazanno Bridge (Staten Island)

    Skyline (Manhattan, something the Mets already use in secondary logos, or did)

    Unisphere (Queens)

    Botanical Garden Conservatory (Bronx)

    I used to work for a national grocery chain in the 90s that had a strict dress code: white shirt and tie, slacks and dress shoes for the men; company provided uniform smock and pants for the women. Men had to be clean-shaven, but could have a moustached that did NOT extend below the lip-line, hair could not be below the ear. I went through so many shirts and pairs of shoes, since the work for entry-level employees was more physical than the clothes were suitable for (cart-fetching, bagging, janitorial, painting, etc. The company finally wised up in the late 90s and switched to polo shirts and khakis for all employees, both men and women. Which is pretty much what one sees in a grocery store nowadays.

    go to a best buy or target and try to find someone out on the floor to help. You have you do a doublecheck to make sure you are talking to an employee and not some other customer who happened to be matching the “uniform”. People should be able to express themselves (while providing good service and representing the company), but to me, the uniform is not trying to make everyone uniform but a way to identify that person and someone that can authoritively help.

    I echo a few of the other commenters, in that I always thought corporate uniform was about visibility or identification. It provides access to non-public areas and allows “civilians” or customers to quickly identify the employees when they need assistance.
    I know this isn’t exactly what you were referring to but it is analogous: wear a suit/shirt & tie somewhere and see how many people approach to ask you if you are the manager?
    or wear a red polo shirt to a Target store. Let me know if you walk 25 feet before someone asks you if there is any more baby formula available out back or if you know when the next delivery is arriving? :)

    The police in my area all wear ball caps and it so looks very unprofessional, I miss the old hats they used to where.
    I think New York police still have the style that I’m referring to.
    When we go visit family in Italy the police over there are dressed to the nines, awesome!

    When I went to the Mayo Clinic for a physical, I noticed they still have strict grooming rules. The doctors and others all wear coat & ties, or similarly dressy clothes for women. No extra piercings, and those in scrubs have to cover up tattoos with sleeves or turtlenecks in their skin color. Wearing long sleeves or turtlenecks seems strange in Arizona, even though they are obviously in A/C buildings. I don’t care about tattoos, but a large percentage of their clientele are older people.

    “…but they looked really weird when worn with a bland corporate-cog uniform whose design is based on clothing standards from the 1950s”

    There’s a very useful thought in this paragraph. Uniforms remind the wearer that they’re part of the machine. They can be used to strip individuality and emphasize that you’re one (replaceable) part of the team.

    Just like coaches like to say that you’re playing for the name on the front, not the name on the back.

    Tattoo / hair / piercing / grooming polices do the same thing. You’re not an individual, you’re a cog.

    I haven’t worked for minimum wage in a long time, but minimum wage workers have it hard enough these days without being reminded (by uniforms and dress codes) that their individuality is not important.

    About 12 years ago, I wore a suit to a job interview.The interviewer, who was not wearing one, told me to take off the jacket and tie. Not long before that, I went to my son’s graduation. I was one of only a very few wearing a suit. I have no problem with basketball coaches wearing causal gear instead of suits. I’m glad these standards have been relaxed.

    “now exploring alternatives to the weeklong Pro Bowl celebration, which could include the elimination of the traditional tackle game”

    If league officials watched the game this year they’d know the traditional tackle game has already left the building.

    Here’s something to add to Paul’s take on uniforms versus personal expression:

    I used to have a neighbor who was a Marine and his job was to visit local college campuses as a recruiter. He told me once that one frustrating aspect of his job was that a number of students he’d talk to who showed interest in the Corp would have made “perfect Marines” except for one small problem: they had tattoos on forearms or other parts of the body that would not be concealed by a short-sleeved uniform, and thus were ineligible. He mentioned that this would not be a problem for the other services branches, but the Marines wanted to project a more “professional image”.

    I wonder if this policy will be changed in the near future?

    Merriam-Webster defines the noun UNIFORM this way:

    dress of a distinctive design or fashion worn by members of a particular group and serving as a means of identification

    That says enough for me. Hair, other accoutrement, sneakers, etc., do only one thing. Break the uniformity.

    “I made the change with my apparel, too. Why? I root for and support the team, so if the team is making that choice, I’ll go along with it as part of supporting them. The way I see it, if that’s the way they’re choosing to represent themselves, and I’m choosing to support them, I should represent myself the way they choose to represent themselves, regardless of my own feelings. Otherwise, am I *really* supporting them?”

    I’m a longtime now casual Sabres fan and can say I didn’t buy anything with the ‘goat head’ of ‘buffaslug’. Didn’t like either look and saw no good reason for the changes (other than a poor attempt at a money grab). Still was cheering for the team during those eras.

    If they were paying me instead of the other way around, I’d say go ahead and slap a pink unicorn logo on me for all I care. I don’t really think it is “the team” that is choosing to represent themselves that way. The team owners – sure, but anyone below that has little to no say.

    It’s a pendulum swing. We’ve been down this road before. Look at the fashions of the 60s/70s and the preppy look of the 80s. The pendulum is already swinging back (like the NY restaurant dress codes). Interestingly, the swing back may come more from private businesses (like the restaurants) than from public organizations like the USPS, the military, etc.

    Uniforms are identifying outfits: I wear this uniform so you know what I do for which company or service. Or sports team. An uniform tells you what you can expect from the person wearing it. Tattoos, facial hair, make-up or other individual expressions may deter from that signal to some of us. But not for me: the uniform, colorful or bland, playful or intimidating, informs me of the function of the wearer and what can and should be expected from that person. Get my lost luggage back, take my cat out of the tree, tell me how many months I will live, where do I find sunflower seeds, will you hit a homerun next time at the plate?

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