Will America join Japan and adopt "Super Cool Biz" this summer? That's the name of the program announced on June 1 in Japan which encourages office employees to dress down for the summer to save energy. The Japanese are famously formal in the workplace when it comes to attire and suit/tie is ordinarily de rigueur for salarymen everywhere. However, because of the tsunami-caused energy challenges in that country employees and managers are being urged to go casual for the hot season. We're not talking about no-tie casual, but rather Aloha shirts, jeans and sandals casual.
Actually, the "Cool Biz" program was first introduced in 2005 in Japan as a way to combat global warming. Compliance was slow the first year but it has gained more acceptance in past years and now in 2011 because of the potential energy shortages expected there this summer the government has added the adjective "Super" to its name as a way to add new emphasis to the program. With that trend, perhaps next year it will be called "Seriously Awesome Super Cool Biz." That would be super cool in itself.
While the government in Tokyo is asking companies to set office temperatures at a very warm 82 degrees, some Japanese employees will still be a bit reticent to dress way down because it's such a break with tradition. Americans, on the other hand, tend to have no such qualms. Many of our workplaces have featured things like casual Fridays and Jeans Day for years and in many offices it's casual every day. I'm pretty sure we have a whole generation of young men entering the workforce who do not know how to tie a tie or how to shine their own shoes ("Dude—these things need to be polished???").
While a more casual workplace dress has some benefits, it's also a slippery slope and has led to the decline of societies. The Romans, for instance, were conquered when many of the Roman soldiers decided to dress down and wear togas instead of body armor to work because of the hot Italian summers, making them easy pickings for the Visigoths on the battlefield. The Visigoths are long gone but equally bad things could happen here without appropriate vigilance.
Therefore, at the risk of contributing to big government, I'm calling on the President to establish the "Office of Sartorial Appropriateness" and to appoint a czar to head it up. And, ahem, I know just the person who could do a great job of preventing the thin veneer of civilization to be peeled away as a result of the potential race to the bottom in office attire.
In raising the bar, some apparel indiscretions will be automatically punishable by fines, such as showing up for work wearing a ball cap backwards, unless one's work is that of baseball catcher. And preventing this fashion atrocity is good for business since there's compelling evidence that wearing a ball cap backwards instantly reduces the wearer's IQ by up to 70%. Businesses need all the brain power they can muster in this globally competitive dog-eat-dog so it's a win-win: it keeps employees' gray matter intact and it reminds everyone they are at work and not at a garage sale.
Also verboten in the cubicles will be hockey jerseys (seriously—does this look like an ice rink?), rock band tour oh-boy-I-was-there faded souvenir tee-shirts (I like Green Day too but I don't care that they played Akron in 2006) and other assorted fashion misjudgments. Since Steve Jobs is worth a trillion dollars and rules the world, the jeans and black turtleneck thing will be on the approved look list. However, anyone showing up for work wearing a hoodie will be reprimanded by the company's Clothing Compliance Officer no matter how many times Mark Zuckerberg is seen in photos wearing one. Besides, he can afford to pay the fine for the violation—you probably can't.
But the Office of Sartorial Appropriateness (OSA) is not just about no-no-no, as attractive as that might seem to disciples of Dwight Shrute. It's also about aspiration. It's about using the bully pulpit to uplift and to propel people to higher standards. Casual Fridays? So yesterday. Soon during the cooler months the czar (ahem) will encourage companies to sponsor Formal Fridays, that day of the week where the guys wear their tuxes to the office and the women wear the iconic black cocktail dress or perhaps something more long sleeved and formal. Staff meetings will look like a GQ shoot.
And to further motivate our nation's employees, the OSA, in borrowing from former President Ford's use of the WIN button, will distribute WSN buttons—Whip Slovenry Now! They will not need to be worn on Formal Fridays as the pins might damage the tuxes and gowns, but we should wear them proudly on other work days.
Hopefully, these modest proposals excite you as much as they do me. Now excuse me while I go look for my cummerbund.
Mike Hoban is a management consultant in his day job and can be contacted at email@example.com.