By Akumbu Uche
What’s not to love about jeans? The uniform of the young and trendy, they come in different fits (from the tight ‘skinny’ to the baggy ‘boyfriend’), different styles (distressed, acid-wash, dark rinse) and different colours (red, yellow and even lemon green).
A moneymaking industry, many a clothing company, from the likes of Gap to Earnest Sewn, has made net-topping revenue from the sales of jeans and denim alone. Hip-hop stars such as Nelly and P.Diddy even cashing in on the trend with the launch of their clothing lines.
Jeans are now ubiquitous. Look to your left, look to your right and you will certainly spot them standing in the airport queues, lounging in hotel chaises, jumping over gutters, walking up the cathedral steps, hiding under hijabs and jellabias, racing after molues, seated astride a motorcycle, et cetera.
However, there is still a place where jeans are an absolute no-no: The Office.
The office is many things to many people. A sanctuary away from the nagging spouse and unruly kids; a place where salacious gossip and verbal warfare are exchanged beside the water cooler; a mate-hunting ground; a free internet cafe. You get the picture.
In terms of fashion, style and clothing, the office is not just a place for business. It is show business defined. Let me explain.
For many an office-goer, the hallway equals the runway. After all, it inspired the creation of the business suit.
Since our streets and roads are a geographical mish-mash of craters, wetlands and mini-forests, the office is the only place, where we can wear those five-inch heels without tearing a tendon and let our wide-legged palazzo pants (you know they are coming back in style) sweep the floor with reckless abandon.
Where else can our men try out those snazzy ties, mod suits and Italian brogues depicted in the pages of GQ?
That Power-point presentation might as well be a casting-call. Chances are your bosses will be as interested in your facial profile as they are in your slides. So powder, primp and polish with products worth at least a month’s salary. Remember, only the brightest shade of Mary Kay lipstick will help you pontificate.
Lunchtime is akin to the talk show circuit, a one-hour time slot that allows us to brag about “who” we are wearing.
“No Ofada rice for me please”, your co-worker politely declines your offer to buy lunch. “I don’t want stew to stain my limited edition Kate Moss for Topshop blazer”, is her explanation.
Now you know why many youth corps members are shunning those interior locations that both the missionaries and development conveniently forgot in favour of joining the white-collar workforce in our overcrowded cities. It’s all about the clothes, baby.
However, I digress.
Recently, I visited a well-known Abuja based NGO. Yours truly was decked out in a monochrome ensemble – pencil skirt, black and white paisley print blouse and a pair of Mary Jane flats. I looked the epitome of corporate chic.
Imagine my dismay at the hordes of people, including top-level executives parading about in jeans. Jeans at the office? Where had the power suits and killer heels of days before gone? Apparently, I had walked in on a Friday. Casual Friday. Dress-down Friday.
Yes, dear reader, I know. Fridays are the days you close at 12 noon, the days you do your weekend shopping, the days when you leave town for a romantic weekend getaway with your sugar daddy/boyfriend/fiancé(e). Nevertheless, it is not a good enough reason to dress less than your best.
With the exception of blue-collar workers and several outdoors/artisan careers, jeans at the office are simply not acceptable. No matter how new or designer they are, they are not, I repeat, proper office attire on any day of the week. Leave them at home, please.
They make us look lazy, sloppy and tired. Jeans encourages the I-just-rolled-out-of –bed-and-grabbed-the-very-first-thing I saw look. Instead of looking smart casual, we look like we are dressed to run Saturday morning errands or take a leisurely Sunday stroll.
Even worse, it encourages that slouchy, hangover-ish attitude that leads to missing files, misplaced folders and incompetent performance.
On Dress-down Fridays, people are more likely to look dishevelled, unkempt, make irrational decisions, come late, get into arguments and behave all together unprofessional, all because they are inappropriately dressed. As the French would say, “cherchez la femme, ahem, le jean”.
In our glossies, the Hollywood starlets and style icons effortlessly pair the most casual of jeans (and shorts and leggings) with bold statement footwear and vintage accessories while balancing a scalding cup of coffee, a dog-leash and grocery shopping.
(It is interesting that this same Hollywood produces shows such as Mad Men)
In real life, the vast majority of us are so used to dressing down and unwinding with jeans that we do not even try to give it that extra oomph only the genetically/robotically fashionable can muster.
To keep your Friday look chic, smart and yet relaxed, go for a trendy cut dress made out of Ankara. If wearing pants, choose tailored, form fitting trousers or capris in dark, such as blue or neutral tones like gray and khaki.
Take the example of a young woman I met at Utako market recently. I could picture her perfectly at ease in front of the office computer and yet trendy enough to head out for a drink and a movie after closing time.
Her outfit? A black lacy top, slim khaki trousers and strappy sandals. Now, that is what I call a casual Friday look.