Opinion
9:56 am
Thu December 23, 2010

Commentary: Dress for Success

I don’t know Jim Stamas personally. He is a state representative from Midland who will be the majority floor leader when the new legislature takes office next month.

He’s a fairly conservative Republican, and I’d guess that on some policy issues we might disagree. But he did something this week I thought totally appropriate. He is bringing back a dress code for the legislature. He thinks members ought to wear business attire when they are doing the people’s business.

And I totally agree. Now I am anything but a clothes snob myself, and I doubt that Stamas is either. He’s a 43-year-old guy who used to run the family pizza business. My wardrobe consists mostly of a bunch of not very interesting suits, which I hope are slightly less  baggy than the ones the Soviet leaders used to wear.

But I think it is important to show some respect for institutions and for the people who are paying you, and who you represent.

Democracy is, after all, sacred to us in a secular way. Michigan has a more magnificent and impressive Capitol building than most states, and Stamas thinks those elected to govern the people ought not to do their work in this ornate marble temple wearing cutoffs.

That may sound stuffy, but I don’t think it is. Our lawmakers do serious work that impacts millions of lives, sometimes dramatically. They enact tax increases, cancel scholarships, end or create jobs and programs, There also have been a number of studies that show that how people dress while on the job affects how they regard the work they are doing. Over the next year, Michigan lawmakers are going to have to make difficult and painful choices.

The budget crisis may end up leading them to raise my taxes or cause me to get less in the form of services.

I may be able to accept that I have to pay a lot more for my license plates, if that were to happen. But I’d find it less acceptable if I saw on TV that the legislators voting to raise my taxes were doing so in jeans and coffee-stained sweatshirts. Now I don’t know all the details of Stamas’s dress code. I assume he wouldn’t have any problem with an elegant dashiki, and I doubt if he would throw Governor-elect Snyder off the floor for wearing his now-familiar open-necked shirt.

What I think he’ s trying to do here is institute a little self-respect for any members that need reminding. Most of them probably don’t need a dress code at all. But there are always exceptions.

I’m probably a little more sensitive about this because I run a university internship program. You might assume you wouldn’t have to tell college students how to dress in a professional setting.

But you would often be wrong. Some of my students have had to learn the hard way that many employers don’t want to see your nose and tongue rings. Nor your tattoos.

Imagine that. I’ll be interested to see if Stamas gets any resistance to requiring the lawmakers to dress appropriately. And  if this works, I wonder if he might consider adding another rule … one requiring lawmakers to show a certain amount of common sense.