Of Uniforms and Ritual

Many things have changed since mid-March. Some of us are working from home; some of us are unemployed; a few of us are performing essential services and exposing ourselves daily to Coronavirus risk. Everyone’s life has changed.  Even those of us who have always been solitary artists have seen some change. Everybody feels off-balance, not exactly knowing what the next step might be. Part of the reason that we are feeling the way we are is the absence of uniforms and ritual in our current lives.

A friend of mine says that all successful people dress in uniforms. She did not mean, of course, literal uniforms, but rather that people whom she considers successful dress so that every day they are dressed similarly, whatever way that happens to be. For some that may be a sports jacket, button-up shirt, and jeans; for others it may be a two-piece suit. For Steve Jobs it was Levis black 501 jeans and a black mock turtle-neck shirt; the shirts were designed specifically for him by Japanese designer Issey Miyake.

Many of us developed “uniforms” that we wore pre-pandemic. One of the first things that happened when we were compelled to stay at home was the abandonment of our uniforms. Many of us quickly opted for T-shirts and pajama bottoms. Comfort seemed to be the order of the day, and changing clothes was just a ridiculous concept. However, a man I know who is one of the best-adjusted newly at-home workers I know told me that he just changed uniforms. Needless to say, he is a firm believer in the uniform concept evinced by Steve Jobs. He says that he adopted yoga pants (the loose ones—very comfortable, but a little more stylish than pajama pants or shorts) and a polo shirt, which enables him to be “camera ready” for the unannounced Skype, Zoom, or Teams calls. And shoes; he says the shoes (sneakers) are very important to feeling “dressed.” That’s his work-from-home outfit; it’s very different from his pre-pandemic wear. He says that when he’s off work, he changes clothes to help him differentiate work time and personal time. He also says having a uniform helps with his outlook and attitude.

A second thing that changed in March was our set of rituals. We all had developed personal rituals that we went through every day. Some were consciously developed; others were unconscious. Some of us did a quiet time or meditation every morning before we began our work day. Others of us went through the ritual of coffee, shower, breakfast, commute as a beginning to our days.

Suddenly, our routines changed and not only were we disconcerted and disoriented by the pandemic and its implications, but we are also absent our daily rituals that helped us begin and get through the day. This, of course, led to even more disorientation and distress. We were hit by a tsunami and at the same time became untethered from our moorings. Is it any wonder that many of us felt lost?

The good news is that we can adopt new uniforms and develop new rituals. We might do well to remember Karl Lagerfeld’s famous quote about sweatpants, which also applies to pajamas: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” Uniforms don’t have to be “dressy” or what we wore when we “went to work,” but they can reflect a style and an attitude that moves us forward.

Likewise we can add ritual to our day. We certainly do not have to “go to work” to have ritual in our existence; we just have to tailor the little pieces of our behavior to our current situation and then repeat those behaviors until they become rituals that inform our days. The thing about rituals is, at least according to Scientific American, is they work. We certainly don’t have to do the same things in the same order that we used to, but it would be well to do the same things in the same order every day.  The routine and the ritual thus established will comfort us if nothing else.

Many think that the pandemic will be with us for a while, certainly far longer than any of us would like. Perhaps developing new rituals and adopting a uniform that matches our new mode of working will help us cope with this new and still-unsettling way of life.

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Date: Sunday, 10. May 2020 21:41
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