When a T-shirt says too much

June 19, 2007, 1:52 AM UTC

A recent “Since You Asked” from Cary Tennis at Salon that’s a must-read. A question came in from someone who wanted to know if it was all right for his female co-worker — who is “a no-kids, no-drink, no-drugs, sings-in-the-choir-and-plays-the-piano kind of girl” — to wear a T-shirt to work bearing the words “Kitty Not Happy.” (Particularly after having just announced to the entire office that her marriage wasn’t working.)

If that weren’t enough, the letter ends with one of the more hilarious closings in recent memory: “Personally, if I were her husband and she went out of the house wearing this, or even wore it at home, come to think of it, I would want to give her a good slapping. Am I a bad person?” (Which is obviously not to say that spousal abuse is amusing, only that someone posing this hypothetical, phrased this way, in this day and age, is.)

That said, if I showed up at work in a “Kitty Not Happy” shirt, I’d want somebody to give me a good slapping. And the reader brings up a good general point. The twentysomethings of today’s business world, given the option, are less formal and more adventurous in their work attire. (I’m no exception today, with my chandelier earrings, flip-flops, and neon nail polish. It’s summer, and I’m a writer. What do you want from me? :o) Even the T-shirt-under-a-blazer look can push boundaries, depending on what’s emblazoned across your chest.

But “Kitty Not Happy”? This seems extreme, even to me. Cary, on the other hand, waxes characteristically philosophical on the whole matter: “It is a good thing for problems such as this to come up in the workplace…. Otherwise, if in our daily lives we deny the humanity of our fellow workers, we are not living in the country we say we are living in. We are lying to ourselves.”

While I’m all for acknowledging the humanity of our fellow workers and whatnot, as far as I’m concerned, this is more a question of how “Kitty” wants her fellow workers to see her. At the moment, she wants to share and she probably thinks it’s cute. But how cute will it be when she’s having her evaluation or interviewing for a promotion and her boss asks, “How’s Kitty doing?”

It’s not fair, and as we all learned in high school, it isn’t nice to judge people this way. But it’s still the reality. And it’s also a question of respect, both getting and showing it. Just the way you wouldn’t have worn a tube top and cutoffs to English class lest your ancient teacher be offended, you wouldn’t want your boss to think that you had so little regard for him or her that you don’t mind talking Kitty in his or her vicinity. That’s the kind of recognition you don’t need.

Not to mention the other key issue — namely, telling your officemates all your romantic business. But we’ll have to come back to that. As for taking a sartorial stand in the office with my tees, I think I’ll stick to Wonder Woman and Thundercats, and leave Kitty’s emotional state out of it. What about you?


And for those in need of a multimedia fix, a video editorial I just did for BetterManagement.com on this crazy little thing we call Gen Y.

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