Uh-oh. Something was up. Worse, I had absolutely no idea what it was. Did that idiot attorney complain because I'd been chasing him for that court document so I could cancel his bond? Was that lazy-ass property manager whining because after a solid month of no follow-up from him, I had to give him a deadline to do his freaking job? What? WHAT WAS IT?
My mind was racing through all the possible things I could have done that would warrant a Private Talk. What freaked me out was that I had no idea, none, of anything that would, and if you've been in this situation (and I have at this company, way more times than I'd like), you know that whatever it is will be so mind-blowingly insane and/or irrational that it's beyond the realm of your control, would not ever cross your mind to consider it an issue.
I walked into the room and my supervisor had some papers on the table before her (Termination letter? Written complaint about me? Shit, what was this?!?)
Here's what it was folks. I'm not kidding.
"I hate to be the bearer of bad news..." she began.
(Are the insane? They're going to FIRE me? Do they have any idea how suicidal that is?!?!?)
"...but I have to talk to you about your clothes. Seems you're in violation of the dress code."
I have to hand it to the people who run my department. They manage, every single time, to blindside me with their seemingly bottomless ability to fastball the bullshit.
So I answered the only way I could think to.
"Yeah, seems the dress code (here she handed me one of the sheets of paper, pointing) "doesn't allow leggings." All of this said with a sympathetic grimace, as though it pained her to do this, really, but....
Yes, the dress code did say that. The dress code, which is fair and general and not assholey in any way, is designed to keep people from abusing Business Casual by taking it to Beach Casual. However, the mention of leggings was in a context with other clothing (e.g., sweatpants) that made it clear that they meant leggings worn alone, as trousers. Here's what I was wearing (I apologize for the quality -- a co-worker took it surreptitiously on his iPhone).
"So, if I took the leggings off, and had bare legs, I'd then not be violating the dress code?
I know this sounds insane, so let me explain what's really going on here.
The head of the department is a bitter, petty, immature woman who takes pleasure in being a tyrant for its own sake. She's large. She personifies dowdy. She looks like a nun who left the convent and has gone shopping at the mall for coordinates. The supervisor, with whom I was meeting, is a pretty nice, fun person, but who unfortunately has accepted the role of Tyrant's lapdog. She's a bit more stylish, but she's made the kind of condescending comments about clothing ("now THAT's a nice dress!") that make it clear that I need some kind of guidance to dress in a manner of which she and the boss approve.
I, of course, can think of nothing more awful than to dress like them. Both of these women are in their 60s. The Tyrant shows it less, what with obesity and a steady diet of souls keeping her skin plump and wrinkle-free, but they are aging people who made a life of corporate insurance, so you can guess just how many chances they take, period, let alone with their wardrobes. Me? I treat getting dressed like putting on a costume. I have fun. I play. I wear necklaces made from bottle caps. My stuff matches, and it might not be your style, but I don't violate dress codes or normal standards of decency. I'm an artist, I'm creative, and it shows. I also work on a floor where clients are never brought, and I'm not an Executive Assistant. I don't get paid to represent executives to clients, and I don't get paid to have the wardrobe that entails.
So what this is about is that head of the department doesn't like my style (mostly, I think, because it reflects a satisfaction in my own life that pays no homage to what she thinks is right and proper and the way she'd do it, which is of course a type of personal threat to her authority), and has found some pretense to sic her first-in-command on me. What blows every last neuron is the notion that someone took the time to build such a petty grudge that she looked up the dress code to find a loophole that would let her condemn my personal style in the guise of enforcing a corporate dress code that any reasonable person would see I was not violating, and then present it to me as something they HAD to do, much as it pained them.
I knew this, and I knew that my best strategy was to play stupid, not let them know I was onto their bullshit. So I thanked my supervisor, graciously declined her offer to let me keep a copy of the dress code, and went back to my desk. I then called a contact of mine in HR and explained the situation, and she agreed it was ridiculous. However, in order for me to have my wardrobe reviewed, I'd have to go through channels and well, the thing is, I'm not an employee of this company; I'm a permanent subcontractor employed by another company who outsources to them. So the department head can let me go for any reason she likes, and any whiff of a challenge to her authority would make life hell.
No I have a better plan, and it is this: I am going to play their game and beat them at it, which will be so much more satisfying.
Tights. Tights are OK, as was pointed out to me. So tomorrow I shall start wearing garments that I'd considered too bright, too fancy for office wear, and I'm going to put them on. With tights. Colored tights. Tomorrow is a pink-and-orange ballerina-style dress with a flouncy skirt. With it I shall of course wear pale-green tights and my shiny red shoes. There will be nothing about the clothing that will violate the dress code, and I will revel in it. My co-workers are outraged by the situation, and are excited to see what I'll come in wearing. I'm glad I found those non-leather ostrich-toe cowboy boots at DSW last week, and I'm glad I still have that lime-green velvet Betsey Johnson dress. Oh! and the 1970s bright-blue Korean polyester shirt with the pink and orange flowers.
Yes, it's going to be quite a fashion parade at work. I wonder how many used bridesmaids dresses I can find at Salvation Army. OH! Muslim wear at the SA on Devon! Yes!
Man, they are going to miss my leggings.