Gerry's News Digest 74: Dress codes (2), April Fool's Day truth and fiction (April 8, 2011)
Hi, this is Gerry and welcome to my News Digest for Friday, 8th April, 2011. A new month already - the month of the royal wedding. A brief mention of that will come up later in the show when I give you some examples of the April Fool's Day jokes that were played in the press this year. I'm going to start this show with a continuation of the topic of dress codes that I started last time. How is one to know what is an appropriate way to dress in today's world?
But just before we settle down to think about our wardrobe  I'd like to make a little request on behalf of  my colleagues who run Podclub for us all. As you probably know, this service is offered by the Migros Club Schools that are, in turn, subsidised by the Migros' cultural percentage, that little levy  that you pay whenever you shop at the Migros. A journalist from the Migros cultural service wants to write a feature  about Podclub, the team of podcasters and our listeners. He can't contact you directly of course, and so he's asking any of you who would be willing to talk to him briefly about why you listen to this show or my parallel show, Gerry's Diary, to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your email address or a telephone number so that he can get back in touch with you. That's kontakt spelt the German way: k-o-n-t-a-k-t, @podclub.ch. Thanks in advance to anybody who's ready to do so.
On my last show I started talking about dress codes, and in particular regulations or guidelines about what we should wear to work. I talked about how strict the rules about clothes used to be when I was a child. I had a strictly defined uniform that I had to wear to go to school. My father and all his colleagues followed strict customs about the clothes that they wore to go to work and for social occasions. Women used to wear hats and gloves for any kind of formal occasion and that included going to church, the theatre or restaurants. After I started work, I think I always wore a jacket and tie until I came to Switzerland in the 1980s.
In Switzerland I found a different attitude at that time. On the one hand, people seemed to dress more informally. When I went to the bank, for example, I'd be served by young men in very informal clothes. There were no school uniforms. On the other hand, people seemed to be more fashion-driven, especially the women. I'd never been conscious in Britain of what the season's fashion happened to be for women, but when I came to Zurich it was easy to see because all the women seemed to follow fashion. Suddenly when I went for lunch in the office canteen, all the women were wearing a particular colour, for example. Orange, I remember, was very in  for about a year in the late 1980s and the canteen was full of it - almost like a Dutch football game.
It's maybe a sign of increasing globalisation but I have the impression that the differences in dress style between, say, London and Zurich are not so great today as then. I think you can see differences in the quality of clothing, which reflects different levels of pay, but I seem to think the Swiss have got a bit more formal and the British a bit more informal, and they've met somewhere in the middle.
I mentioned at the beginning of my piece on the last show, that my thoughts on this topic had been kicked off by the publication of the UBS dress code for its employees. So why should a dress code be thought necessary?
I have a number of possible reasons. One is the rise of women employed in businesses such as banks that have traditionally expected a certain level of formality in the dress of their employees. Whereas men have always had a sort of uniform, namely the dark two- or three piece suit, a shirt that's plain (in a limited variety of light colours) or striped , with a tie and black shoes, women's clothing is potentially much more varied. Should they wear clothes that look as much like the men's as possible - dark colours, jackets, etc? But what about trousers? Skirts used to be the norm. Then, if they wear skirts, what, if anything, should cover the skin of their legs? Bare legs are often deemed  unacceptable. I haven't got a copy of the UBS dress code but I suspect that it says more about women's clothing than about men's.
Another possible reason for the new trend towards regulating dress is the modern business world's concern with image. How a company appears to its clients and partners is now considered very important. Bank employees in Britain who deal directly with the public often wear an actual uniform these days. This is also a matter of status. The managers don't wear uniforms, only the cashiers and so on.
Another factor in recent developments has been America. Although we Europeans tend to think of Americans being easy-going and informal in their dealings with each other, this is not always true. Granted  that Americans will address you by your first name and will be very friendly in an apparently informal manner, there are other aspects of their society that are highly formalised. I told you on the last show about the trouble my brother-in-law had with his suits - they weren't American enough for his company. This was in New England, one of the more socially conservative parts of the country, one that includes New York of course. New York financial institutions have traditionally favoured a very conservative style of dress, but on Fridays they introduced in recent times the concept of "dress-down Friday" or "casual  Friday". This meant that on the last day of the working week, when you often didn't have so many appointments, you were allowed to wear more casual clothes. The interesting thing is, however, that this is also subject to  a dress code. You're not free to wear what you want; you are required to conform to a particular look. Another change in America has been the enormous growth of the new West-Coast-based companies: Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook and so on. These companies are famous for being staffed by young people with a very different dress sense from the denizens  of Wall Street. They come to work in tee shirts and jeans. These new companies are successful models for a lot of other businesses, so is it a good thing to copy both their management practices and their dress codes?
The final point that I'd make about dress codes today, is that it's not only at work where there have been changes or where you find a range of styles. If you go to a social event these days, you're also likely to be confronted with a clash  of styles. Older people still tend to wear their best, formal clothes when they go to the opera or to a fine restaurant. Some restaurants in London indeed still insist on men wearing ties. But younger people have different ideas about what's appropriate. I think they're less concerned to dress in a way that society as a whole has decided is appropriate; they're more likely to dress in a way that they and their friends think looks good.
With this range of dress possibilities from formal business to informal casual via business casual or smart casual, etc. it's perhaps no wonder that companies think they have to tell their employees what to wear, but as we saw with the UBS dress code, it's not so easy to impose rules or guidelines. Most people would prefer to consult the fashion pages of their favourite magazine than a guide produced by their employer when it comes to deciding what they put on in the morning.
Were there many April Fool's Day tricks in your papers or on television this year? The ones I spotted  over here included a couple of pieces in the paper inspired by the upcoming royal wedding. The Guardian newspaper, which is sort of left-leaning , and certainly not the most royalist of journals, devoted an editorial  to the wedding and explained that although in the past the paper had flirted with republicanism, it had had a change of heart . Now instead of ignoring or even criticising the royal wedding, it was bringing back all its top reporters from around the world to bring the readers 24-hour rolling coverage  of the preparations for the wedding and the ceremony itself. A special royal wedding blog was being set up. Perhaps more eye-catching  was the photograph in the Daily Mail newspaper that apparently showed Kate Middleton shopping for baby clothes in Kensington, but if you read the accompanying report it soon became clear that the photo was probably a good example of what you can do with Photoshop. BMW also ran an advert advertising a special royal wedding edition of the BMW M3 with the M3 badge manipulated to read Will.
On a different subject the Independent had a full page story about how Portugal was selling Cristiano Ronaldo to Spain for 170 million euros as part of its government's efforts to reduce the national debt. I quite liked that one. On the radio, a well-known comedian, who does impressions  of other people, spent two hours impersonating the usual man who does the show. It finished with him inviting the real radio presenter into the studio and introducing him as his brother - all very confusing! And fun.
The trouble with April Fool's Day jokes is that we live in such a crazy world that people begin to think that some of the real stories in the papers that day were also jokes, when they weren't. So, for example, we read that day that President Sarkozy's bodyguards carry armour-plated umbrellas to protect him in the event of an attack. The umbrellas can reduce the force of bullets and are knife-proof. Oh yes, and they cost £10,000 each. Then we learnt that a flock of 50 chickens was running wild and terrorising the population of a quiet street in an English town. The previous owner had moved or something and put these poor birds out onto the street where they went looking for food and making a lot of noise very early in the morning. The police have since moved them on. True stories, both of them, it seems. As we say, truth can be stranger than fiction. And on that uncertain note, I have to leave you.
If you are willing to talk to the journalist that would be very good. But for now, thanks for listening and until the next time, take care!
 wardrobe: here: your choice of clothes
 on behalf of: in the name of (somebody) (to help them)
 levy: an amount of money that you have to pay (like a tax)
 feature: here: article concentrating on a special subject
 in: here: fashionable
 plain or striped: with no pattern (just one colour) or with lines of different colours
 deemed: considered
 granted: you use this expression when you want to admit that something is true
 casual: relaxed and informal
 (be) subject to: (be) in a situation where you have to obey some rule or law
 denizens: people who live in a place or are usually to be found there
 clash: a situation where different things don't go well together, a fight between two or more sides
 spot: to notice
 left-leaning: tending to be on the left wing of politics
 editorial: a piece in a newspaper that explains the opinion of the newspaper's editor (the person in charge of the newspaper)
 a change of heart: a change of opinion (when the opinion is about something that you feel strongly about)
 rolling coverage: non-stop reporting
 eye-catching: very noticeable
 impressions: here: when somebody copies somebody else's voice and way of behaving