Entries in culture (118)


Work Wear: Context and Evolution

  The portion of my closet dedicated to business suits. June 2013.

I’ll know I’ve made it when I can toss all my dressy corporate clothes and wear workout gear full time.

Fortunately, I have slowly grown increasingly more flexible in my work attire, thanks to gradually evolving circumstances: maturity, location, and level of accomplishment. And setting sometimes adds an extra advantage.


When I started my first company, I dressed in a business suit every single day. Partly, this came from a need to counter people’s ageist tendencies: I needed to look older to have other professionals take me seriously.


I started FrogDog in Chicago. Since then, I’ve lived and grown the company in London and in Houston. In the process, I’ve learned that different regions have distinct takes on acceptable professional attire.

In London, stylish and well-tailored clothing—predominantly business suits—connoted status. Chicago didn’t expect the same level of formality as London, but you’d never mistake business attire for casual wear.

Yet if you wear a suit in Houston—except in specific industries (like banking)—you appear to try too hard. And trying too hard looks suspicious. Houstonians look at watches and cars to gauge legitimacy. You can wear jeans and a nice shirt in Houston and get taken perfectly seriously by other professionals—as long as you have a nice vehicle and a status watch.


Different industries and offices have particular cultures and styles. For example, everyone knows technology companies lean toward uber-casual attire.

If you visit or work in an office, you should wear similar attire. People want to work with people like them. Heck, people like people like them.


Steve Jobs could show up—and be welcomed—at a White House gala in his trademark jeans and black turtleneck.

Because he was Steve Jobs.

When you haven’t yet accomplished much, you need to send as many signals of accomplishment and professional polish as possible. As you achieve more, you need to prove less.

What have you noticed about workplace attire?


Americans and Teeth

At a gathering in London, someone fondly mentioned the “Austin Powers” movie franchise. Clearly, they didn’t mind the films’ fun-poking at Britishisms—and how could they, I figured, given that the barbs were so outrageous?

Chiming in, I said something about Austin’s ridiculous teeth.

Blank stares.

No one had noticed that the Austin Powers character had horrifically bad chompers.

Since then, I’ve noticed that Americans have an especial obsession with teeth. For Americans, good teeth are synonymous with good health, good breeding, good hygiene, and good manners.

We straighten our teeth. We bleach them. We hire cosmetic dentists to add veneers and pearly fake incisors and canines. We undergo plastic surgery to reshape our mouths for better toothiness.

We purchase volumes of over-the-counter dental products:

  • Seemingly limitless options for toothpaste, mouthwash, dental floss, and toothbrushes
  • At-home whitening strips
  • Picks and gels
  • Objects and creams and devices for multitudinous, often confusing purposes

I’ve even seen on-line dating profiles that require good teeth in a match.

Not so in other cultures.

Yes, many of these “advancements” are available in other countries, but they’re nowhere nearly as widely consumed. Rare will you find an ad for a “dental cosmetic surgeon.” And compared to the countless over-the-counter dental products our grocery and convenience stores offer, offerings in Europe seem anemic.

Of course, other cultures have other fixations. Light skin seems an obsession in Asian countries. A friend brought back underarm whitening cream from a trip to Thailand. And during a sojourn in the Greek Isles, I saw Japanese tourists in long sleeves and gloves holding parasols against the sun. If any store here sells underarm whitening cream, I haven’t visited it. And I last saw a parasol in a screening of “Gone with the Wind.”

What’s the most interesting cultural fixation you’ve noticed?

And this was just the toothpaste portion of the drug store aisle. Houston. June 8, 2013.


Peace vs. Truce

My massage therapist at Travaasa Austin and I decided on my latest trip that people who hope for world peace are misguided.

(How we got there? It had something to do with humans relieving innate aggressive energy—after all, we’re animals—and how often we do so through sports and fitness.)

Here’s the thinking:

What we call “peacetime” is actually truce. With another entity, we have agreed not to conduct aggressive action. We may even agree to cooperate on mutual interests. Often, the agreement stems not from selflessness but self-interest. The agreement comes from an assessment of our best interests and an agreement to act accordingly.

If our best interests change, our pact of nonaggression or “friendship” may change as well.

That’s truce.

Peace, instead, is like still water. Self-interest has no role. With peace, a tendency toward aggression doesn’t exist. Peace is stasis. Calm.

Which means peace is not possible. True peace and human nature do not combine. We may change our cultures or individual natures to practice nonaggression, but our physiology, with its brain pathways, hormones, pheromones, and personal genetics, will always work against us in achieving the real meaning of peace.

It is just semantics to debate the two terms? Perhaps not. Focusing on achieving truce—the balance of self-interest between people and groups to ensure nonaggression—could truly make the world a better place. Aiming for peace—that we universally simply love each other and never want anything but good for each other in the true sense of selflessness—shunts energies in the wrong direction and sets unreasonable expectations.

Do you agree that peace and truce are different—and that the former is not possible? Do you agree that clarifying the difference and focusing our efforts is important?

Let’s discuss.

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