Originally Posted by Big Texas
(Apropos of nothing, I've noticed a strong correlation between social class, educational attainment, and job prestige and better workplace dress.
Call this classist if you will, but it seems people and offices that care about success hold themselves to better standards. Exceptions are made, though, in industries like tech and finance, wherein the people at the very top of the food chain tend to dress like crap as a sort of power posturing).
This isn't to say that overdressing is totally fine, and that one should be able to dress a few orders of magnitude above the code and not stand out. But it seems that the standards of "business casual" are lowering and lowering, thus lowering the bar for what is considered overdressing. (I fear we're not too many years from the day when the button-up dress shirt is considered overdressed, and the short sleeved polo is considered the more appropriate choice).
I have noticed a correlation but not a particularly strong one. As a bike messenger there was a negative correlation - the lesser educated etc. had fancier, well-cared-for bikes and fly threads. The messengers who had attended a local prominent liberal arts college were the worst dressed. In the law (working in the Pacific NW) the relationship was inconclusive. I think that is due to the overall regional aesthetic of looking as though one just got home from a hike. In academics (social science in the Pac NW) based on what I knew about professors' backgrounds there was a slight positive correlation. My fellow grad students were all over the map. In all of these situations, however, women were better dressed than men regardless of the three variables mentioned above.
In these discussions I am reminded of what a forum member once said (whose name escapes me - sorry) about the hierarchy of dress based on socioeconomic status. Best dressed from top down:
The very rich.
The very poor.
The middle class.
On original topic: I don't mind how co-workers dress, but my preference is for better dress. I find it more pleasing to the eye and it gives me a flash of creativity that can carry over into non-sartorial areas of my life. Muzak doesn't offend me but my brain is more stimulated by other music. Having said that, the quality of my co-workers' work has the greatest influence over my productivity (and I suspect vice versa). As others have mentioned, the overall decline in dress formality bothers me only insofar as I have at times been on the receiving end of criticism for things as small as my shirt being crisply ironed and wearing a sport coat at an academic conference.
Interestingly the criticisms or silly comments have been overwhelmingly from white middle-class guys. I have rarely, if ever, had negative comments made by women, African Americans, Hispanics, Middle Easterners (though my experience is limited to Turks, Iranians, and Jordanians), or gay men. There are myriad theories as to why this may be that are best left for other discussions.
From a physical comfort perspective I find jeans very uncomfortable and much prefer wool slacks or chinos and I like the feel and slight structure of a dress shirt over a t-shirt. I love the variety and feel of fabrics, the proportions, and high arm holes of a well-fitting sportcoat compared to the billowing and loose fit of a hoodie or golf jacket. Garments that are considered comfortable in the popular culture give me a sensation of being constricted below the waist and unsupported above. Sneakers are like bits of old mattresses on my feet. For those comfort reasons I lament the decline in formality.