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LES ECHOS

A Frenchman's Manifesto For Flip-Flops At The Office

It should be "Casual Monday-Through Friday" all summer long -- and not just for women. It might change everything at the office, odors and energy bills included.

Thank God It's Casual Friday
Thank God It's Casual Friday
David Courbet

PARIS - In case you haven't noticed yet, summer is here. It's warm, very warm. Precautionary measures need to be taken and, first and foremost, keep a close eye on grandma and grandpa. But beyond eldercare, when it comes to heat, men and women are not equal.

The disparities, for once, means more suffering for the guys -- victims of the workplace dress code.

Whenever summer approaches, we men get excited. It will be the chance to see women unveiling their bodies a little bit more -- thank you, skirts and sleeveless tops. But maybe, women would check out men too if the latter were allowed to show their muscular legs and arms.

In the workplace, during summer (for, yes, there are the brave few still working), men have no choice: it's shirt, pants and closed shoes. And you can consider yourself lucky if you don't have to wear a jacket.

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Photo: Paul Heaberlin

A man with flip-flops in the workplace is just unthinkable...

But would it be that crazy to adapt one's outfit to the weather when the thermometer is pushing 40° Celsius degrees (104° Fahrenheit)!? Let’s take a closer look:

Security, hygiene, image: the holy office trinity

Men are generally advised to avoid casual clothes if they want to climb the business ladder. Great! Let's choose our corporate leaders according to how they look. Smart thinking, folks. Still, there may be some legitimate restrictions to clothing freedom in at least three situations:

1. Safety (it's hard to imagine a garbage collector in flip-flops or a construction worker in shorts)

2. Hygiene (a male nurse taking off his uniform probably wouldn't be a good idea)

3. Company image (the most frequently cited argument)

But these last two reasons are confusing. I may be wrong, but a man wearing a suit and shirt who ends up as wet as a mop, with sweat accumulating between his legs and feet smelling like a wedge of Reblochon, is hardly serving his company.

We should also mention that not everyone can afford as many suits as there are days in a week -- and most suits can't be washed in a washing machine. There are not a whole lot of options: be rich and go to the dry-cleaner twice a week, or stay dirty and wash your pants once a month. And just for the record, giving your feet the chance to breathe may be good for your health.

Respecting clients (maybe too much)

"If you want to get new clients, you have to dress properly, it's a question of respect", explains Médiacité, a consulting and communication agency. Here, the important word is "properly" -- a very subjective concept. In 2001, a young Sagem worker who had no interaction with customers, was fired because he was wearing shorts under his white coat. This makes no sense.

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Photo: Vivek Patankar

If things don't change, we'll end up witnessing other absurdities. What if children aren't allowed to wear shorts at school when the temperature rises? Oh wait, in many French schools, this ban already exists…

The point is not to think of it as a competition between suit-and-tie and flip-flops-shorts. But while women have options to deal with the heat wave in the workplace, men don't. They have nothing. Except Mark Zuckerberg, of course.

Self-censorship

The truth is that many companies don't actually have rules and regulations imposing how employees should dress (except at UBS bank, where crazy bosses decide what color your underwear should be, and also ban onions and garlic).

But where there are no specific rules, workers should have the freedom to wear what they want. Instead, as Jean-Michel Lattes, a labor law professor at Toulouse I University explains: "The Supreme Court established that liberty is a principle, as long as liberty doesn't damage the company’s economic image."

Ultimately, self-censorship is what prevails. "According to a Monster recruitment website poll, four people out of five are not asked to dress a certain way when they are hired, but more than half of them obey implicit rules to preserve their company's image." Yes, men are sheep – and that, of course, means wearing wool.

Sane body, spirit and sane wallet

A few years ago, "casual Friday" was launched. Once a week, employees were allowed to dress in a more laid-back way, notably by taking off their… tie (wild!). But why can't we have "casual weeks" all summer long? A sane body leads to a sane spirit, which makes us both more productive and more agreeable creatures.

For the companies, allowing casual clothing means turning down the air-conditioning – and saving big money. Now that is a business proposition that all bosses, regardless of gender, can agree upon.

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Photo: Meaghan O'Malley

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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