Work Drag

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans      In our new vernacular there are going to be some expressions that we won’t soon forget like social distancing and novel coronavirus.   One that I particularly like and would certainly nominate for more common usage is “work drag.”

Don’t tell me that you don’t know what I’m talking about either, because I know better.  The phenomenon emerges in print, video, and conversation constantly, though many may not have attached the correct moniker to this social aberration that was so ubiquitous in the old “normal.”

People talk about working morning to night during the stay-at-home in their pajamas, sweats, yoga, or workout gear.  People talk about mimicking television newsreaders by wearing shorts and flipflops while they have a shirt and tie on the top level.

I also read about women who, for a change of pace, put on heels and work drag once a week so that they can really “feel” like they have a job.  Advice columnists in the newspapers for business-level Zoom calls nudge and poke women to put on makeup, comb their hair, and tilt their heads a certain way for the best camera angle on the calls, which is a sure sign that work drag is under quiet, persistent assault.  The Style section of the New York Times is going through the same existential angst that they share with the Sports section on whether or not fashion is now dead and what that will mean for luxury goods, Vogue magazine, armies of so-called “influencers,” and of course the advertisers that are the a priori  of their very existence.

Personally, I love this part of the pandemic crisis, but I admit this is from someone who has worn jeans from my first day of public school until this very minute.  I’ve often said I’ll just keep wearing the same thing because every decade or so, fashion catches up with me.  I’m not alone.  Mi companera was famous in our organizing ranks for advising people to make sure they had a “money shirt,” which everyone knew meant that one good shirt or blouse to wear when they were approaching a funder with the members.  My longtime union brother in Houston used to ask if a bargaining session or event meant that he was going to have to wear his “button-down.”  We all knew what “work drag,” meant, we just didn’t have the terminology for it until the pandemic.

We have that now.  Work drag so clearly nails the fact that people are costuming to substitute style for substance.  It’s not evil, but neither is it equitable or good.  If the future workplace is going to be separated out behind barriers and plexiglass or remote for some unlucky souls, why would our work wear need to be work drag rather than a personal uniform that speaks to comfort and personal preference or a company outfit that they provide and purchase for us?

If people have to drag themselves to work for a living, why should work drag be part of the pain and price that goes with the package?