Photo courtesy of visitkorea.ca
In about a month, I will be moving to Japan. I have never been there before and, of course, have many questions about what living there will entail. And perhaps the number one thing I’ve been told so far is that it’s hot. So hot. The next thing I’ve been told? Wear formal business attire until your supervisor tells you otherwise. That combined with the apparently “weak” deodorant available in Japan has me somewhat concerned about my own comfort and body odor.
At least I’ll be in good company, as government workers in Seoul, South Korea, are struggling through a hot, non-air conditioned summer in full suits. Strict dress codes have left an unsavory taste in the air of many offices. So why would the government subject their workers and their own sensory system to such a sweaty season? It’s actually for a good cause, cutting down electricity consumption and working towards more environmentally friendly policies.
The President of South Korea has attempted to ease the dress code by allowing workers to show off a bit of arm and leg—the shorts and polo combo is the new summer suit that workers can don to combat the heat. I can only hope that the same goes in Japan. Yet many businessmen continue to dress to the nines in their pants and jackets. Why would you subject yourself to such torture?
Think about when you see someone wearing a particularly dashing suit—doesn’t part of you ascribe some level of importance to him or her? In South Korea, it remains an important way of presenting your authority, which explains why some are reluctant to lower their social status by dressing like they’re supposed to be at home relaxing.
Men and women continue to wear their suits, coming up with other methods to cool down, whatever they may be. Yet clearly, clothing still bears great importance in terms of showing social status, respect, and ambition. Is this a good or bad thing? If it is being done in the name of environmental sustainability, then kudos to all those office workers. But if you have the option of wearing lighter attire to your air-conditioned office, is it really that humiliating to denounce your suit status in lieu of comfort? In a bizarre struggle between psychology, tradition, and environmental sustainability, the people in Seoul have chosen a hotter, sweatier path to virtue.