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Pony Express: The 'just right' work uniform

In 1940, William Langer, probably the most colorful and controversial politician in North Dakota history, a native of Casselton, former 17th Governor of North Dakota (1933-34 -- removed from office by North Dakota Supreme Court after a fraud conviction, later acquitted after a new trial) and former 21st Governor (1937-1939) was campaigning for election to the U. S. Senate.

He had just finished speaking at a banker's convention and was headed for Mayville next. He got off his plane in Fargo, "a picture of expensive elegance" wearing a suit that must have cost $300-$400 (probably 10 times that much in 2008 dollars). Red Myers, his driver and advisor, wrote that before he left for Mayville, Langer wanted to stop at the bus depot.

He took his suitcase in to the depot and when he came out he was wearing a wrinkled suit coat, baggy trousers, scuffed shoes and his old familiar battered, sweat stained campaign hat. He was elected to the Senate where he served until his death in 1959.

What Bill Langer understood in 1940 still makes sense 68 years later: there is a "just right" work uniform for every job. For a speech at a banker's convention, a navy blue, three-piece expensive pin-stripped suit is just the ticket. For meeting the voters of Mayville, something a bit more broken in would serve the image.

Today, just for day-to-day campaigning, John McCain seems to prefer a navy blue windbreaker jacket and a blue baseball cap that says NAVY on it. He looks good in it and it suits his background and who he is. For day-to-day campaigning, Barack Obama is most often seen in dark trousers, a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a tie. And that works for Obama, the lawyer and former law professor. They both wear the uniform that fits their personality and style. In 1940, Bill Langer could get away with switching uniforms from elegant to rumpled and sweaty, but with television cameras following every move and every twitch of the candidates today, that wouldn't work. They'd be labeled wardrobe flip floppers.

Superman couldn't possibly fly faster than a speeding bullet, leap over tall buildings with a single bound and single handedly catch gangs of crooks in his Clark Kent reporter's suit, tie and horn rimmed glasses. No, he has to step into a phone booth (where would he find one of those today?) and change into his Superman working uniform. He couldn't do his work any other way.

Kids grow up playing baseball in jeans and t-shirts. They can hardly wait until they get to be big boys and young men so they can play in a baseball uniform. It raises the level of their self confidence, self respect, sense of purpose and level of performance. Now they are genuine ballplayers.

Are uniforms important? Of course they are. You wouldn't want your airline pilot wearing jeans and a denim shirt and you certainly wouldn't want your car repaired by a nutty mechanic wearing an airline officer jacket with wings on the lapel, a stripe down the trousers and gold braid on his hat. We want our doctors to wear doctor jackets and nurses to look like nurses. We respect the uniforms (whether dress or combat) of soldiers, sailors and marines. We expect police officers to wear badges and uniforms. We expect that bands will sound better when the musicians are wearing band uniforms. Lawyers are required to appear in court "in appropriate court room attire." For men lawyers that means coats and ties. We expect butchers, bakers and chefs to wear white and priests to wear black.

So whether you're running for president, playing baseball, catching crooks, playing tuba in the band or listening to confession, wear your uniform proudly and act like a professional.