These are my formal sneakers

I have always been fascinated by found art, and better yet, found writings. The Rocket, a ┬ádefunct and much-missed music/culture magazine serving the Pacific Northwest, used to have a column for found scribblings, and it was often the most entertaining part of the magazine. Rarely insightful, occasionally brutal, and usually pathetic, these submissions offered a voyeur’s view of two small segments of our society: Those who take little care with their documents, and litterers.

Personally, I rarely find anything good—banal shopping lists, indecipherable to-do lists, scribbled directions to a house the reader would never be able to find. I do recall one notable exception: we lived in a funky (read: drafty) apartment building in Northwest Portland, the lobby of which featured a magazine exchange box. When a tenant tired of their magazines, they were placed in the box, and other tenants would have the opportunity to pick them up and read them. One day, I saw an interesting cover of Rolling Stone magazine and brought it up to our apartment. Within the pages of the magazine was a handwritten note that seemed to be a journal entry of some sort, specifically documenting a young woman’s frustration with her boyfriend who would come home from work, go right into the bedroom, shut the door and (I quote) “do the wacka wacka” rather than have sex with her. We knew the writer from her name on the magazine’s mail delivery tag, and knew the name as a tenant with whom we had shared occasional elevator ascensions, and the note provided an insight we would never want to have into a casual acquaintance. (We had already suspected her of being crazy, and the note confirmed our suspicion with a long, meandering testimonial to the insightful wisdom of Tom Petty’s lyrics.)

The problem with the apartment girl’s note is that it wasn’t anonymous, so it couldn’t be enjoyed without a pang of guilt. The Rocket, by removing the names, made the authors faceless fools, scribbling idiots. Seeing the Tom Petty fan in the lobby, I felt like I was keeping her ugliest secrets, and she didn’t even know she had shared them. Just my luck, the only good thing I found made me as sad as it did happy. (Though I was glad to have “do the wacka wacka” added to my vocabulary.)

But the document that I found this week, the inspiration for this column…..this is pure happiness. It’s a sad, sad commentary on someone, or something, but I don’t care. The paper that I found was a memo, a reminder that a corporate office was having its annual Christmas party. I will leave out incriminating names, though frankly, the whole thing is incriminating.

Here it is, the actual found memo:

Holiday Party Reminder

(location, date and time provided)
This is a semi-formal event. Please respect the following dress code:

  1. No tee shirts, tank tops, or bare midriffs
  2. Men’s shirts must have a collar or turtleneck
  3. no cut-off, gym, jogging, or tennis shorts
  4. Shorts must have at least a 6″ inseam
  5. No sweatpants or warm-ups
  6. No thongs or flip flop shoes
  7. No denim jeans of any style or color


Personally, I think there are a variety of recommendations on this list that seem completely unnecessary for a “semi-formal event”, unless it’s a semi-formal event sponsored by a tee-shirt manufacturer, a flip flop company, or a pimp. Let’s examine them individually:

No tee shirts, tank tops, or bare midriffs—I am certain that there was one woman at that event whose ensemble was impacted by this rule. She’s the one who understands that alcohol + midriff = kryptonite for the average male. Conversely, there was some married man who, after draining his 4th scotch by 10:00 PM, had no idea how fortunate he was that this rule existed.

Men’s shirts must have a collar or turtleneck—How dumb is our collective society if we need to clarify that “semi-formal” means “wear a collar”? And frankly, while I love turtlenecks, that ain’t quite semi-formal either, folks. I used to pump gas for a paycheck, and most of the gas huffers wore turtlenecks every day of the long, wet winter. I did not realize at the time that this attire qualified us as a semi-formal gas station.

no cut-off, gym, jogging, or tennis shorts—Damn, I understand there being rules, but they clearly aren’t familiar with MY jogging shorts, rich navy blue sateen with gold piping, slit up the sides so that when I jog I look simultaneously ridiculous and creepy. Damn those people in their ratty old cotton shorts who ruin it for the rest of us.

Shorts must have at least a 6″ inseam—Wait, the rule above didn’t rule out shorts completely? There is still hope for that person who wanted to wear shorts to the Christmas party in late December? That person whose plans seemed crushed by the firm stance on cut-offs and gym shorts? Indeed, the umpire has invited them back to the plate to swing again, as long as they can find a top which, combined with their khaki shorts from The Gap, will look appropriately “semi-formal”.

No sweatpants or warm-ups—-unless you plan on sitting at home and watching the party on closed circuit television. Dear readers, I beseech you—sweatpants do not even qualify as “fashion”, let alone “semi-formal.” For watching TV or washing dishes they may be comfortable attire, but you know those “bracelets” that criminals wear when they’re under house arrest, the type that notify the police when they roam beyond their allotted space? Sweatpants should have that, except the wearer should be shocked with a painful jolt of electricity when you try to leave the house wearing such garments. If you disagree, you’re the reason they created this inane memo.

No thongs or flip flop shoes—-at this point, I would HOPE that the flip flops would be ruled out by default. Such footwear could work with the cut-offs and the bare midriff, and surely would work on the guy who’s downing those early scotches, but they’d look a bit odd with an evening dress. But if this list has, up to this point, provided valuable guidance for how to dress for this gala event, it’s probably good that they included this rule, too. (Note: the woman who was disappointed that she couldn’t bare her midriff read this rule and said, “Who are they to tell me what kind of panties I can wear?”)

No denim jeans of any style or color—-I love that they specifically rule out any color. I am certain that one year, someone wore red denim jeans and, in his or her defense, insisted, “But they aren’t denim, they’re red!”. (If that doesn’t seem like a joke to you, it should be specified that denim is a fabric, not a color.) Denim jeans are the perennial bad boys at any semi-formal event, and perhaps unjustly so: There are some (my wife included) who can assemble an ensemble around very new, very blue jeans and look fantastic. However, allowing that outfit leaves no grounds to ban the chump with the “really cool” holes in the knees of his acid-washed jeans, so I am resigned to calling this a good rule.

I’m sure it was a wonderful party. Though as I reviewed the list, I imagined a man looking in the mirror, black wool suit and tie, thinking, “Do these sneakers work? I wish they had covered Nikes in the memo.”

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