In the early days of working from home, the New York Times took a firm stance about work from home attire, stating that because we didn’t have to go into the office anymore, we shouldn’t have to dress up for work. In response, Adam Tcshorn penned an LA Times op-ed that firmly stated a controversial position at the time: there should be no pajamas or sweatpants in your work from home routine, as it feels both disrespectful and disregards the ritual of daily work.
One year later, this dust in this debate still hasn’t settled.
Brian Stelter, the chief media correspondent for CNN and host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, reignited the flames of this year-old debate with what he felt was a lighthearted bit on the constant frantic drama of working on a set in his own home. One would assume that if you’re on television, you’re going to be dressed in fitting attire. But in the spirit of Will Reeve’s faux pas on Good Morning America early in the quarantine, Stelter decided to crack a joke of his own, and show a clip of himself, on his own show, without any pants.
RT News explains that Stelter, “airing an old video of himself reporting live without pants on,” had just “just two minutes’ notice” to appear on the network to discuss Trump’s [Twitter] ban.” On the news at the time, Stelter’s top half was visible, but in a behind-the-scenes shot, the camera showed Stelter at his home studio, in red socks, boxers, and a full suit on top.
“Embarrassing moments are humanizing moments,” Stelter said after showing the clip. Unfortunately, this message struck a sour chord with some viewers. Fox News entertainers Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity had strong reactions to Stelter’s segment, and RT reports that Hannity claimed, “the clip had traumatized him and been “seared” into his memory.”
On a less melodramatic note, Stelter’s pants-less image has caused the home office attire debate to resurface. One full year after many employees voyaged into the unknown world of remote work, the discussion of what we’re all wearing is still a hot-button topic. While many of us are responding to emails in yoga pants and pajama tops, especially if no meetings are required for the day, the argument against doing so can be compelling.
Christina Cauterucci and Jeffery Bloomer, two senior writers and staff members at Slate laid out some issues in more leisurely work from home attire. “Jeff, I clutched my entire strand of pearls when I learned that you don’t think pants—or other lower-half cover-ups—are a must-wear in a digital workplace setting,” Cauterucci said. “The ink on Jeffrey Toobin’s cancellation diktat is still wet!”
“It’s arrogance,” Cauterucci continues, to think that you have the right to wear whatever you want despite your co-workers’ comfort level. It reflects a certain amount of “disregard for whether people are made uncomfortable by your state of undress. Because the fact is, there’s always a chance someone could see.”
While the issue of offending or disgusting coworkers is a problem when one isn’t properly dressed, it’s also important to think about how neglecting to conceal one’s bottom half can impact more than just the internal workings of a company. When in an externally facing role, there could be more consequences than just a few disgusted calls to HR.
Presentation coach Tim Koegel, founder of Exceptional Presenter Training at the Presentation Academy, had some similar ideas. His argument was that Stelter’s segment was more of a “botched attempt at humor” than a truly humanizing moment. “Perhaps we shouldn’t fault Mr. Stelter for wanting to make journalists more relatable,” Koegel adds,” but the fact is he’s not doing himself any favors as a professional.”
Koegel notes that as a public figure, especially, one is representing oneself as a “competent professional”, and that Stelter was not only crafting a very specific image for himself but one for CNN as well. His admitted escapade in lower body exposure could have compromised his own status as a trustworthy professional, and in Koegel’s argument, CNN’s legitimacy as a whole, as this episode is “the only thing people are going to think of for the next several weeks when they hear his name.”
For Stelter, Koegel argues, the blowback from something like this might be minimal because he’s a famous television personality. “But average people, many of whom rely on putting their best foot forward to stay employed, can’t afford to joke around or look like a mess in-person or online.” Laymen and women have to represent their businesses, Koegel argues, which requires an element of professionalism that must be met, lest they get themselves into trouble with clients or business partners.
Koegel argues that in order to send a positive message to viewers, Stelter should have kept all his “in-home office habits” to himself, saving everyone the second-hand embarrassment.