I work in a corporate environment which traditionally has been formal, but over the years there has been a greater shift toward business casual and away from suits. Recently I had an accident that required a medical procedure, and I’m wearing a visible bandage. Should I try to hide it with more clothing, nominally “cover” it with something see-through, or just bare my injury for all to see? — Sharon, New York and London
This is the sort of question that sounds simple — what’s the big deal about a bandage? — but actually touches on all sorts of complicated workplace issues and personal psychology. I’ve been in casts twice in the office because of ankle injuries, and I can attest that this kind of accessory becomes an unavoidable talking point in any conversation. In a world where we are constantly, if subconsciously, judging one another on what we wear, any form of adornment, even if it’s medical, is part of the equation.
Indeed, it will often spark the first thing people say: “What happened?!” Or, if it isn’t, you can practically see them biting their tongues.
Which means that the question is really: How much do you want to let your personal life bleed into your professional life?
This is increasingly a concern for all of us, whether or not there’s a physical cue attached, in part because after two years of remote video meetings, we’ve seen more of each other’s homes and families than perhaps ever before. So where now do we draw the line?
It used to be (especially for women trying to prove their seriousness in the work force) that the home and family stayed in the home and family. Increasingly, though, that has proved an untenable idea. In the conversation about work/life balance, acknowledging the exigencies and realities of life matters.
Recently my colleague Emma Goldberg wrote about a trend among chief executives of allowing themselves to be more emotional and vulnerable in front of their employees. And the appearance of Lila Moss Hack, pictured above, on the Fendace runway last year, with her insulin pump visibly attached to her thigh, prompted a public conversation about diabetes that helped normalize the condition in a new and positive way.
On the one hand, using a visible sign as a way to let colleagues and clients get a glimpse of your life outside the office can be a shortcut to deeper conversations, and a way to humanize a corporate relationship that increasingly speaks to the tenor of our times. On the other, it can be associated with weakness (silly, but still part of historical stereotyping and prejudice) and distraction.
Chaitenya Razdan, the chief executive of a healthwear company called Care + Wear, once told me he started his brand by making covers for catheter lines that looked like basketball sleeves as opposed to hospital designs, in part because the covers transformed the semiology of illness into the semiology of sports, and the wearers from patients into athletes.
The point being that when it comes to the apparel of accidents and health, just as when it comes to any apparel, you have to decide for yourself how much you want to reveal.