Fashion Police

When you look at my picture this month you might think: (a) Bill has finally lost his mind; (b) I didn't think Bill had that much hair left; or (c) Who is that handsome devil?

But if this green-haired man was standing next to a garbage can on the curb, would the resident wonder if the man was: (a) There to collect his garbage; (b) There to eat some of the garbage; or (c) Who cares? Just call the police.

Garbage collectors with questionable taste recently spurred New York City's sanitation department to introduce stricter personal appearance guidelines. Faced with some employees who have “steered away from the proper wearing of the uniform,” Sanitation Commissioner John J. Doherty decided to set a few ground rules. Workers with polished shoes, closely cropped facial hair, nails ½ inch from the tip of the finger and a minimum amount of jewelry will make management happy.

However, the new rules have had the opposite effect on some workers. At least two city sanitation employees from Staten Island were sent home without pay for refusing to remove their hoop earrings (one stud per ear is de rigueur, but hoops are a regulatory faux pas). When the department threatened to extend the workers' suspensions, the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association filed a complaint and the men returned to work, with their hoops covered.

Reportedly, other workers have refused to comply with the new dress code, while some say they have protested through work slowdowns. The union plans to meet with sanitation officials to discuss revising the guidelines, which its president refers to as a “bad call by the department.”

Making fashion statements is nothing new for New Yorkers — or the city's sanitation department for that matter. Appointed the city's Director of Street Cleaning in 1895, former Civil War Officer George E. Waring issued white uniforms to sanitation workers, who subsequently were nicknamed “White Wings.” Four decades later, Sanitation Commissioner William Carey outfitted his employees in white uniforms with an orange trim.

The image of garbage collectors at the curb admittedly can affect a department's image. But I also understand why new rules are offensive to some city workers. Personal grooming is just that, personal. Furthermore, stylish doesn't necessarily mean unkempt.

Instead of creating rules that appear arbitrary and are probably unenforceable, help problem employees improve their personal grooming habits.

As for my stylish hair, I've always known that it's not easy being green.

The author is the editorial director of Waste Age and dons some dope threads