Monday, 27 July 2020

Dressed For Success?

This photo of Brendan Gallagher from April 9, 2018 shows him wandering the halls of the Bell Centre without the traditional suit that one would expect to see hockey players wearing as they arrive at the arena. As you may have heard, the dress code in the hub cities has been relaxed for players in this NHL Restart, and, with games getting underway tomorrow, we'll see what that looks like as the players file into the tunnels below the stands on their way to their respective dressing rooms. Will I miss the suit-and-tie look that the players wear? Maybe, but I honestly think this time-honoured "tradition" is less of a tradition that needs to be enforced and upheld, especially in these times. While Gallagher's attire to the left might be a bit more casual than what we'll see, loosening the restrictions on game-day wear will allow these players to show a little more personality than before.

This isn't the first time that the dress code for players has been brought up, and it likely won't be the last. Back in 2018, Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette wrote,
The suit thing has never made much sense to me because the players are rarely seen in them unless caught by TV cameras and ending up on Coach's Corner. For a Canadiens game at the Bell Centre, the players will put on their suits and ties at home, get in their cars and drive to the underground parking lot. They then get in an elevator before exiting and walking about 30 metres to the locker room before taking the suits off. After the game, they put their suits back on, walk back to the elevators, get in their cars and go home.
Stu's been around the game a long time, and this review of how long players wear their suits and the intention of wearing those suits to and from the games has long gone the way of the dinosaurs. It was different back when players still traveled by train and bus to games as the clothes from that time reflected more suits on men. Many of the NHL teams in the 1950s and 1960s had a requirement that suits had to be worn by fans to games, and the players were also instructed to wear suits to reflect the professional image of the league.

Here's Guy Lafleur in 1981 at the Montreal Forum, and check out the number of suits and ties seen in that picture (along with a very young Mario Lemieux applauding Lafleur's efforts directly behind him).
Times have changed in the last forty years, though, and Brendan Gallagher's image above from that same Montreal Gazette article also reflects some of the players' attitudes towards wearing the suits when arriving at the arena.

"Most of the time, nobody even sees you," Brendan Gallagher told Cowan. "You just kind of get in your car, then you walk in and you're out of it. I don't think that's changing, but I wouldn't hate that."

Having worked in a corporate setting, I get the idea of professionalism in the workplace. It's an image that the company wants to convey to anyone who may be visiting, and I'm not against that idea. However, I knew many people who would head to the employee restroom to add or remove the suit-and-tie at work to change into far more casual clothing when off the clock. It's exceedingly rare to see people wearing suits as they bike to or from work just as it's uncommon to see men and women in casual attire at work. The key here, though, is that once these men and women are in the office, they are dressed professionally regardless of what they wore to or from work.

Why does hockey have to enforce these stereotypes when we don't enforce them for ourselves any longer? When I see kids as young as seven or eight years-old in suits-and-ties, it makes me wonder why we're forcing parents - who already spend a ton of dough on hockey alone - to buy a suit for a handful of tournament games where the suit makes no difference to how kids play the game on the ice.

It should be noted that the dress code for the NHL is mandated by the CBA where "[p]layers are required to wear jackets, ties and dress pants to all Club games and while travelling to and from such games unless otherwise specified by the Head Coach or General Manager." In other words, the suits are going nowhere unless the NHL and NHLPA agree to it and make it law via the CBA, and that's not changing anytime soon with the recent CBA agreement.

If I'm being honest, I don't mind the suits that players currently wear, but it will be interesting to see how the players arrive at games with the loosened dress code in effect. I don't expect to see tank tops and board shorts, but perhaps we'll see some golf shirts and dress shorts as players settle into their summer wear. If the look is good for most players, perhaps the relaxed dress code will spill into future seasons so that the 30 minutes of wearing a suit while broadcast teams ogle the players as they come into the rink isn't the biggest issue when it comes to a player's overall performance on game day.

It's been said of players that if one looks good, one plays good. I'm more interested in seeing that theory tested by the idea where if players are comfortable, they play better. Perhaps this is something to track in the bubbles!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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