Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Clothes, Identity, and Idolatry

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Who am I?

This week is my younger daughter’s ninth birthday.  She is amazing.

Several years ago, she bought me the best gift I have ever received: a shirt with her picture on it with the caption “World’s Best Dad 2005.”  The picture itself is all ratty and peeled today, but I still wear it at night and to the gym because of what it means to me.  Today I am wearing it under my other shirt right now.

2005 was an interesting year for me. It was the height of my corporate idol worship, and the year I  decided to change my life.   My identity at that time was all wrapped up in my company.  My daughter gave me a present that refocused my identity from “marketer of products that are revolutionizing genetics” to “world’s best dad.”  No wonder I was so happy.

Clothes played a part as I detached my identity from the company over the next few years. The twelfth century Rabbi Maimonides’ taught in the ‘Laws of Idolatry,’ that it is forbidden to wear the clothes of idolators.  Maimonides reasoned that wearing the clothes of idolators was a way of giving tacit approval to the idolator’s value system, and made it more likely that the wearer would start to follow this value system.  On a lark, I stopped wearing company t-shirts on weekends, and found it helped me keep my mind off of work.

Why did this work?  In my opinion, it is one thing to wear a company shirt in the office or at a trade show – it’s like a uniform.  And I had some really cool work shirts.  But what is the purpose of wearing a company shirt after hours?  I was a marketer, and I made cool shirts for my customers to remind them of my product.  The more they thought of my product, the more likely they were to buy it.  So when I wore a work shirt on the weekend,  how could it not make me think about work?  As it was, I thought about work all the time, and the last thing I needed was a reminder to check my email when I was at the park with my kids.

It took me about a year to separate my identity from the company and reorient myself towards the family.  It wasn’t as hard as I though it would be, because it was a series of small steps, each of which brought me closer to my family and friends.  And casting off the cloths of the idolator was an important step in the process.


  1. Helen Page says

    I feel if you are good at what you do at your place of business your being recognized for it should speak for its self weather you are wear a company logo or not; on or off the clock.
    If you are a great father and proud of your daughter or any off- spring, even a family pet, it shows in their happiness and the happiness its reflected right back: in the smile on your fac,e in the spring in your step and the posture of your stance.
    We all are on all the time our character should reflect this whether it is in moments of pride or defeat. the fact we are able to be your best selves in either helps others in what life is all about the great exchange in our happiness empathy and being vulnerable enough to let others in. We should always just wear our authentic selves.
    Helen Page

    • gmarcus2 says


      Thanks for your comment.
      I have a follow up post about clothing in the workplace. I agree it shouldn’t make a difference, but it does. How one dresses is a big part of corporate culture. Clothes at Facebook vs Goldman Sachs? Not even the same planet.

      I wear my authentic self today, but in 2005 I didn’t. I wasn’t trying to be fake, but I was so busy working, there wasn’t time left to be me. I don’t blame the company. I made the choices that got me in that spot, and I made the choices that got me out of it.


  2. Lianne McLean says

    I did the same thing…purged my wardrobe of all of the corporate T-shirts and former trade show “blouses”…brought them all to goodwill. I always secretly hoped I would see a homeless person in SF wearing my NS trade show shirt or my AFFX hat…would have been nice to see someone using the clothing and getting a benefit from it…I think it is good to have the separation from work and not-work…

    • Shaw Sun says

      Lianne, did your purging include all non-employer schwag also, or just the corporate gear? I’m reading Greg’s anti-idolatry to be about one’s employer (or ex-employer?), and not so much about others’ employers or companies that one dealt with while employed by the idol…

      • gmarcus2 says

        Shaw, thanks for your comment. Yes, you are spot on. I am writing about idolatry as it applies to one’s current employer. It could apply to a past employer, but usually they don’t have as much of a mental hold.

  3. Lianne McLean says

    Although now my not-work wardrobe seems to be worshiping different idols, the Cal Bears and the SF Giants…somehow that feels more OK…

    • gmarcus2 says

      Your comment about separation is spot on – wearing gear from work after hours is an issue because it reminds you of work, and is a distraction from the rest of your life.

      I don’t think wearing Cal or Giants or even Nike clothes is a sign of idol worship unless you work for Cal or the Giants or Nike. Being a sports fan is healthy if that is what you like to do, because it is a way to connect with other people. A sports team will never kick its fans out of the group, whereas a company can and should if the market changes and they need to reduce staff.

  4. Alan Dance says

    I definately have a different take on this. If you cared or thought for a minute about what you wear then I doubt if you would be seen dead in a corporate T-shirt. I still have and wear lots of them – some date back to the mid ’90’s – and the main attraction is that they are cheap and allow me to avoid wasting valuable time in Macy’s shopping for T-shirts. The majority are from companies I have never worked for (or are even still in business!).

    • gmarcus2 says


      You forget that inside of everyone is a college student who likes cool t-shirts and free pizza. I’m no different, and have my share of shirts. Its not about crushing the inner student, and not about avoiding any old corporate t-shirts.

      It’s about avoiding corporate gear from the company you work for, especially if you find your self working all the time, and thinking about work even when you aren’t working. I wouldn’t wear a shirt with my daughter’s picture on it into the office. It would not be appropriate. Similarly, I don’t think it appropriate to wear a shirt with my employer’s logo to my daughter’s birthday party.

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  1. […] my recent post Clothes, Identity and Idolatry, I discussed the relationship between personal identity, wearing the company logo after-hours, and […]

  2. […] My fascination with idolatry grew.  As I learned more about it, I found more connections to my corporate life, and surprising solutions in ancient texts.  For example, according to the twelfth century Rabbi Maimonides’ ‘Laws of Idolatry,’ it is forbidden to wear the clothes of idolators.  Maimonides reasoned that wearing the clothes of idolators was a way of giving tacit approval to the idolator’s value system, and made it more likely that the wearer would start to follow this value system.  On a lark, I stopped wearing company t-shirts on weekends, and found it helped me keep my mind off of work. (For a previous post on the subject, click here.) […]

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