Lucky Ties, Bad Suits
Clothes Make the Day, and Other Superstitions

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 4, 2006

We hear about it all the time, particularly during various sports playoff series. The hockey player who won't shave until the Stanley Cup is in hand. The baseball players who have their own rituals before they go up to bat. Football players saying their new jerseys jinxed their game.

Tuesday marks 6/6/06, which some reporters here say has brought in an onslaught of doomsday e-mails. It got us thinking: There are a lot of superstitious people out there. (I'll admit to being a bit superstitious myself.) So which superstitions do people bring into the workplace?

In many cases, it comes down to lucky clothes. Sure, that may sound strange. But think about it: How many times did you consider not wearing that shirt you wore the day your boss berated you in front of your team?

When Tracy Tajbl, a District-based consultant, was an event manager, she had an incredibly bad experience planning an alumni dinner dance for a local university. The event went off well, but attendance was poor. The alumni there were disappointed by the turnout and began to take it out on Tajbl and her colleagues.

Tajbl was wearing a new, blue silk dress that evening, but because the attendees were told to complain to the "lady in the blue dress," she had it dry-cleaned and promptly took it to a consignment shop.

Wearing the dress again would "bring back the nightmare of that event," she said.

Now if she has an interview or major presentation, she wears something new so she "doesn't bring anything else to it."

"I just don't want to wear something that makes you feel bad about yourself. You go in with a negative attitude. So you have to work hard to overcompensate for it," she said.

She now wears clothing she's done well in on days she knows she will have a tough meeting. "When we get dressed for the day, we're also going through a game plan," Tajbl said. "Something that makes me feel like I had good experiences in gives me a little edge."

(And what about passing the bad vibes on to some unknowing consignment shopper? "My dry cleaner is responsible for taking out the bad karma!" she exclaimed.)

Steve Crosson has a lucky White Sox tie an ex-girlfriend gave him for interviews during his senior year of college. At interviews where he wore the Sox tie, he received a job offer (Northrop Grumman Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp. and the U.S. Army). The ones where he wore a different tie, no offer.

Now, whenever Crosson, a computer engineer with the Army, has a big presentation at work, it's time for the Sox tie. If he has a big exam for graduate school, he wears the tie to work so he has it on for that night's class.

Superstitious workers are everywhere. Someone told me things went awry the day he broke his lucky mug. Another said he forgot his supply of lucky writing utensils and that the rest of the day unraveled. Coincidence?

Health-care workers are notorious for their superstitions. A few contacted me to say that if you work in an emergency room, you really can't say the Q or S words ("Boy, it sure is quiet in here tonight!" "Phew, sure is a slow Fourth of July"). As soon as those words are muttered, there's sure to be a huge train wreck, 19-car pileup or barbecue explosion.

Actors and actresses are also longtime superstitious people. No speaking of "Macbeth." Instead, it's called the "Scottish play." And of course, you have to tell an actor to "break a leg." No wishing good luck on opening night.

So how pervasive can these little rituals be? I remember realizing when I was young that many large buildings and hotels didn't have a 13th floor. I figured that if adults felt that way, there must be something to it. Now that I'm an adult, I've got to wonder: Are we all just a little crazy?

"A lot of people may have private rituals that they really believe in, or they are looking for something that will give them an extra boost or help to achieve what they are trying to achieve," said Douglas LaBier, a business psychologist who runs the Center for Adult Development in the District. "It's generally harmless."

It can become a problem only if a person is crippled by superstitions and feels that he or she can't function properly without that lucky pen or charmed office mug, he said.

As someone else pointed out to me on the clothing issue: Sometimes we just feel more confident in an outfit that looks good. If so, then it's not necessarily our strange superstitions that cause us to wear that outfit on big days. It's just human nature.

But then there are people like Ann Christine Keitz. She has an unlucky suit. It's a beautiful chocolate, wool suit she wore the day she was called into the conference room to be told she was being let go -- or as she calls it: riffed [reduction in force]. It was a shock because she had been told she was indispensable. Would the day have ended differently had she worn her periwinkle suit, she wondered?

During the winter months of her job hunt, she couldn't bear to wear the brown suit. But being a bit frugal, she also couldn't bear to get rid of it. So in her closet it still hangs. Every time she glances at it, the bad memories come flooding back.

Keitz now has a job as a contractor with the Defense Department. She's making more money, so she is in a better place financially and jobwise, she said.

But will she ever go near that suit again? No way.

How about consigning it, as Tajbl did? "Whaaat, and risk somebody else getting riffed? Couldn't live with the guilt."

Join Amy from 11 a.m. to noon on Tuesday (6/6/06!!) athttp://washingtonpost.comto discuss your life at work. You can e-mail her with workplace column ideas Don't forget, dads: Your day is coming up. Please e-maillifeatwork@washpost.comwith your working-dad wish list.

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