Thursday, May 28, 2015

Dress Codes

Ah, summer.

Even if it's not calendar summer yet for another three weeks, in Canada the May long weekend kicks it off. Barbecues. Cottage trips. And, at least while school is still in session, protests over school dress codes.

That last is relatively new, it seems to me. Doubtless I missed all the protests when I was that age: I was too busy trying to assert my individuality by dressing just like everybody else. As an adult now, I'm supposed to come down on the side of wisdom and reason and rational behaviour and say kids should dress appropriately for the learning environment and yadda yadda yadda.

Screw that. Didn't I just get finished saying I'm not rational?

You should understand who you're dealing with here. I look quite dapper and fetching in a suit and tie, or so I have been told. You'd think that would make me want to dress up every day, and if you think that you couldn't be more wrong. If a suit and tie actually makes me look that good, then what happens when I come home and take it off? I'd honestly rather be ugly all the time then have people think I'm not just because I'm wearing some cloth or other.

There's a modest dress code where I work, even for the night crew that has zero interaction with customers. We are to wear black tops (or white--though anyone wearing white stocking shelves is rather clueless, if you ask me) and black work pants. Night crew can wear black denim "in good repair". Black steel-toed footwear is mandated: we can buy one pair each year, at cost.

This rule chafes at me, just a little bit. I get the intent, or at least I think I do: we should all dress alike because we're a team. I'm pretty sure they'd invoke "respect for the workplace" in there somewhere, too, and that's where I start to get a little antsy.

In certain contexts, yes, I agree, clothing is important and (supposedly) shows respect. I would never dream of showing up at a funeral in shorts and a tank top, or a job interview in jeans. But even these examples are culturally conditioned. Funerals really aren't supposed to be somber and stuffy affairs. I hope mine won't be. I want people laughing at mine. As for job interviews. unfortunately being uncomfortable for half an hour or an hour is the price somebody set long ago for being hired.

There's this widespread perception that what you wear determines your pride in doing a job. How I do my job determines my pride in doing my job, but whatever.

Did that sound teenager-y enough?

So long as my shirt isn't emblazoned with something like "MY BOSS IS A GRADE-A ASSHOLE", why should it matter what I'm wearing? I'd probably work better in jogging pants.  I'd sure be more comfortable and thus more productive.

Workplaces have it backwards. They dangle relaxing the dress code as an incentive work harder--when people work harder in a relaxed, comfortable state.

My biggest issue with these school dress codes is that they are almost always aimed squarely at women. Even the ones that include males explicitly--no ripped jeans, no muscle shirts--are invariably more rigidly enforced with females. Because women's skin is somehow so much more distracting than men's, right? It's exactly the same mindset that surfaces in courtroom rape trials. Your Honour, I couldn't help myself, I saw skin above the knee. Oh, in that case, rape dismissed. Young woman, you should know better than to provoke him like that.


When you send a woman home because her skirt is too high, you're telling her that the wandering eyes of boys are her problem, not theirs. You're telling her that the education of those boys is more important than her own. You're telling her that clothing makes the man and breaks the woman.

Clothing doesn't make the man. Clothing doesn't break the woman. Clothing is something we wear to keep the sun and rain and snow off. It's something we wear if our fat rolls aren't big enough to tuck our keys into. It keeps the mosquitoes at bay and it stops your back hair from getting entangled in the threshing machine.  People have attached a whole lot of arbitrary meanings beyond these, but we shouldn't have to be bound by them.

The people I cherish most in my life get this. They talk to paupers and presidents, peons and princes, all the same way: as if they are people. Because they are. It doesn't matter what they're wearing. It doesn't matter how much they paid for what they're wearing. Focusing on clothing is even more superficial than focusing on skin.
The same people have no problem venturing out to the store in their pajamas. Hey, everything's covered and propriety is served--what's the problem?

If there's a problem, it's in the eye of the beholder and there alone. Let people be comfortable and express themselves. So long as their expression isn't hateful or obscene, let them be.

And isn't that what we should be teaching in school?

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