There were a few exchanges on twitter about workplace dress recently. One protagonist maintained that she had a right to wear a coloured bra underneath a white shirt because she ‘liked pretty underwear.’ I could easily launch into some kind of tirade against those who wish to inflict their ‘right’ to flaunt pretty underwear at everyone at work including the children they teach, but I won’t. Instead, I would like to make a positive case for dressing ‘plain’. Although this blog post is mainly about women, I think probably a few men would be interested to read this because they may have a few thoughts on the topic, but have been afraid to say anything lest they get bashed over the head by people who call themselves feminists.
I’ve changed a lot over the years. When I was a teenager, I liked to flaunt as much bod’ as possible. I looked good and had a lot of hormones and peer pressure coercing me into dressing a certain way. The Nuns that taught me had different ideas; we girls were to cover up and dress in somber colours. I thought those nuns were really uptight and completely ignorant of ‘modern’ life. Surely we girls should be allowed to dress as individuals? Why should we cover up? “If you nuns were real feminists, you’d let us put those miniskirts on so that we could have fun whilst looking sexy!”
Nowadays, I find myself dressing ‘plain’ in the workplace and really feeling quite liberated by it. What was I thinking all those years ago? Begrudgingly, I have accepted that those uptight, anti-modern nuns were the real feminists. They really were very wise ladies and I find myself increasingly thankful for their instruction in life because they wanted us girls to rank ourselves as intellectuals rather than live out a never-ending beauty contest. Needless to say, we girls were fiercely competitive in terms of trying to get the best exam results, yet we never suspected at the time that by stripping away a human tendency to judge by appearance that dominates during the teenage years, we were liberated to improve our minds.
Both at work and outside of work, I cover up my body. At work, I wear plain colours, usually a sensible suit. All those old-fashioned rules make sense to me now; they are no longer ‘oppressive’ or dictatorial. Why? Because when I dress ‘plain’ I am modelling to the young, impressionable girls I teach that it is not about how you look, it is about what you do, say and believe. Not having to exert an enormous amount of energy on tarting up every day frees up time and energy for being intellectual.
It would be very easy for a commentator to say that I probably couldn’t get away with flaunting various parts of my body these days. I look alright actually, but I choose to keep my ‘sexiness’ for my partner. There is not much more that I can say about this.
But what about individuality? Well, I am a musician and a quirky individual in general. Most people would be surprised by what I wear outside of the workplace. I dress with colour and for happiness and freedom. My dress is kind of quirky, but I keep it for outside of the workplace because I am a private person (I still cover up though). By wearing the ‘uniform’ of a suit at work, I do not need to worry that people will make judgments about my character based on appearance. As I said before, it’s incredibly liberating.
You know, men do this all the time and it is never even questioned. At work, they cover up and wear a decent shirt and trousers. Can you imagine if they started flaunting their bodies and felt it was their ‘right’ to wear a shirt that only buttons half way up their chest and tight shorts that were slightly see-thru that showed a lacy G-string of some kind? Imagine a secondary school where all the male staff are sashaying down the corridor looking like Prada catwalk models: it would be ridiculous, right? You wouldn’t know where to look! You certainly wouldn’t be thinking about their character or their intellect.
Extreme examples aside, I would like to say that dressing ‘plain’ is something that I am proud of. I also now understand why many Jewish, Muslim and Brethren women for example choose to adopt a certain dress code (although I think we can all agree that if it is mandated by law, then this is oppressive). It is not about shame, it is about being more than mere flesh.
Who’s with me?