Dress­ing sleeve­less in Ja­maica

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS -

THE PHO­TO­GRAPH of Bri­tain’s Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May wear­ing a sleeve­less evening gown dur­ing the state visit of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has reignited the de­bate over sleeve­less cloth­ing for women.

Some lo­cal so­cial-me­dia com­men­ta­tors drew at­ten­tion to the fact that women in Ja­maica could not dress like Mrs May t o en­ter sev­eral gov­ern­ment de­part­ments and agen­cies, in­clud­ing hos­pi­tals, pris­ons and schools.

In­deed, there are sto­ries of dis­tressed moth­ers clutch­ing their sick ba­bies be­ing turned away from the hos­pi­tal be­cause they were wear­ing sleeve­less cloth­ing or of per­sons seek­ing to do busi­ness at the Regis­trar Gen­eral’s Depart­ment and the Com­pa­nies Of­fice of Ja­maica who have been sim­i­larly de­nied en­try.

Last year, UWI Pro­fes­sor Verene Shep­herd ques­tioned the ori­gins of the rule af­ter a se­cu­rity guard at a St Thomas school en­quired about sleeve­less cloth­ing among her party.

This deco­rum rule for­bid­ding women to ex­pose their arms was handed down in tra­di­tion from the Bri­tish, and to­day se­cu­rity guards are the fash­ion po­lice as their job in­cludes en­sur­ing that the dress code is strictly ob­served by mem­bers of the pub­lic. But even the Bri­tish are now chal­leng­ing what ap­pears to be an in­con­ve­nient fash­ion rule.

In these parts, soar­ing tem­per­a­tures, which are con­sis­tently i n the 90s, call for prac­ti­cal, com­fort­able at­tire that may in­clude sleeve­less gar­ments.

Sen­si­bly, some firms have now in­tro­duced ‘ca­sual’ days when em­ploy­ees are al­lowed to dress down and some­times they are asked to make a con­tri­bu­tion to char­ity. This begs the ques­tion: If this can be done once a week, is there any valid rea­son why it can­not be done through­out the week?

Women of the 21st cen­tury have the iconic Michelle Obama, former US first lady, to thank for tram­pling these rules of fash­ion when she fa­mously met Queen El­iz­a­beth II in a sleeve­less num­ber. Noted for bar­ing arms, she un­abashedly went about her busi­ness with her shoul­der un­cov­ered. The de­bate that en­sued demon­strated that there is, in fact, an on­go­ing cul­tural war be­tween rules laid down his­tor­i­cally and what is now con­sid­ered ac­cept­able.

And these an­ti­quated rules are in force all over the world. A year ago, a CBS re­por ter was pre­vented from en­ter­ing the Speaker’s Lobby at the US Capi­tol be­cause her sleeve­less dress was con­sid­ered in­ap­pro­pri­ate. There the rules say: Women are not al­lowed to wear sleeve­less blouses or dresses, sneak­ers or open-toed shoes.”

WHAT DOES THE LAW FORBID?

Is there a law for­bid­ding sleeve­less gar­ments in pub­lic? There cer­tainly is a law against in­de­cent ex­po­sure, but as far as sleeve­less is con­cerned, this ap­pears to be an ar­bi­trary dress code es­tab­lished many years ago.

Many mod­ern com­pa­nies are mov­ing away from tra­di­tional dress codes, in­stead fo­cus­ing on cre­ativ­ity and per­for­mance, as they seek to im­prove their bot­tom line.

And in a bid to at­tract fresh, young tal­ent, some com­pa­nies have re­laxed the rules, so, for ex­am­ple, fewer com­pa­nies now re­quire that men wear a tie.

This looks like as good a time as any for Ja­maica to re­think the sleeve­less dress code, es­pe­cially as it re­lates to per­sons go­ing about their day-to-day busi­ness. We be­lieve the women in Par­lia­ment are best po­si­tioned to take on this is­sue, which specif­i­cally im­pacts women.

Last year, South East St Ann Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment Lisa Hanna boldly turned up for Par­lia­ment in a sleeve­less dress. She was rep­ri­manded by the House speaker, and some of her fe­male col­leagues were crit­i­cal of her at­tire.

Ms Hanna was likely test­ing the wa­ters as she in­vited her crit­ics to bring up the mat­ter in the House. It’s worth an­other go, Ms Hanna. The smart thing to do next time is to get oth­ers on your side as you go out to the crease.

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