Sexist dress codes? Don’t get your knickers in a twist

Charlotte Gill

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Topics Politics

Never has polite society been so united in its hatred of dress codes. Everywhere you look, dress codes are being pulled apart and intellectualised.

This all started a few weeks ago when a secretary at PwC in London was told to wear high heels to work. Affronted by the instruction – which was a little old-fashioned at best – she took her story to the newspapers, and became something of a star. PwC has since been attacked by just about everyone for its ‘sexist’ dress code.

It’s not the only company to fall victim to this hysteria. Last week it was the turn of airline JetBlue, after it turned away a passenger for wearing a revealing outfit. Maggie McMuffin – well, that’s her burlesque stage name – tried to board a flight to Seattle wearing a pair of very short shorts. She didn’t impress the attendants, who told her she had to change her outfit or she wouldn’t be allowed onboard.

Being the theatrical sort, McMuffin accused the airline of ‘body-shaming and slut-shaming’ her. Not only are these phrases painfully overused these days, it’s also clear this incident had nothing to do with gender. If a man tried to board a plane in similarly bottom-revealing attire, I’m sure he’d be asked to cover up, too.

JetBlue has apologised to McMuffin and has reimbursed her for the cost of the pajama bottoms she had to buy before being allowed to board. But in many ways it got off easy. PwC has had to backpedal in order to mitigate the damage done by that stiletto-shunning secretary. The firm’s Australian operation has removed its dress code altogether.

This is a great shame. Dress codes may seem archaic and restrictive at times, but they serve an important function. McMuffin has accused the JetBlue attendants of discriminating against her, but they were simply being mindful of general etiquette. What’s more, companies are well within their rights to require staff to present a certain image.

The irony of all this is that we are actually becoming quite lax about dress codes on the whole. Offices are now full of people in trainers and casual clothing, which seems to me a great shame. Dressing up is not only a look, it’s a state of mind. Besides, for the vast majority of the time – in the West, at least – women can wear what we want, when we want.

Let’s not get our knickers in a twist.

Charlotte Gill is a writer and blogger. Follow her on Twitter: @C_C_Gill

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