Adventures in Recovery ~ Pearl Clutching

by Calulu

The other day I had to attend a meeting at work. One of the big subjects was a new dress code. Now, instead of our usual jeans or casual skirts with tees, we’d have to wear business attire. The boss was insistent that if you couldn’t wear pearls with your ensemble and look appropriate then you were under dressed for work. My jaw dropped when she suggested pearls and a twin set. Most everyone else in the room started clutching their pearls by voicing negative opinions. No one on the work team felt happy about the new rules.

Bosslady was especially concerned with the fact that there we were at a team meeting and three of us were wearing flip flops in late October. For added giggles our own very old team member was busily violating that Letitia Baldrige rule of no whites after Labor Day with her white leather flats. Oh heaven forfend! Polite society is affronted!

I bit my tongue and didn’t point out that at a 7 am business meeting she’s lucky we’re not all rolling in wearing pajamas and slippers with our hair standing straight up like Don King troll dolls.

I feel especially bad for 24 year old Erica as all she owns are jeans, tees and sneakers.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to appear civil in an uncivil world but who decides what is civil and what isn’t?

Now this is an art studio and gallery we’re talking about, not big business, not McDonalds with their own prescribed dress codes. Most of us working there are on our feet all day long and up and down flights of stairs, toting things, teaching classes. I come home sweaty daily not to mention I sometimes have oil paints or other supplies on my clothing. Plus most of us working there tend to dress a little to the left of norm, in things we’d made or with handmade jewelry. We’re an artsy bunch and we look it. I guess she’s frightened that we might resurrect the whole hippie/beatnik thing.

Knowing who our main clientele are I can see why my boss is enforcing this dress code. She wants us to dress very closely to what our customers will be wearing. It’s an effort to seem ‘one of them’ and more sympathetic, part of the same social structure as the customers. It seems silly but it does work, just look at our churches, particularly the fundamentalist ones.

During my years at Possum Creek I struggled with the dress code there and it seemed just as ridiculous to me then as the work dress code does now. And it’s about the same thing, control. Another way to manipulate your life into the conformity of the crowd.

Patriarchal control said not only did you have to dress modestly, but within the modesty there were many things off limits. Our pastor actually stood up one Sunday morning and spoke about what he expected the ladies of Possum Creek to wear and not wear.

Pastor Patrick stood there in the pulpit and decreed that skirts had to be within eight inches of the floor, sleeveless blouses were forbidden, no cleavage whatsoever, no v-necks, no tight clothing and so on. Swimsuits? Don’t. Shorts? Double don’t. Dressing like a pop star probably would have made his head spin.

Considering most of the ladies of the church already dressed most modestly this was a strange subject to hear from the pulpit. In fact we had our very own jumper brigade, those that always wore cotton sack-like floral jumpers with very loose blouses. It was as if the very fact that they had boobs and derrieres might cause cataclysmic disaster if ever even hinted at. We had ladies that wore old fashioned dresses and others you’d seen in baggy skirts and blouses and even a few in jeans, oversized jeans.

Finally after Pastor Patrick had gone through his laundry list of wardrobe no-nos for ladies he opened the floor to questions. I wanted to ask why he’d mentioned nothing about what men could and could not wear but contented myself with asking how on earth wearing a sleeveless blouse could be ‘sinful’ That seemed to be the thing most of us were questioning as this is in the South and a summer covering up arms would be unbearable.

His answer blew me away and created even more questions in my mind. He said, and I quote, “Sleeveless blouses might expose a slipped bra strap and cause a dear brother to stray into the sin of lust.”

Alrighty then, so I already knew that a great many fundamentalist people are somewhat odd about sex but still… if the sight of a white bra strap was erotic enough to evoke a hard-on then someone has a real problem. And it’s not the lady wearing the bra.

I interrupt this program for this important message - “If you see a bra strap and experience an erection lasting 4 hours or longer please removed yourself to the nearest mental facility”

Somehow yet again it’s all the woman’s fault for being a Jezebel or something backwards like that. No one bats an eyelash at the stereotype of the male being unable to control his thoughts or body in the grips of the wiles of a wicked, wiley woman with loose bra straps. Just some man trying to blame a woman for his lack of control by trying to control the woman. Yawn. Again.

There was a lot of pearl clutching and whispering after Pastor Patrick issued his edit. Some ladies actually left the church and a few rebelled by showing up in skimpier clothing. Some of us didn’t change what we wore but the majority that stayed toed the line.

This summer nearly ten years after hearing that silly message I bought a slinky black silk cocktail dress. It’s low in the front and it’s sleeveless. It felt very liberating. I almost hope I run into Pastor Patrick when I wear it. I want to see if he gets a four hour erection from bra straps because I suspect his problems with lust are what drove his dress code.

Everyone at work is pretty much ignoring the Bosslady’s demand we dress up. It’s business as usual.

Discuss this post on the NLQ Forum Comments are also open below.

Read all posts by Calulu!


  • bananacat

    I think the whole modesty thing in the QF movement is so hypocritical. It’s like the women wear these unusual clothes to say “Look at me! Look how modest I am! I’m so much more modest than you are.” It’s like they actually want to draw more attention to their clothing to show how much better they are than everyone else.

  • http://witchvox.com Bessie

    Employers have the right to enforce a dress code, but from the standpoint of practicality I’d ask if you are getting paid enough money to purchase such expensive clothing. Business suits are not cheap. My guess is that in the art industry, you are not getting paid squat, and your boss is a psychotic twat.

    • denelian

      this was *MY* first thought! you might want to bring that up to your BossLady – or, at least, the 24-y.o. might NEED to. if she wants you to wear expensive clothing, she might need to shell out for at least the BASICS for many of her employees. Nurses get a “uniform allotment” each year, so do people who are still “in service” [full-time maids, butlers, etc to the Very Rich], etc.

  • Tabitha

    I can totally see the reasoning behind having a dress code at work, and I agree, sometimes the modesty dress code is taken way to far. I recently had a talk with a young male friend of mine over a scene I have in a movie I’m making. In the scene, a girl comes up and puts her hand on a guy’s shoulder in a friendly comforting way, especially since the guy has just killed a man. My friend was saying that the scene was inappropriate because the guy might be thinking lustful thoughts. My opinion is that guys have much, much more control over their minds then we sometimes give them credit for. I have often heard men say that if a woman is dressed in a modest way, it is much easier to keep their thoughts where they belong. So we do we women have to wear sacks in order to make sure a lustful thought never crosses a guys mind? If I am not dressing like a slut, then it is then the guys job to keep his thoughts clean an pure, just as it my job to keep my thoughts pure if a guy is behaving proper and presents himself modestly.

    • denelian

      it wouldn’t matter if you were NAKED! there is NO SUCH THING as “dressing like a slut”. if one accepts the idea that a woman who has sex when SHE wants is a “slut” [a notion i deny!] then the “biggest slut” i EVER met ALWAYS dressed in what i now call “Perfect Quiver Style” – baggy skirt to the ground, LOOSE baggy shirt; VERY “modest”. she also wore head coverings.

      it’s ON MEN to think what they want to think, NO MATTER what women do or wear. PERIOD. if they REALLY “Can’t control themselves” then why the hell do they think they can RUN anything? nope – either men have control, even if a woman is in a bikini – or he doesn’t, and SHOULDN’T be in charge of ANYTHING AT ALL.

      • Ineke

        You have a very good point

  • honeybjones

    I love the school of thought that says a man is in control of everything–except his loins.

  • Angie

    Dress codes simply ARE appropriate at work…not for modesty reasons but for the purpose of being consistent with what our clients or customers expect, and to promote a professional attitude. Some people may carry dress codes too far, but I have been in the opposite environment where people wore sweats and baggy t-shirts to work. The boss was tolerant of our appearance up to that point, then he laid down the law. So if people would just be moderate, we wouldn’t need dress codes. What people wear on their own time is up to them…slipped bra straps and all.

    • Jazzi

      I think that the people who are worried about dress codes at work are missing the point. That story was more of a frame for the main anecdote, the one about QF/P dress codes.

      Furthermore, Calulu never says that dress codes at work are inappropriate. In fact, she touches upon a few reasons that they might be considered necessary, even if she doesn’t agree with them.

  • jen

    In the church where I grew up, they had the typical modesty issues, but also “vanity” issues. You weren’t supposed to wear makeup, jewelry, etc. Except somehow there were always these exceptions. Like a watch wasn’t jewelry, nor was anything you wore in your hair or pinned to your dress.

    I never understood how me wearing earrings would be bad, but someone else could wear a Rolex and that wasn’t vanity.

  • Christine

    With regard to dress codes for an art studio, I kind of think your customers would be more confused if you DIDN’T dress a bit “left of centre.” Good on you all for ignoring the dress code. If it’s impractical, it’s not appropriate, no matter what the bosslady thinks.

    The double standard of the strong man undone by the sight of a bra strap is hilarious at first… until you realise the mindset that promotes this thought. I’m glad that even within the fundamentalist community there were women strong enough to defy the pastor – and that their men clearly had no problem with their defiance.

  • Sporkey

    My personal rebuttal to “you’re not wearing enough” is to point out that God made me this shape, and if it’s good enough for the Lord, then it should be perfectly fine for them. Furthermore, I would consider it a sin to hide my God-given endowments, for hiding under what would amount to be a tent would be to reject the Lord’s work.

    What I don’t get is that it truly doesn’t matter what you wear, because someone WILL think it’s sexy. Tents? Cardboard boxes? Sandwich boards? I’m sure that there’s some man out there who will think lustful thoughts if they were to see a woman wearing them.

    As for dress codes, the place you work at doesn’t sound compatible with business casual. Unless your workplace is going to cover the cost of getting oil paint out of your slacks or buy everyone a smock so they don’t ruin their clothing.

  • Kristen

    Question: What did this pastor expect women to wear for swimming? Old-fashioned striped dresses? Did he know that many public pools won’t allow anything but modern swimwear to be worn? Did he expect women to never swim?

    Did it never occur to him that women might be moved to lust too? Do men get to wear Spandex bikini briefs to swim in?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    “Sleeveless blouses might expose a slipped bra strap and cause a dear brother to stray into the sin of lust.”

    This is exactly the same reasoning used in Extreme Islam to justify the burqa.

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