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.
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