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Monday, June 05, 2006

DRESS CODES - THEN AND NOW 

DRESS CODES – THEN AND NOW

When I entered the business world in the 1960’s, there was not much discussion about dress codes in American offices. Men were expected to wear white shirts and ties, with a business suit. Women wore dresses, or skirts and blouses. These were the expected norms, and accepted by most office workers.

The youth movements of the time began to infiltrate this stratified world with our female coworkers demanding that pant suits be accepted attire for them. The advent of the mini skirt brought another ripple into the business world, as companies began to define how short a skirt could be and still be acceptable. It was then a short trip to the once a month casual day, and then the spread of the ‘Casual Friday’ concept. By the time I left the world of office attire, ‘Business Casual’ was accepted by most corporate entities, including the most conservative banks and investment houses.

As a supervisor and manager, the most contentious discussions I had with employees concerned dress code provisions and penalties. To be honest, I never treated this part of management responsibility as a life or death matter. My sometimes cavalier attitude caused me more grief from senior management than most employees could have ever imagined. When discussing approved skirt lengths for instance, one senior manager said that four inches above the knee was the shortest a skirt should be. I first asked how that could be measured without risking a sexual harassment complaint. My second comment was to ask if the four inch rule would apply to a female employee who was 5 ft 10 inches tall with a 40 inch inseam, as well as a 4 foot 10 inch employee with a 26 inch inseam. You don’t have to be a math major to understand that an arbitrary standard length would have a significantly different result on these two examples. I was accused of not taking the matter seriously, to which I admit guilt.

The last discussions I sat in on were to determine the acceptability of jeans with strategically placed cuts and rips. I suggested issuing non form fitting jumpsuits to all employees, in standard gray pinstripe. A small company logo over the breast pocket, and a rank insignia on the left sleeve identifying their job classification would complete the look. I was invited to leave if I had nothing constructive to add. That ended my participation in dress code meetings.

What brought this to mind was a comparison of penalties for dress code violations. In most cases, employees found to be out of compliance were sent home to change. This could result in an unapproved absence, and some unpaid time off. Repeated offenders risked unpaid suspensions, ranging from one to five days, depending on the frequency of wearing inappropriate attire. Termination was not part of the discipline code, unless other work related issues were also involved.

I have recently noted news stories about students being sent home for clothing deemed inappropriate or offensive, and in some cases, suspension from school has been enforced. By and large, in all of Western society, the most severe punishment in either business or school for dress code violations is to be sent home. Embarrassing, but not life threatening.

By comparison, dress code violations in Moslem countries, and even in Western countries with large Moslem communities, can indeed be a matter of life and death. In particular, women who violate Islamic dress codes do so at great risk. I would call your attention to some of the more recent incidents involving violations of Islamic dress codes.

At least fourteen young girls were burned to death in Saudi Arabia when attempting to flee their burning boarding school. Since the fire occurred in the middle of the night, after they had gone to bed, they were not wearing the required long robes and head scarves. The religious police forced them back into the fire, where they perished.

In Afghanistan, women who dared to wear nail polish had their fingernails ripped out by religious police. Female doctors, teachers and other professionals who did not wear the burqa while at work were arrested and shot. The Taliban eventually solved that issue by forbidding these women from working at all.

In Indonesia, a supposedly moderate Moslem nation, three Christian schoolgirls were beheaded for attending a school that allowed them to wear a uniform where the skirt showed part of their lower legs. The girls were not Moslem, but the beheaders were, so I guess the Islamic rules applied.

In Iraq, two members of a men’s soccer team, and their coach, were dragged into the street and shot. The crime was wearing shorts after a soccer practice. At least we know that the penalties for dress code violations for men can be as sever as those imposed on women.

In Taliban ruled Afghanistan, men were beaten, imprisoned and flogged for shaving.

Moslem areas in Nigeria erupted in rioting, leaving over 200 people dead, when a world wide beauty contest was scheduled in that nation. Apparently, the possibility of seeing a woman in a bathing suit was enough of an incitement that killing and looting was considered a proper response by local Moslems.

As noted above, in the case of the three Christian school girls, one must adhere to Islamic dress codes even if not a Moslem. This is not only true in Moslem nations, but can now be observed in Western countries as well.

France, Norway, Sweden and Australia have experienced a frightening rise in gang rapes committed by young Moslem men, against native European women. Apparently, by not wearing appropriate clothing and head scarves, even non-Muslim women in Western countries are fair game to gangs of Muslim men, since they dress like “whores” by showing bare legs, arms and heads.

“Honor” killings in England, Germany, and other European nations have increased, as Moslem fathers and brothers are killing female family members for not wearing traditional, accepted clothing.

In Germany, female teachers have been attacked by Moslem students for not wearing head coverings in class, even though the teachers are not Moslem.

It would appear that the differences between accepted standards of punishment for something as simple as a violation of a dress code carry a much more severe penalty by the followers of Islam than most other religions and societies. Could it be, just as a matter of discussion, that there really is a clash of cultures, rather than the simple misunderstandings that the media keeps repeating? Could it also be that while Moslems continue to berate Westerners for their lack of understanding and respect for Islam, that the followers of Islam have no intention of reciprocating by understanding and respecting the culture of the West?

While we have not seen the gang rapes and honor killings experienced in Western Europe and Australia, the increasing radicalism of some Moslem communities in the United States, fostered by the fundamentalist clerics in certain mosques, is causing me great apprehension that we too could experience this trend. And I have not heard any specific condemnation of these trends from the mainstream Islamic organizations in America. Why the silence by them, and the media that supports them? As my Grandfather once said, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”. I hope that the death penalty for dress code violations is not something we should prepare for.

Tom Glennon

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