What is there in a dress code?

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]very organisation has a right to decide on the set of principles to be followed by its staff, including the insistence on a uniform dress code or the type of dress to be worn while on duty. That way it is perfectly within the rights of the Rajasthan Labour Commissioner to notify the kind of dress the department staff should be wearing. But unfortunately, the order issued by Girriaj Singh Kushwaha does much more than that. He goes on to define what is indecent dress. According to him, jeans and T-shirts are indecent, disrespectful and against the dignity of the office. On what basis he has classified jeans and T-shirts as indecent is not clear.

That certain standards are required to be followed in clothing while at work, of course, depending on the nature of the work, is a given. The dress must be appropriate and professional. One cannot go to an office dressed in beach attire or the type of clothes used while lounging at home. But to classify jeans and T-shirts as inappropriate defies all logic as neither can be considered vulgar or exposing the body indecently, although there is a certain informality about them. Actually, jeans as casual dressing is primarily a western concept and need not apply to the Indian context. Ironically, jeans is said to have been introduced by Levi Strauss as a work dress in the second half of the 19th century. And across many cultures, it is still interchangeable with the ubiquitous pants, which is a shortened version of pantaloons, and trousers. If anyone thinks that jeans are cheap, there are brands that cost multiples of the price of an ordinary shirt and pants together. So the argument that wearing jeans amounts to showing disrespect does not pass scrutiny.

There have been numerous instances of dress codes clashing with cultural and religious sentiments and people protesting. These have mostly involved turbans, scarves, hijab and burqa. Turbans and scarves have achieved almost universal acceptance, but there have been problems with hijab and burqa, which are increasingly facing censure in view of security risks that they entail. Even progressive Muslim countries such as the UAE have disallowed complete covering of the face by women due to the security threat perception. Women drivers in Dubai, for instance, are not allowed to cover the eyes so that their faces can be captured by radars looking for violations on the road. A Mumbai school had last year banned burqa and hijab on the school premises citing security reasons. The management said the rule was applicable to parents and family members of the students as well. There can be no two opinions on the need to go by functionality and security more than faith and practice when it comes to dress code.