Versace and Marc Jacobs may have predicted the bold trends of Spring/Summer 2013 months ago but here in Ontario, Premier Kathleen Wynne recently made a fashion statement of her own – telling her employees what they can and cannot wear.
Last week Premier Wynne – Ontario’s first female Premier – circulated a memo to all Liberal aides noting that a dress code is in full effect on “what’s acceptable and unacceptable during the summer.” The memo reminds public servants to be “casual not sloppy” and notes and fairly comprehensive list of unacceptable items typically reserved for pre-teen girls in public elementary schools.
Let’s take a look at this season’s faux-pas according to the House of Wynne:
- Halter tops
- Spaghetti straps
- Miniskirts/dresses and dresses with spaghetti straps are not permitted
- Ripped jeans
- Muscle shirts
- Distracting or revealing shorts
- No bare shoulders
- Bare midriffs as a result of low-ride pants or crop tops are not permitted
Among the highly gendered articles of clothing on Wynne’s so-called “no-no” list there is, however, a short list of acceptable items for office wear. What are they, you ask? “Jeans are permitted if not tattered and well worn. Polo shirts, casual shirts and T-shirts are acceptable.” Ah, yes. Well I’m glad we cleared that up. Men – enjoy your carefree summer days while we women enjoy the thrill of dressing to fit a dress code that is, apart from the aforementioned items, ambiguous. For example, “casual dresses and skirts with appropriate hemlines are acceptable.” Gee, thanks Mom. Let me get the measuring tape to see if my appropriateness is the same length in inches as yours! And perhaps an even worse example, “tailored walking shorts are acceptable … shorts that are perceived as distracting or revealing are not.” Please note that no definitions for either distracting or revealing are provided although one can make the assumption that what those terms imply is this:
The obvious Tobias Funkë joke aside (but seriously guys, he’s not being unprofessional, he’s a Never Nude) Wynne states, “I know dressing norms change, but whatever point in time we have to have some kind of agreement about what’s professional.” Um, what? As a friend of mine so aptly noted, when did we stop trusting tax-paying citizens (not to mention citizens that our tax dollars pay) to dress themselves properly? Maybe I’m just naïve but I believe that most people, nay, most women – since this memo is really targeting women – have enough common sense to grasp what Wynne herself calls “a common understanding of how we should dress.” This means most women can decipher the difference between what’s appropriate for a day in the office and – judging by the items on Ms. Wynne’s naughty list –a night out on the town circa 1967.
Premier Wynne went on the record this week to defend her position on the dress code issue, simply stating that “There has always been a dress code.” But is that all there is? As the article implies, it may be no coincidence that the “sloppy” dress of warmer months coincides with the onslaught of summer students flocking to Queen’s Park and office environments around the country. Sure, generally speaking students fresh out of lectures in sweatpants may not be as sensible to the more literal buttoned-up office environment. And sure, when it feels like 38 degrees on a smoggy Toronto day, the odd shoulder may slip out. But since when did it become necessary to enforce a code of common sense that has and should continue to operate on a case-by-case basis? The last time someone told me to revaluate what I was wearing was when I was attending Catholic high school and rolled cuffs on the tailored uniform walking shorts were considered too risqué.
While carefully pondering my own options for considerate government officewear this morning I listened to The Star’s Queen’s Park Bureau Chief Rob Benzie on CBC Ottawa Morning chuckling with host Robin Bresnahan about this seemingly harmless and silly memo. Benzie then laughed as he recounted an anecdote from the Premier on her younger years as a crusader for women’s fashion rights – namely, the fight to allow women to wear pants in the workplace. Irony, much?
Surely we can all recognize that the question really isn’t about who’s donning hot pants at Queen’s Park but rather what’s the significance of this memo now? Sure, Canadian summer is on its way and that infamous Ontario humidity has us all peeling off layers, but what is it about Summer 2013 that’s making women’s clothes too hot to handle in the legislature?
What makes it okay for one woman to tell her staff – female and male – what to wear? Isn’t it enough to simply provide a polite reminder to stay professional during the summer months and trust adults to make responsible decisions by themselves? Is it by coincidence that this memo was circulated by Ontario’s first female Premier? Or was this the perfect opportunity to introduce a memo that previous governments were afraid to for fear of being labelled sexist?
Let us know your thoughts! Have you ever had to deal with a ridiculous dress code at work?