A politician from the state of Bihar was in the news recently and not for the right reasons. A row erupted after he was seen walking around in his underwear while travelling in a train. Many passengers were offended by the sight and a video of him in a state of undress went viral. One of these even had an argument with the man over this. However, the person in the news claimed later that an upset stomach had forced him to make a beeline for the toilet in a state of undress!
The person who objected to his lack of attire accused the politician and his henchmen of snatching his rings and a chain for daring to voice his disapproval.
In these days of WFH or working from home, questions have arisen on appropriate clothes for zoom meetings and video conferences. I have spoken to many young men who admit that this is a problem. They feel that when one is at home, you should be free to wear whatever you are comfortable in. But they do understand that you need to look presentable when you are talking to your colleagues or boss. There have been many instances of slip-ups especially during online classes when an unsuspecting family member may stroll into a room in loungewear only to find himself the cynosure of many pairs of shocked or disapproving eyes.
On the eve of their return to Parliament last month, members of the House of Commons were issued a warning on dressing appropriately in business attire. This was meant to address any laxity that may have set in during the Covid-19 lockdown. The upgraded guidance looks down upon jeans, chinos, sportswear or other casual trousers as well as T-shirts and sleeveless tops for women
Coming from a military background, I am used to seeing men like my father and brothers dress immaculately. Shirts were always tucked in and socks worn with shoes were the norm. I was shocked to see a friend’s husband wearing unmatched socks (two very different patterns and colours) and the explanation given was that this does away with the problem of hunting for a matching pair!
On a holiday to the UK many years ago during a very hot summer, I was taken aback by the sight of bare-chested men driving around due to the oppressive heat. This is something you won’t see in India as people are more squeamish about such behaviour.
Many offices have a dress code to ensure appropriate behaviour as this can reflect on the company. Of course different workplaces adopt standards according to the nature of the work. Marketing executives, for example, have to dress formally as they have to meet clients and are the ambassadors of their organisation. I have seen such people yanking off ties and removing jackets as soon as they are back in office. Formal wear can be very uncomfortable if you are living in a place with sizzling temperatures.
We had our first taste of dress codes in school. This is especially true of convent institutions which have very specific rules down to the colour of the hair ribbon, the length of the skirt as well as how you keep your hair. No wearing your hair loose. All loose ends had to be tied up. Now when I see movies about schools and the students rushing down the stairs or out of the classroom, I remember a time when decorum was our guiding principle. It does make me feel envious but perhaps a happy medium would be between absolute freedom and some respect for rules.
However, to those who say they do not dress to impress and that they wear whatever they are comfortable in, all I can say is that they forget that they don’t have to see themselves but others do.
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India