Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Oh, My Girdle Is Pinching Me

I don't know what it is about Barbados, but every few months or so, the country finds its girdle all twisted, or its knicker elastic pinching, or a ladder in its collective pantie hose. How people dress takes up too much energy for a country that ought to be figuring out how to do things more efficiently. I ask you. How much can it matter that you are wearing slingbacks when picking up a piece of paper from some government institution? Apparently, an enormous amount, if we are to believe the reports in the local papers this week (see Nation report). I'm amazed that when babies are born, there is not a set of clothes on hand to pop on the urchin in case someone walks in and sees 'wee willie winky' flopping around, or such.

Admittedly, the picture in the paper might have some people huffing and puffing, but what is the purpose of these kind of 'dress codes'? We read that people trying to conduct business at the Registration Department yesterday were turned away. What a way to become acquainted with the spanking new Barbados Supreme Court Complex at Whitepark Road, St Michael but rather how the people were dressed.

We understand that the people, mostly women, were not allowed past the security scanners and into the department to apply for or collect birth, marriage and death certificates, decree absolutes or transact other business. People felt it was "foolishness". What is wrong with wear a sleeveless shirt, when you live in a country with temperatures often in the mid-high 80 degrees Fahrenheit? This kind of ridiculousness is what makes people like the laughing stock of the world. We have nothing better to worry about? If the women came in draped in a sack to collect a form, just let her conduct her business.

I've come face to face with these rules, posted at court buildings. By which time it is too late to change anyway. They also relate to whether males can wear body armour in the form of ear or body rings. I guess if it's in the navel and covered then you may sneak in. Wild one!

Come on Barbados, get a life and let business move efficiently. If we want to create work for people, then let more of them clear up the things that make the country look like a pig sty at times. Better still, try to avoid situations like "Efforts to reach the Registrar of the Supreme Court, Marva Clarke were unsuccessful and a call to Deputy Registrar Laurie Ann Smith-Bovell was not returned." The public service is there to serve the public not to suit themselves and go on unauthorised leave when it pleases. Being stuck up in a suit or so-called 'proper clothes' is still stuck up. It's anal, and its backward looking.

Read what the "Discover Barbados" website tells visitors (see http://www.barbados.org/dress.htm).
  • Bring clothes for the tropics.
  • Light cotton dresses and light jackets for formal wear.
  • Casual slacks and lightweight sports for the times when you are not in a bathing suit.
They explain the layout better: 'While Barbados is a fun holiday island, there are dress codes, and because of 300 years of conservative British heritage, formal attire is still seen at times other than weddings and funerals. Business men wear a shirt and tie and sometimes a jacket. Women wear smart dresses. It's a good idea to wear pants and shirt when visiting the bank, it looks more respectful and gives you a pocket for your wallet.'

They should make a note of the codes in case visitors have to do some court-related business.

I wonder why the courts do not do like some of those wonderfully fussy restaurants that have ties, jackets, and other 'proper' attire on hand to lend to 'untidily' dressed patrons. A friend of mine told me that in Jamaica, this is essentially done by vendors having ties, sensible shoes and blosuses with sleeves for sale outside such buildings. Way to go, Jamaica! Make the thing pay.


Sargeant said...

Sometime ago I used the title of Austin Clarke’s book “Growing up stupid under the Union Jack” to illustrate a point I was making. I’ve also had some uncomfortable experiences visiting the Registry to conduct business; truth is I worked at the Registry for a few months after finishing high school and I can’t remember all these rules being in place. Bajans have always had a “hang up” on dress and deportment not that the latter isn’t good but we tend to go overboard. In high school the uniform included brown shoes and grey flannel pants, not grey pants mind you but grey flannel pants, after a while so many people were flouting the “grey flannel” bit that the rule was overlooked but on one occasion I still was given lines by a teacher for wearing black shoes. It was a one day crackdown and the whole school was subjected to a uniform inspection. I was in 5th form and the lines were linked to the form thus “I must wear the school uniform everyday” 500 times (LOL) sufficed. (If memory serves I think your friend WE was among those teachers who enforced that rule) Our priest was a “High Anglican” and insisted that any acolyte had to wear black shoes when serving at the altar, to this day I can’t understand the connection between serving God and wearing black shoes.

There is a lot more ground to cover with the “dress up” discussion e.g. when you visit your local eatery ask the patrons about the (past) importance of their son having a “collar ‘n’ tie” job. Perhaps there has been some change but the prevailing attitude when I was growing up implied that you were a failure if you didn’t secure a job which required you to wear the “collar ‘n’ tie.

On Broad St. one still sees women in small groups wearing uniforms (some may be Bank employees) but still some things have changed, when I attended church earlier this year I wore a suit while many men in the congregation were dressed casually which was not the norm a few years ago.

Dennis Jones said...


You'll see that I went a bit further after today's Advocate editorial.

I like your phrase.

There is a lot of internal logic in upholding rules, even if they make no sense. People have tasks that depend on upholding. At its worst, it's exploitative (economists call it 'rent seeking').

It can also suggest that people are 'serious' when doing nothing to address any real issues.

The uniform issue for employees is also quite interesting, and is also something one sees rarely in developed countries (from where it originates, I presume). It can help more if staff and customers are easily confused, say in a store, but seems meaningless when staff and customers are separated, as in a bank.

Your collar and tie issue I touch on, and it's interesting to see the Manning-Thompson/Gonsalves divide in 'appropriate' public dress.

Yes, it's part of what some may want to portray as the trappings of success. Thus, giving respect to 'office' wear and less to 'artisan' or other wear. I have seen this play out nicely when a wealthy farmer went to bank his substantial takings, wearing his 'work' clothes of Wellington boots, and stained overalls.

macdonald said...

And lo and behold there is yet other perspectives of "dress" called control, discipline and money. Once upon a time, at least three night clubs who used Dress Codes that appeared to be silly to most. Remember "No Hats," "No Jeans" and "No sneakers." And isn't true that a when a VIP who challenged a code was not allowed to enter, and for the next few days: 'the daily newspapers publish it.'
And if the money is worth it shed it all and fill the cover of a
ESPN Sports magazine.

Living in Barbados said...

A friend recounted to me this morning an incident over the weekend with her husband and two young boys, coming from the beach, and stopping at a gas station. They were told to 'move on' and were not served because the boys were not 'properly attired': they were in their swimming trunks without shirts; father was dressed in shirt and shorts. Now, I know the insanity has set in.