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**

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Twisted Girdle Syndrome: Dress Code REDUX

Barbados prides itself for its high level of literacy, though the complacency that has engendered is now beginning to slip. But, it is not part of the common place for this literacy to be translated into an ability to think critically. I will use today's editorial in the Advocate as an example. I wrote last night about the latest 'dress code' issue, and lo, this Sunday morning I see 'Dress codes challenged' for the main commentary in that paper. I am not saying they are following my lead. But what do they say? (Please read it yourself.)

We get a description of what has taken place, in their eyes, 'since the 1960s': 'appropriate dress' in those days compared to now has 'caused a clash of cultures'? Well, has has anything been caused? What is this clash of cultures? We live in the hot and sometimes humid Caribbean and people are dressing as they should in such circumstances, not as if they are in chilly, windy, overcast London or Birmingham, England. If there is a clash of culture it is between ways taken from the British and Britain and ways felt right by Caribbeans in the Caribbean. All correct, especially now that we one-time colonized are now independent. As the British would say about life here, "It ain't 'alf hot, mate."

The following description given by the paper about how dress styles have changed is interesting. Nowhere does the editorial address what 'appropriate' means. It posits that what is written on a board, or printed on a paper is sufficient justification to follow and do not question. Yes, there are social mores behind the original codes but what were they and why were they 'right'? The editorial slips in the non-sequitor moralisation: 'Indeed, the state of dress in public is rapidly deteriorating...' How so? We have no examples of what that means and if it is indeed correct, but our minds are put into condemnation mode because it is really saying that those who do not dress as prescribed are 'villains' responsible for some downward shift in values. It then jumps to the unreasonable-a la Matthew Farley and his allusion to bare breasts in Parliament--and talks about 'saggy pants' and indecent exposure and beach wear when not at the beach. But this kind of wear is not this that is at issue. Take away that red herring! It is about people wearing quite decent, normal everyday clothes but somehow not being able to get past some 'barriers' because these outfits are deemed 'inappropriate'. That is the lack of critical thinking. Tell me, or us, why these dress codes matter and what they do to enhance anything. Will my birth certificate last longer, or my decree absolute be really cast iron if I have on a the prescribed clothes? Will the government official due to serve me have an uncontrollable fit of frothing as he or she sees my wife's bare arms?

I then looked at the same paper's and the Nation's pictures for today. I see hints of the same 'culture clash'. I see Barbados' and St. Vincent's PMs (Messrs. Thompson and Gonsalves) sitting at a table with the PM from Trinidad and Tobago in between them. Mr. Thompson sports a pale long sleeved shirt with collar and no tie, and wears a wrist bracelet. Mr. Gonsalves wears a short sleeved shirt with a print of elephants and parrots; he too is wearing a bracelet. Mr. Manning is wearing a dark jacket (I presume part of a suit), with pale shirt, and tie; no visible jewellery. I am not sure at what point during the recent discussions on CSME this picture was taken, but what am I to deduce about 'appropriate' wear?

There is a microphone in front of the participants and it bears the maker's name, Bosch. There is a great English word, 'bosh', meaning pretentious or silly talk or writing. Could the camera have spotted the right sounding caption to add to this discussion?

I presume that Messrs. Thompson and Gonsalves felt that they were functionally appropriately dressed for whatever they needed to do. I wont speculate about what they had on their feet. I presume that Mr. Manning felt aptly dressed too. I suspect that none of them felt that their contributions would have differed had they been dressed differently. I suggest to the Advocate that it read its back page headline, 'New Approach Needed'. Ironically, in an adjacent picture to that caption we see PM Thompson sporting his idea of 'elegantly casual' (black jacket, tie, white shirt, pale (white?) slacks). Those with him are in suits (men) and a purple jacket and black skirt (female). The PM managed the ribbon cutting perfectly. I don't think the building would have moved had he worn his often customary causal shirt and slacks for the cutting.

My suggestion would be to think hard about why we want people to wear other than normal clothes to conduct normal business? That's all. If there is something special that particular clothes add to the task then I will go with that; like needing a helmet to visit a building society, or a protective suit for a chemical plant. But, do not get het up about people wanting documents and coming to collect them in sleeveless blouses or sandals. If it were Rihanna, dressed finely as she often is, what would be the outcome? I notice that Ryan Brathwaite sports one if not two earrings.

Breeding a country that acts like lemmings is not how to make progress. Clothes should not be much more than a reflection of who you are, but we have been caught up with ideas that clothes say what you are. By dressing in certain ways we may like to suggest that people have somehow gotten better or worse. It hold so much false class and social content that I need to think about writing a book. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery...


Sargeant said...

It would take a few chapters in some book to cover this topic and there are one or two subsets which I will get to later. If you remember Thompson was criticised for his “out fit” (no tie) during the reception for Obama earlier this year. Many years ago the Shirt Jac/Dashiki type of jacket was getting some acceptance in Gov’t offices, Banks and other business firms, the idea quickly lost favour ( in the business community) when the designers started to become innovative from a single colour to multi coloured designs and patterns

About those subsets, how does one go from “Brother Granville” to “His Excellency the Apostolic Patriarch for the Jurisdiction of Barbados, Dr. Granville Williams” in a couple of decades? (I’m tired after writing that). Clearly the holder of that title does see some merit in being described in that manner and the newspaper is happy to accommodate him which begs the question, what is his boss’s title?

How about hair? I’m not talking about Black women’s hair which has been the subject of a stage play (The Kink in my Hair) and now Chris Rock’s documentary. Didn’t Farley write about the young Senator’s hair and say that he expected that as a consequence women would start baring their breasts in public without consequence? (Wait a minute that is not against the law in Ontario Google Gwen Jacobs). Then Farley said it was alright for the latest Senator to wear locks because it was part of his religion. Oh the pretzel like twists and turns we take to substantiate a point. This takes me back to the time when girls in cornrows were seen as somewhat “déclassé”.

Dress, titles and hair all belong in the same conversation.

I’ve met a couple of those farmers wearing Wellingtons and a sou’wester wearing fisherman who were fairly affluent and some businessmen wearing three piece suits with nary a sou to their names.

Dennis Jones said...


I wont go into titles today, but may do soon. There has been some recent spirited discussions about honorary doctorates.

Matthew Farley's initial take on cornrows got my ire at the time (you can check back posts). I noted his 'dancing with the stars' moves to not complain about Senator Holder, recently. No sense is nonsense.

The dress codes can be used against themselves. I used to always dress roughly when looking to buy building materials to get the best deals, seeming more like a contractor rather than seeming like a flashy house owner.

It's all a part of total cultural and identity confusion. We don't know who we are so we try to be 'someone else'.

I'll give both PM Thompson and former PM Arthur credit for seeming to dress comfortably as a first order of business.