Should people be free to dress as they like in public?

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Print this page Email A Friend!

How people choose to dress is a matter of personal choice and that choice is governed by preference, taste, fashion, tradition, and pragmatism. What is practical depends on what a person can afford and the weather/climate.

Freedom to choose is, however, not absolute. It is limited by public standards and what private institutions are prepared to accept. Standards of dress in public are established by and enforced by the Government. The Government does this based on what it perceives to be the society's consensus or that of the majority of citizens.

The Government has set certain standards, some of which are enforced by the sanction of law and others by exclusion or prohibition. People are not allowed to go about naked, and if they do, they can be arrested for indecent exposure (exposure of genitals in public), which could lead to a fine or prison time.

A man without a shirt is not considered indecent, but a woman who is topless would be. Private institutions are allowed to prohibit entrance based on the enforcement of a dress code, which they are usually free to set.

Standards change over time. When Mr Michael Manley, in the early 1970s, decided to wear Kariba suits, many, including the Jamaica Labour Party, thought it improper and stuck to the three-piece suit. Parliament passed a law allowing the Kariba style of attire for official functions.

Proper dress and what is nakedness also have a class connotation. Those who can afford it shower behind closed doors in a private bathroom, making sure young children never see them nude. Many poor people have to bath naked in public at a stand-pipe or in a river, which is technically indecent exposure. It is these class differences that are avoided by the requirement of school uniforms which constitute a standard of dress enforceable by exclusion.

Now Jamaicans are debating whether to allow sleeveless dress in public places after controversies triggered by Mrs Michelle Obama, Lady Allen, and Mrs Lisa Hanna-Lake in Parliament. Private institutions can define and enforce their own dress code, and Government will do that for the society and public places. For the Government the question is the definition of sleeveless. It is easy to say no sleeveless attire because that means the top must cover the shoulders and top of the arm. But does sleeveless cover tank-tops and strapless tops; and how much cleavage is acceptable?

Modernisation, getting rid of antiquated rules and being practical, are all good. However, the contemplated changes must be carefully thought through and must not be changed merely for the sake of change.

As we decide on this divisive issue, we must bear in mind that not all traditions are bad, and if they are to be changed, we must be cognisant of the fact that attire is a symbol of the office held and the respect that is accorded the institution involved.

There must be some visible standards which do not have to be popular, convenient or fashionable. Because many people in Jamaica wear shorts, some very tight and skimpy, does not mean it is suitable for attending a court of law or the Parliament, or church for that matter.

Let the debate begin.

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive




1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: advertising@jamaicaobserver.com.

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: community@jamaicaobserver.com.

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

comments powered by Disqus

Flirting while in a relationship is disrespectful.
It depends


Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon