Are we correct to set so much store by dressing ‘smartly’?
So, despite being a world championship winner, Lewis Hamilton was refused entry to the royal box at Wimbledon for being too casually dressed. Gary Lineker described the action as ”England at its pompous worst”.
I’m inclined to agree, although the debacle did make me smile a little. My son and daughter will be required to wear ties as part of their primary school uniform come September. I’ll be buying them this week.
I suppose we’ve been lucky to avoid it for so long. But it’s going to be a wrench, especially after a lengthy summer break spent in nothing but t-shirts and swimsuits. My two children object even to the feel of the soft collar of a rugby top beneath their jumpers, let alone a stiff shirt with clip-on tie.
My offspring do not attend a private school, where such formality is more or less obligatory. But there is a new Headmaster at their state primary. He’s keen to place his mark on the institution and inculcate positive behaviour and habits amongst the pupils. Needless to say, the children already possess these characteristics. However, in these days of healthy competition and the need for strong social media profiles, the children’s good habits have to be more visible and obvious to the outside world.
I’m not a total liberal when it comes to this kind of thing. I like school uniforms because they remove the danger of children being viewed purely in terms of what clothing their parents can afford to buy for them. It creates a level playing field. My view, though, is that a less formal get-up is preferable. Sticking to burgundy tops and grey bottoms has worked very well for us up to now. If children are comfortable, warm and relaxed, they will learn better, is my humble view.
I wore no uniform in my own primary school. We weren’t required to wear uniform in the sixth form of my secondary school either. This practice would be unheard of in the modern day, but I loved it. When studying for ‘A’ Levels, when most of us had Saturday jobs and a bit of spare cash, we could express ourselves through our choice of clothing. This freedom of expression went hand-in-hand with choosing our own paths in life. We weren’t little school kids any more, forced to conform.
It surely couldn’t have done me any harm, could it? Clearly it has not, but I suspect that having been used to a relaxed dress code has perhaps made the concept of ‘power dressing’ one that I cannot seriously adhere to in adulthood. When I see the women on The Apprentice, tottering about in high heels and pencil skirts, in the assumption that this makes them perceived as better businesswomen it makes me inwardly sigh. In most modern industries, we are judged on our performance, not our dress code. I have been either a teacher or a writer for the majority of my career, neither jobs requiring super-smart outfits to be worn on a regular basis (although that doesn’t stop some people, I can assure you).
My husband has often complained that women have more flexibility in their choice of clothing than men. He always has to wear a suit and tie, even in the height of summer. But how long will this tradition survive? Richard Branson pours scorn on the concept and the IT and creative industries have always been notoriously ‘casual’ about staff attire.
Actually, I think the practice is getting more ingrained. It’s the fault of clever marketing, of course, jumbled up with old-fashioned traditions and an innate desire to belong to a particular institution or group. Uniforms are tribal, almost. Or am I making too much of it? My children will simply look smarter and more business-like in their ties and buttoned-up shirts, won’t they?
Hmm, I’m still not sold on the concept. When ties were brought into the uniform for girls when I was in the fifth year at school (they’d always been worn by the boys) we quickly adopted ways of making them more individual. The girls tried to make theirs as wide as possible and the boys as thin (a ‘peanut’). There will always be nonconformists.
The cynical side of me wonders why dress codes are still being enforced in the modern age. Why should we let anyone tell us what to wear – one of the most personal decisions a person can make? Does freedom of choice in clothing suggest some kind of breakdown of the social hierarchy? Would anarchy ensue? No, of course it wouldn’t, but there would be greater freedom to question. We would have more confidence in ourselves as individuals, less likely to act as part of the herd. This is what Richard Branson recognises. He wants his workforce to be unconstrained by such conventions. He wants them to be inventive and original, to be ‘better’ than the received wisdom.
I will still dress formally when the situation warrants it, but there is always that little part of me that wants to put on jeans and canvas shoes to attend a ‘black tie’ event. Mind you, I’d probably get turned away, just like Lewis Hamilton, then it might prove to be nothing but an empty gesture.