Common sense tells us that the warmer the climate, less clothing is practical while the colder the climate the more. In Guyana we are judged daily by what we wear. There are certain ideas embedded in the minds of many about what is “decent attire”; these ideas dwell on the illusion that the more covered a person is, the more likely they are of high moral standing. This misperception subjects those who choose to wear more revealing clothing to the judgement of snobs that sometimes do not consider the character of the person, their contributions to the society or the fact that Guyana is a very hot country.
We are faced with dress codes from a number of institutions. These include the Government Ministries, the Guyana Post Office Corporation, Schools, Central Immigration and Passport Office and the National Cultural Centre just to name a few.
Most of these dress codes outline that for women there must no short pants, no armless or sleeveless tops, no mini-dresses or skirts, no short tops, no tights or tube tops, no transparent clothes, no rubber slippers and even no curlers in the hair.
For men it is most often no vests, no short pants, no three-quarter pants, no rubber slippers, no armless or sleeveless jerseys.
Often times when one attempts to visit or conduct business at some of the establishments and are not dressed according to the rules one is greeted by rude personnel who are quick to say “you can’t come in hey suh” or they simply stare at you from head to toe with a displeased look on their face.
Some dress codes in Guyana have influenced men to wear western styled suits that are made for colder climates in the heat of the day because somewhere in the mindset of many those styled suits are more appropriate when operating in a professional atmosphere than say for example a shirt jack or a traditional dress like a dashiki or kurta.
But let’s face it, the western style of dress is what governs our culture – matter of fact western style is what has taken over much of the world even in places where they are very much engaged in the preserving their cultural identity. Traditional clothing or Guyanese clothing, which are often more appropriate for the climate we live are often only worn on special occasions.
But what really is the purpose of some of these dress codes? Some will say that you need to dress in a respectable manner when visiting certain institutions because of the status of the establishment. But then it brings us to the conclusion that there are disrespectable ways of dressing. Therefore showing off our bodies is disrespectful? Then it raises the question of who are we disrespecting? Ourselves? The people who work at these establishments? The institution? Why would a person feel offended by what someone else is wearing? Is it because when people dress a certain way it’s distracting? Well maybe so, but that has a lot to do with how our minds have been conditioned.
There are cultures where it is perfectly normal for men to walk around with only loincloths and there are also cultures where women walk around topless. Are we going to completely dismiss those cultures as primitive and reprehensible?
Many have argued that the way some women dress draws attention to them and encourages disrespect and rape. That of course is a ridiculous argument for no one is responsible for rape but the rapist and from personal experience whether you are dressed in cloth that covers every inch of your body or your body is revealed, as a woman you at some point encounter disrespect. And how do we come to that conclusion when in other parts of the world where it is normal for women to wear little clothing, men are not going crazy and constantly raping them? Isn’t it also disrespectful to assume that our men have no self-control? Again it all comes down to the way we have evolved and been conditioned.
I think the time has come to review the dress codes we have. It is ridiculous that people cannot conduct business at places like the post office, passport office, courts, ministries just to name a few simply because they are wearing armless or sleeveless outfits. Why are arms and shoulders offensive? How is that a hindrance to what a person has to do? Why is it men cannot wear three quarter or short pants when visiting certain places in a climate as hot as Guyana? Yet, it is perfectly acceptable for the woman to wear the three quarter pants, but it becomes too much when the dress or skirt is considered mini or the pants too short? Who are rubber slippers and curlers in hair offending? Can’t we simply accept each other in whatever garb we choose to adorn ourselves with? And while yes it would be strange to have folks wearing next to nothing while conducting business people need to be comfortable and not constrained by rules that simply make no sense.
Being a person who is deeply involved in theatre, it is my opinion that the dress code at the National Cultural Centre has long passed the point of expiration. There is no reason why people shouldn’t be allowed to wear whatever they are comfortable in to a theatre. How ridiculous is it that people cannot wear jeans and it is demanded that men tuck their shirts in their pants? Have the people responsible for setting these laws been to theatres in other countries? I have been to theatres in Haiti, London and the United States where there were absolutely no dress codes. People dressed however they felt comfortable, short pants, slippers, t-shirts and all. The Theatre Guild of Guyana has no dress codes and I am yet to see someone walk into the guild naked to watch a show. It is my opinion that the National Cultural Centre is still hanging on to the days when theatre attracted only a certain class of people.
Those who considered themselves “the cultured” – who dressed in their finest and boxed themselves into some illusion that they were somehow better that those considered the grassroots people. Many times the dress code at the Cultural Centre have left patrons frustrated and has even caused people to leave without seeing the show although they would have already paid.
Guyanese have evolved from an amalgamation of cultures. We have just celebrated fifty years of Independence from the British, but in many aspects of our culture we see remnants of the wills and laws of the colonial masters, which is prominent in the way we dress.
We have trapped ourselves into some false sense of what is correct and incorrect when it comes to dress – still holding on to the influence of our once masters and fooling ourselves into a false sense of self importance while denying what makes us unique because of the various backgrounds we have evolved from and what makes sense for the climate in which we live in. It is time to consider change.