Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Male Clothing Disadvantage

As I pull off my tie and unbutton my collar; with sweat coating the body beneath my shirt, let alone how uncomfortable the rest of me feels, as a man I feel hard done by.  I know that the increasingly obsolete nature of men in the 21st century is our gender's punishment for centuries of oppressing women.  However, in this hot weather, I just wish companies were less complicit with making men endure discomfort day in/day out.  A couple of months ago when selecting which shoes to put on to go out, the 11-year old boy who used to live in my house, complained to me that all the shoes he had looked like 'girls' shoes'.  This is not because he has a cupboard full of pink pumps, it is because every style of shoe a boy might wear is now worn by girls.  Yes, girls can wear pumps and court shoes, they can wear calf-high, knee-high and even over-the knee-boots; they can wear them with heels of various types or flat; smooth-soled or with tread; they can be shiny or matt.  Yet, these days it is acceptable for an 11-year old girl to wear trainers (sneakers in the USA), DM boots,  flat ankle boots, basketball boots, worker boots, lace-up or slip-on brogues even wellington boots, all styles once seen as 'boys' shoes'.  No wonder he had no style that he did not feel would make him look feminine.  Gender identity is something we are all conscious of especially when growing up.

In the recent hot weather, I have similarly become very conscious of how many more options my female colleagues have in what to wear to work compared to me.  The can wear a suit and tie the way I am compelled to, whenever they wish.  However, in the hot weather, that is the only option I have.  I could wear a short-sleeved shirt, still with a tie, but immediately would look as if I had become 65, not something desirable in the current workplace.  The best I can do is take my jacket off.  My female colleagues, however, flaunt their freedom and come in a wide range of clothing seen as suitable for the office and which is immensely cooler; many have a different outfit for each day whereas I just have different coloured suits to choose between.  A man is ridiculed if his trousers are above his ankle and yet my female colleagues can come in skirts above the knee, or midi or even maxi so large they can swirl around in them; even skating-style skirst.  They can wear tight or loose trousers, harem pants, long or short culottes, long leggings, cropped leggings, capri pants, pedal pushers, Bermuda shorts, cycling shorts (if matt) and traditional length canvas shorts.  About the only fashion off limits for the workplace are the bum-hugging denim shorts so favoured by female students.  Women can wear blouses with long sleeves, short sleeves or no sleeves; tops with some, a few or no buttons and all of these things in a range of shades. 

The dichotomy between how comfortable a man is allowed to be in this weather and how comfortable a woman can choose to be is shown every morning by the difference between the male and female presenter on the BBC Breakfast programme on BBC1.  This morning the man was in a suit, with jacket on, and a tie; the woman was in a sleeveless dress.  Studios may be air conditioned, but it is very hot under those lights.

A large percentage of my female colleagues are in sleeveless dresses and sandals, seen as acceptable for the workplace.  If I turned up in a teeshirt (let alone a sleeveless one), even a short sleeved shirt unable of having a tie, and shorts, no matter how much they looked like those worn by the Bermudan police, I would be sent home.  I read some months ago a comment that the tie shown on the novel 'Fifty Shades of Grey' (2012) did not reflect what men actually wore to work.  I have no idea what it is like in newspaper offices, but every day you see men heading to work and indeed in offices (I just walked past an accountants' office full of them) with the ties on.  This is the expectation in many British workplaces, there is no other option when you work in an office.  Pity those compelled to turn up in uniforms fit to work outside in December.

Ridicule and condemnation awaits any man who wears sandals even on his days off let alone at work.  Dressing in a way which would give me some modicum of comfort in work, is liable to damage my standing in the job.  I have two interviews next week.  The interviewees I have seen at my workplace this week have all been in sleeveless dresses, so each probably carrying many hundreds of grams less in weight than I will be compared to do and without it all pulled tight by the top button and the tie.  I will have to drive in these clothes, I will have to sit waiting in these clothes, I will have to concentrate while being interviewed in these clothes.  I am not going to perform as well as my rivals.  In my department there are 7 men and 53 women.  The imbalances of the past can be seen that even though there are so few men two of the four deputy-heads of the unit are men, though the current and past two heads have been women as is her boss.  This suggests that in my industry, though, there is no need to further favour women in interviews, by making the men feel so uncomfortable.

I am not a transvestite.  I have no desire to wear 'women's clothes', but certainly when the temperatures reach a certain level, I think there should be more leeway for men.  We should be allowed to remove ties for a start.  I am tired of having a chafed neck every evening; it is agonising when the sweat pours into yesterday's wounds.  An open-necked, white short-sleeved shirt can be very smart.  For trousers, long shorts in cotton, say in navy blue, again would look smart.  If sandals are unacceptable then slip-on pump-like shoes in a dark shade and allowed without socks again could take a lot of heat off male employees and yet look as if they mean business.  However, I know this is never going to happen in my lifetime and I simply have to pray for more summers like 2012.

I have taken a bold step and looking around the world at what men who want to look smart in hot countries do, I have ordered a white thobe (also known as a thawb, dishdasha, kandura or suriyah), a long loose garment warn in North Africa and the Middle East.  I doubt I have the courage to wear it to work and if I did that would probably be my career over, no matter if it was a 'dress down' day.  In addition, given that I now walk to work, the chances that I would be reported as being 'suspicious' as people travelling on public transport in London are advised to look out for and would be picked up by the police as a terrorist threat before I reach work.  Being bald I had been tempted to buy a skull cap too as my head burns as I walk home; I have worked out a route which is most shaded, to reduce the damage.  However, I may try a brimmed hat, a little like those Australian ones, and hope that the clash of cultures will reduce the apparent threat I pose.

In the mid-Victorian and the Edwardian periods there were campaigns for 'rational dress' for women.  These did not really win through until after the Second World War.  I think we need to introduce 'rational dress' for working men which allows them to work without being endanger of over-heating in the office and having to spend the evening tending to the chafed skin around their necks and other parts of their bodies.  Men have been backed into a single option for office wear and puts us at even more of a disadvantage in the workplace than is already the case.

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