Dress sense and dress nonsense – burqa bother
September 20, 2013 9 Comments
A score and more years ago I recall being in an airport queue, regaling a fellow passenger with my views on shell suits. My somewhat uncomplimentary remarks were terminated when I realised that the gentleman behind me was so attired. This taught me two things: the obvious one about foot-in-mouth avoidance techniques, the other that taste is personal and I should not rush to judgement as per pro things sartorial.
Going further back I remember the dress sense of my mid-teens, a time of dressing to shock and to make a statement. Jackets adorned with sewn-on badges that advocated legalising cannabis, The Rolling Stones, and other trappings to indicate my state of hippyness. These were later replaced, on my conversion to all things punk, with badges proclaiming allegiance to XTC, the Stranglers and The Buzzcocks. I wore jackets decorated with loo chains, sink plugs, and false teeth, dressed in old macs, baggy trousers and shirts with granddad collars, and wore PiL tee-shirts, brothel-creepers and dayglo socks. I occasionally dyed my hair – usually with peroxide that made my naturally very dark hair go somewhat ginger, and sometimes I dyed it black. I avoided swastikas, though this was not true of some punks, and one of my punk friends would berate those who did – even dressing to shock had its boundaries.
Clothes make statements, sometimes unintended. Dressing in adapted second-hand chic showed how with-it I was (I hoped), much like my conservative attire of today demonstrates the opposite. Clothes identify us in many ways; even those trying to be different have uniforms. My days as part of the burgeoning alternative scene saw my occasionally bizarre dress sense merely mirroring what many of my friends were doing.
I cannot see the sense in trying to dictate to people what to wear, excepting that there must be standards of decency (and even these are constantly challenged). Whilst I may find some forms of attire odd, ridiculous, or even offensive, who am I to tell someone else how to dress? My teenage self would have objected; my fifty-three year old self is not much different. In the end the overwhelming majority of people conform; even punks become self-parodying in the end.
And so to the burqa: am I offended when passing a lady dressed to cover everything but her eyes? No. Is this a vestige of a society that seeks to demean and oppress women? Possibly. If the body must be covered in public why does this only apply to women? If nothing else there is something distinctly sexist in this distinction; but is this so different in traditional western attire? Western women may give the impression of being the polar opposite of the burqa-wearing Islamists, but sexism is perhaps even more pervasive in Christian culture – I do not see many men baring their cleavage or arse (or both). Men do not totter about in high heels, and anyone reading about the psychology of clothes will understand why women wear things designed to constrict and inhibit movement whereas men do not.
I accept that there are places where covered faces may cause problems (checking ID for instance), but a burqa is not so far removed from what nun’s wear, and I have yet to hear calls for the habit to be banned. Orthodoxy in many religions often means clothing designed to be unflattering and modest – to single out the burqa and niqab does look like one group is being picked on. I think the one thing to guarantee allegiance to the burka is to ban it; if you really want to see it disappear I suggest you just ignore it. In the meantime, if you really want to see examples of daft clothing I suggest you flick through a book of British fashion through the ages; if you think wearing a dustin liner or bondage trousers was silly have a gander at Regency dandies. Anyone for a spot of naked rambling?