While women can get away with short or sleeveless outfits, imagine the kerfuffle if men tried to wear a muscle top. Picture: iStock
While women can get away with short or sleeveless outfits, imagine the kerfuffle if men tried to wear a muscle top. Picture: iStock

When it comes to dress codes, women have it easy

OF course women have the right to bare arms.

They also have the right to bare toes. And bare legs. And bellies.

Just not everywhere and anywhere they want to.

The brouhaha over ABC journalist Patricia Karvelas's removal from the public gallery of Question Time in Canberra has focused on dress code rules deemed outdated and the inconsistent enforcement of them.

The first is a social necessity of a civil society but the second needs correction.

The rules might seem a smidgen stuffy in the modern era, but there is a place for poncy dress and Parliament House is one of them.

Is it really such a big deal that all those in attendance at our most important democratic institution are expected to dress semiformally and wear jackets?

Even football players - not known for their polish or aplomb - are required to travel and attend official functions in suits, or at least collared shirts and jackets.

ABC journalist Patricia Karvelas in the outfit that saw her booted from the public gallery during Question Time. Picture: Aaron Francis
ABC journalist Patricia Karvelas in the outfit that saw her booted from the public gallery during Question Time. Picture: Aaron Francis

While it has been viewed as out of order that Patricia Karvelas's demure sleeveless white pants suit was deemed unacceptable, the descriptions of what meets the mark and what does not at Parly House are deliberately broad because not all tops that bare arms are appropriate.

The parameters are in the eye of the official keeper of the standards. And what is ruled for one should be ruled for another - across gender lines at least.

Right or wrong, dress codes have always been different for men and women.

Imagine the kerfuffle if an MP or man in the public gallery attended Parliament in a muscle shirt or Bonds chesty. Imagine if they rocked up in clam diggers or those trendy tapered pants that make youth look like they are waiting for a flood.

Few would argue that either meets the standard expected, yet tops with small sleeves and skirts at the knee meet the mark for women.

Karvelas has, in fact, since received an apology from the Speaker who has flagged a review of the parliamentary dress code. But she's not alone in being asked to don a jacket or remove herself from the public gallery of a place of governance.

Several male political journalists in Canberra have complained they have been given the bum's rush or barred from entry to the gallery because they were not wearing jackets.

Men are often required to dress more formally than women in an official setting. Picture: iStock
Men are often required to dress more formally than women in an official setting. Picture: iStock

Council chambers and court rooms in even the most casual communities usually require that chests, arms and toes of those in the gallery are covered.

Decisions on what is acceptable or not are made by the speaker, the bailiff, or other officers of the chambers. Like a teacher or principal, every one of those officials has their own particular bent and bugbear.

Removals or requests for modification are daily events somewhere in the nation.

Clear guidelines and the consistent application of them should be the lasting legacy of this week's dress code skirmish. It is the inconsistency of the code enforcement that should rankle.

People are not good at interpreting on their own, as experienced by anyone who has held a gathering for one of life's ritual events such as an engagement or a funeral and presumed that guests would join the dots and conclude that this was a dress-up occasion.

One look at the get-ups at any opening night at the theatre makes plain some punters have lost their sense of occasion. Let's just say there is a time for pluggers and a time for leather lace-ups.

Without declared standards, this era that was not anchored childhood traditions of wearing Sunday best to church or taking off your cap at Grandma's dinner table is all at sea.

There is a time for dressing conservatively. We just have to be plainly told how and when to do it.

Dr Jane Fynes-Clinton is a columnist for The Courier-Mail.



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