Our Wardrobe Malfunction

Date: May 25, 2015

posted by Lee / Comments: No Comments / Tags: , , ,

I arrived back in Sri Lanka on Saturday morning, after fantastically rare, stress-free 19-hours of travel. This place has felt like a second home to me since I first came here to volunteer in 2013. It’s so nice to see that not much has changed and that the gentrification of Asia has been slow to reach these shores. The odd McDonald’s can be found, but the vast majority of the landscape is traditional and beautiful.

I find one of the most challenging things about working here isn’t the heat, the spicy food or even the occasional communication issue; it’s adhering to the conservative dress code that’s expected of those living and working in the local community. That’s not to say it’s a challenge adhering to it, it’s not that at all. It’s a challenge to actually be able to purchase appropriate clothing in western countries like the UK and USA to adequately prepare me and other women for our travels in countries where women are expected to dress modestly.

Grab a shirt from your wardrobe. No seriously, try it. Now put your hand inside it and hold it up to the light. Can you see through it? Of course you can. Western clothes are designed to be sexy, even if you were holding up a collared business shirt and not a burnout tee from Target, I bet you could see a lot more than you wanted to be on show round the office. We as women have had to adapt our wardrobe by adding layers or upping sizes to avoid being sexualized at every turn.

How about a pair of trousers, jeans or pants? How tight are they? Even if they’re not meant to be ‘skinny’ are they? I had to go up two sizes to get to a comfortable level of bagginess in the legs of my khakis; everything else was clinging like you would not believe and they were labeled as ‘loose fit.’

To those of you thinking…’just get stuff out there.’ Of course that’s possible, but I’m taller and bustier than the average woman in Sri Lanka, so the skirts are always a little short and the shirt buttons in my bust area are always pulling, threatening to pop off and take out someone’s eye. But that’s not the point, is it?

I should be able to walk into a clothing store in London and in Illinois and buy clothes that not skin tight or sheer. I should have the option of a low or high neckline and whether or not I’d like you to see my bra underneath. I can’t remember the time I last caught a glimpse of a man’s nipple through his shirt, but a woman’s bra? Every. Time.

We’ve seen this before with children’s clothing. This mom highlighted shorts for girls and shorts for boys were sold at drastically different lengths and there was absolutely nothing in between for anyone. From a young age we are sold the idea that shorter is better. That sheer is ‘sexy,’ but I’m just trying to work here and I don’t want to be sexy at work. Especially when the national team have managed to turn up to the meeting looking great and professional and we look like a Lady Gaga/Miley Cyrus tribute act.

I am working in 95 degree heat here and I want some nice clothes in some damn breathable fabrics, OK? I want chinos that don’t get stuck in my crotch from all the sweat and the too-tightness and I demand a collared shirt I don’t have to put another shirt on underneath of because: 95 degrees! Am I asking too much?

I think not. So here is my proposal to clothing companies everywhere- give us the choice. Let us choose how much of our bodies are put on show and give us the option to pick between the opaque and translucent. I want clothes that cover my body because I do not want to be sexualized or ogled at work. I want to do my job and I want my outfit to have no more or less bearing on what people are thinking about me than my male colleagues. How about that? How about a choice? I think it’s about time.

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