Oxford Mail
January 2000

The office dress code: who's really wearing the trousers
Trainer Judy Owen stands to win more than 50,000 following a successful sexual discrimination case. Her employers, the Professional Golfers' Association, sent her home for wearing a trouser suit.

Perhaps it's that
vision of helpless,
traditional women
that inspires such
absurd rules

"She was asking for it" is the classic defence in a rape case. A woman, dressed in saucy or provocative style, is blamed for tempting that poor little man.

It seems we can't win. On the other end of the spectrum, Judy Owen was denounced for wearing smart trousers to work. Despite issues of comfort, practicality and equality, some companies prefer to see us totter round in thigh-binding skirts and high heels.

The whole idea is out-dated: this is a battle our mothers and grandmothers fought - and won. Have a look around. Most women on the street are sensibly clad, from jeans to tailored suits.

Wearing trousers no longer carries any stigma or taboo that could taint a corporate image. Any company that bullies women about their wardrobe is unjustified.

Judy was right to leave the fashion dictators at the PGA. Granted, 50,000 seems like a lot, but then maybe other folks will think twice before discriminating.

Otherwise we'll wind up like the Italian riot police, who outfit female officers in mini-skirts, wobbly heels and that ultra-feminine accessory - a machine gun. Impractical? Absolutely. But don't they look sweet?

Perhaps it's that vision of helpless, traditional women that inspires such absurd rules. The message is clear: don't forget who's wearing the trousers in this office.

The time is past for mandatory skirts. We no longer wear girdles or whale-bone corsets either, which were once the epitome of feminine delicacy. They went the way of men's stockings and powdered wigs: dropped on practical grounds.

Even Barbie, the most pliant of female symbols, gets to wear trousers. It's a sad day when we have to fight for the same rights.

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