What women wear

CATHERINE WOULFE
Last updated 05:00 02/07/2012

I am so tired of the snarky, arbitrary rule-setting ('I think this, therefore this is THE RULES') over what women can and can't wear, and where.

A few example, from the easy-to-search Trade Me message boards:

"Leggings are fine as long as you are under 70kg..... well under! :)"
"[Size] 16 is too large for a mini skirt & 60 is too old"
Coloured jeans: "On children up to the age of 17, yes. Adults - no."

Now, I like rules. I follow rules. I follow dress codes. But only when they're set down by somewhere or someone I want to gain admission to. So if I ever report at court again I will leave my gold pants at home, because although there is no actual dress code for journalists in court, recent events suggest sequins are not ok.
Next time I'm getting on a plane in America I will cover my cleavage, unlike this woman, who was banned from boarding. And next time I'm in the posh section at Ascot I will ensure that my headpiece has a base diameter of 10cm or more.

But I will not wear nude hosiery and closed-toe heels to work all summer, just because some stupid 'style expert' says I should. (An actual quote from that story: "We women must always make sure we don't appear too sexy and, at the same time, we don't look too severe in a pantsuit", which makes me want to punch her right in the face. Or would that be too severe?) The harebrained what-to-wear news story is one version of sweeping rule-setting that really gets me riled up.

The other kind is more insidious. It's us, women. It's all those times we see a stranger on the street and we mutter to our friend "God, doesn't she know short women should never wear long skirts?" It's when we see a big girl wearing the same tight top as all her skinny friends, and tsk and shake our heads. It's when we say, "jeggings: just no".

I think it's okay to have those thoughts and file them away in your own rules about what you, personally, will or will not wear. It's not ok to sneer at the person you've decided is breaking the rules, because you are not the boss of the world. (Having a go anonymously, online, makes you far trashier and tackier than that big girl in the threadbare bike shorts, btw.)

I'm guilty of thinking snarky thoughts, for sure. Sometimes I cringe and think, "wow, she really shouldn't be wearing that". But it's never about colours or particular items of clothing, or leopard print or fake fur, etc. I think it comes down to: please don't put on public display, anything that would be covered by a bikini (or for men, Speedos). That's it, that's my only rule, and it's actually part of the super-lax dress code that we tacitly agree to by venturing out in public. (See: Summary Offences Act 1981; 27 (1): Indecent Exposure).

So let's all take off our judgey-pants, shall we? And put on something a little more tolerant.

Do you have stricter ideas than I do about what women can and can't wear? Have you ever been pulled up for breaking a dress code, or for breaking someone else's totally made-up, personal dress code?

» Catherine Woulfe is the deputy editor of Sunday magazine.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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