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Saturday, April 10, 2021

What (not) to wear

A dress code for politicians is not the cut-and-dried affair it is made out to be

By: Editorial |
Updated: March 17, 2021 8:15:11 am
Discussions of dress codes are really about people’s freedom to express themselves and their worldview.

On Monday, Gujarat MLA Vimal Chudasama was asked to leave the Assembly because he turned up in casual wear which, according to those objecting, “violated the decorum” of the House. Chudasama responded that he had campaigned and won votes while wearing a t-shirt, while his party, the Congress, argued that there was no rule about a dress code for the Assembly.

How much of the dignity of a person’s office vests in their clothing? Other countries too have grappled with this question, as politicians rebel against rules that make neckties, jackets or heels compulsory, or prohibit sneakers, sandals, hoodies, t-shirts and a range of other “undignified” items of clothing within the hallowed halls of legislatures. One could argue that many of these dress codes come from a time when men in empires made the rules that everyone else had to follow. This is what Maori MP Rawiri Waititi contended when he was removed from the New Zealand Parliament in February for wearing a traditional pendant around his neck, instead of a tie. The NZ body finally relented, and allowed Waititi to abandon “the colonial noose” in favour of his “cultural identity”.

Discussions of dress codes are really about people’s freedom to express themselves and their worldview. It would also be instructive to recall a certain “half-naked fakir”, striding into Buckingham Palace in 1931 to meet King George V, wearing only a dhoti and shawl. Ten years before the meeting, Gandhiji had made the decision to always wear the humblest of clothing, an act of identification with the poorest of Indians. No lack of fabric could have detracted from the dignity imparted by a firm, principled stand.

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