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DAPHNE BRAMHAM: Just quit telling women what to wear

Canadian Sgt. Tanya Casey, a volunteer from the Camp Nathan Smith, gives an Eid-al-Adha greeting card to an Afghan woman in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2009. - MASTER CORPORAL ANGELA ABBEY

Oh boy. Women in the Canadian armed forces can now sport ponytails instead of buns and braids. They can wear flat shoes instead of pumps or oxfords. And (gasp) they can throw away their “nylons.”

Yes, nylons. I hadn’t heard that word for at a couple of decades. But I guess it would be undignified for the men who run the military to say pantyhose.

The reason for the change is that the men at the top want women to have “greater control over personal appearance” which, they say, is good for morale. It might even convince a few more women to enlist.

But here’s one of my many questions about what seems to be longstanding fixation with telling women what to wear.

Why are women in Canada’s military even wearing skirts? It seems to me that being a soldier, sailor or flyer doesn’t exactly lend itself to wearing something as restrictive and limiting as a slim skirt — and uniform skirts are always slim ones whether the wearers are flight attendants, restaurant servers or trained killers.

Unless there’s a dress code where you work, look around. I’m betting that not many women are in skirts.

Think about it. If skirts are such great workwear, why don’t men (other than old-school Scots) wear them instead of pants?

It is astounding how much time and effort societies waste on determining what’s appropriate women’s wear.

All the rules from you must wear a head scarf to you can’t wear a head scarf and work in the Quebec public service. You must wear a hat to church or God will be unhappy to God no longer cares if you’re wearing a hat.

You can’t wear a sleeveless top in the B.C. legislative building until you make a fuss and then the embarrassed men will concede that it’s OK as long as it still looks businesslike. Whatever that it.

Business-like used to mean dress like a man only with a skirt and a blouse that might have a ruffle or a soft tie at the neck. There seems to be a taboo on women wearing the same kind of neckties as men — a taboo flouted by eccentrics such as Diane Keaton playing Annie Hall or the women who occasionally show up on red carpets in tuxedos rather than ball gowns.

There is no real equivalent to a man’s suit for women. Even when a woman like Hillary Clinton tries to invent one for her presidential run, she is criticized in a manner that even the shlumpiest of men is exempt from.

Men who rule the world have given themselves simple rules. Steve Jobs wore black mock turtlenecks, jeans and sneakers. Even Canada’s style-conscious prime minister only breaks from suits indistinguishable from one another by the addition of gaudy socks.

One the craziest double standards is that when men wear the same thing every day, they’re praised as visionaries and lauded for saving their decision-making energy for really important tasks. When women do? People wonder if they didn’t make it home the night before.

Pants or shorts and a shirt and men are pretty much done. And, maybe a jacket if they don’t want to be called out by the fashion police who patrol places like the legislative building or the Vancouver Club.

As Jennifer Wright of Harper’s Bazaar recently wrote, “Men know that as long as they do not wear swimming trunks and a Nazi armband to their office, they’ll be pretty much fine.”

Of course, stray too far from that norm, as actor Billy Porter did at the 2019 Oscars when he paired his velvet tuxedo jacket with a massive, crinolined skirt, and the Twitter-verse goes crazy.

This obsession with what women wear has created a global fashion industry that in 2017 was estimated at $2.4 trillion US with growth since then forecast at nearly five per cent annually. By comparison, the worldwide information technology revenue was about $3.8 trillion, while mining is worth roughly $1 trillion.

In North America, women spend three times as much on clothing as men do. Yet, in this gargantuan industry, only 40 per cent of the people who dictate what we wear (a.k.a. designers) are women.

I looked that last bit up just to confirm my suspicions gleaned from leafing through fashion magazines that men play gigantic joke on women every year by hobbling stick-thin, barely-past puberty women with shoes that put them at risk of broken ankles and clothes and makeup that makes them look like heroin addicts and aliens.

So much time and energy wasted on what women wear.

Imagine what might happen if all that were channelled it into things that would truly make a difference to women. Things like rules for men on how behave at the office, on dates or when they’re with the women they profess to love.

Twitter: @bramham_daphne

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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