AS I SEE IT
It’s been a case of goodbye tracksuits and trainers and hello office wear recently as Working From Office morphs into hybrid working. And dress code at work now depends on the type of employment, casual for creatives and IT types or suits for professionals. But suppose you don’t have a choice and you have to wear the same gear as your co-workers?
At a time of year when we are thinking about the back-to-school kind, uniforms and appearance have hit the headlines. Uniforms are required wear for the forces and they represent the distinctive public image of organisations from airlines to post office workers and I have to say there is something about a uniform which can confer authority and respect.
But what happens when the wearers object to their uniform or an organisation takes exception to a member’s appearance? An Aer Lingus cabin crew member has kicked up over the requirement to wear medium or high heels with the Kenmare green and navy uniforms, designed by Louise Kennedy. Women cabin crew can come down to earth while in the air but once back on ground the heels have to go on. The Labour Court decided that the rule was “unfavourable on grounds of gender”.
Sensible decision: male cabin crew don’t have to enhance their shapely legs with heels. Besides stomping miles to and from departure gates in heels is hard on the feet especially if you have been on them all day. At least the frogs’ legs look wasn’t involved – remember back in the day when Aer Lingus Hostesses were required to wear green tights?
The complainant had a few other gripes like handbags for female staff, not big enough to hold documents or nightwear whereas male colleagues are issued with satchels. When requirements about uniforms don’t take the comfort and practicality into account they need to change. But rules about uniforms can get set in stone and are hard to alter – look at how long it has taken for some schools to allow girls to wear trousers instead of skirts.
Successful airline uniform designs can be truly iconic, like the beige pinstripe suits for Emirates female cabin crew worn with a distinctive carmine pillbox hat with a draped veil. The uniform was commissioned from an English uniform company whereas airlines often use designers like Pierre Balmain who created the gorgeous sarongs for Singapore Airlines hostesses.
The Labour Court decision here does underscore the need to be aware of equality and gender stereotyping when it comes to uniforms, so perhaps we are heading towards unisex wear. A pity in some ways to lose the appeal of feminine and masculine appearance, we haven’t heard from guys complaining that they ought be allowed to wear skirts. Not yet anyway.
How far should bosses be allowed to go with rules about physical appearance when it comes to things like hairstyles, beards or make-up? This question became an issue for three Gardai cadets attending Templemore who were suspended from training and told that they must have the tattoos on their arms removed.
Currently the Gardai rules for appearance require that tattoos shouldn’t be visible. Previously the long sleeves of the old uniform would have kept body inking hidden but the short- sleeved T-shirts of the new Garda uniform leave them exposed. Tough on the recruits who will now have to undergo expensive laser treatment to remove the designs.
Maybe this rule is a bit old school and it’s time for a rethink given the recruitment crisis. Besides tattoos have lost their stigma, with around a third of young people have some form of body art. Last year the force, which has conservative rules about hair length and colours, relented on the issue of now fashionable beards, which are permitted provided they are kept trim.
But, while those in uniform are chipping away at the rules there is a trend for an increasing number of workers to opt for uniforms independently. Shortlisted for the EQ Entrepreneur of the year husband and wife team Rosie Connolly and Paul Quinn spotted a gap in the market four years ago.
The pair say 4th ARQ (their fourth baby and ARQ means home) is a brand of lifestyle uniforms with a mission to make people feel their best and look great in tune with a fashion paradigm that has shifted.
Something to be said for the uniform look after all, especially if you get to choose it yourself.