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Dress codes, to some people, are necessary. To others, they are restrictive. The way they are received depends heavily on the reason they are introduced, the effectiveness in addressing that cause, enforcement, and the consequences, both intended and unintended, of their existence. It often seems as though we like dress codes. It isn’t that we particularly enjoy being constrained, but watching other people fail to meet the standard appears to be a favourite pastime.

Last week, the opening of Parliament took place and, as usual, it was a POPPY SHOW. People watched closely to see who was wearing what and, in many cases, who was wearing whom. This is an exciting element of the affair — seeing the work of Bahamian designers and celebrating their talent. Many would say it was a time to “show up and show out.” The invitation to the invite specified lounge suits and short dresses with hats and gloves. Some adhered to this, some used it as a starting point, and others seemed to simply do their own thing.

Throughout the event, photos and videos circulated. The main focus, of course, was fashion. Predictably, the vast majority of the comments were about the women in attendance. From proclaiming love for a particular hat to projecting a deep meaning onto what others see a simple choice in colour, the participants in these conversations were determined to assess every article.

It was interesting to see people defend the dress code and attempt to be gatekeepers from their mobile devices. If a woman was photographed with gloves, it could not go without comment. “These people ain’ read the invitation,” or some variation appeared in the comments on many photos.

Even more telling were the comments on features that were not stipulated in the dress code. It was almost as though people took personal offence to the choices women made regarding their own clothing and on their own dime. They labeled dress lengths “wrong,” disturbed by the visibility of women’s knees. They were equally scandalized by the exposure of shoulders, insisting that sleeves are required for such events. Some even references the queen, saying that these women would not have been allowed to meet her dressed as they were. This is, by the way, completely incorrect. You can definitely meet the queen with exposed shoulders, arms, knees, backs, cleavage, and even bellies. She does not seem to care what anyone else wears. That aside, why the focus on what the queen might want to see at the opening of Parliament in The Bahamas, independent since 1973?

Dress codes and uniforms are often seen as almost interchangeable. One key difference, however, is that uniforms tend to unify, at least in appearance, a group of people by eliminating opportunities for their differences — especially in disposable income — to be visible. For schools, uniforms are said to reduce distractions and give students less to compare. As we know, they simply focus on shoes, belts, and backpacks. Who can afford which brand? Who gets new ones after the Christmas break?

For workplaces, uniforms are said to make it easier to identify staff. Many people prefer uniforms because it is easier to get ready for work. I know someone who makes it her mission to convert staff wherever she works to her position on uniforms. Some businesses even leave room for staff to add personal flair by allowing them to make articles with a particular fabric and issuing scarfs that can be worn in different ways.

Dress codes do not do the same thing. There may be more room for personal flair, but constraints are still there. One of the biggest constraints is financial. What is the woman with a very limited amount of money to spend supposed to do? In addition to a beautiful dress, she now needs to purchase a hat and gloves. In many cases, dress codes are also discriminatory. It is now widely accepted that women wear pants, so why would women be required to wear dresses for an event? Further, gender is a spectrum and people express their genders in various ways, so it should not be surprising that some women and nonbinary people would prefer to wear something than what is prescribed.

The other thing about dress codes, which also applies to many uniforms, is that they are completely unsuited to The Bahamas. Gloves are a ridiculous requirement, only adding to the cost of attending an event. Even what we consider business attire is absurd. Men are wearing suits and ties, office air conditioning is set to a low temperature to compensate, and the women learn to keep a thick sweater or warm jacket in the office and drink tea all day to warm up. “Professional” dress is an import and a result of colonialism. We need to let it go. It is costing us money, in more ways than one, and results in discomfort. With all of the Bahamian designers who show us what they’ve got when people wear their designs in pageants, at balls, and spectacles like the opening of Parliament, we can certainly come up with our own business attire. Countries in the Pacific have done it, making business attire well suited to the weather, culture, and the pocket.

We need to think about what we consider “right”, “good”, and “proper”, and how we came to these ways of thinking. We need to be prepared to learn and do better or, at the very least, accept that others will move beyond these old, tired ways of thinking and there is no reason to be offended by their growth. There is a difference between holding the opinion that women should wear dresses that cover their knees and saying that women who wear shorter dresses do not know what is or is not appropriate. You believe one thing, and someone else has acted on their own position, liking with thinking about or knowing you, or having any loyalty to your fashion (in)sensibilities.

When we start to assign moral value to people’s attire, we leave room for much greater errors. People are blamed for acts of sexual violence against them. Women are turned away from voter registration because their shoulders are visible. Women fashion skirts out of shopping bags in the parking lot because the Department of Immigration deems that more appropriate than their uniform which includes shorts (which are longer than the shopping bag skirt). Students miss class because their skirts do not touch the floor when they kneel. We can and must do better than this.

Dress codes are, in most cases, unnecessary. They are used to exclude people. They are a tool of gatekeepers. They are usually rooted in sexism, racism, and/or classism. Dress codes are not about cohesion and do not have anything to do with the quality of an event. They are an excuse for people to say that certain people do not belong. To gain access, you must be able to afford a dress, hat, and gloves, and you must at least appear to believe that the shoulders and knees of women are an embarrassment that must be concealed in the hopes that everyone else forgets they exist. Dress codes are an arbitrary set of rules that some follow with ease and others struggle to meet in order to be accepted by a person or set of people who consider themselves worthy of other people’s deference, thereby validating those setting the rules and their positions, even if their intent was simply to insert themselves into a particular class of people. It is quite the tool, powerful enough that people on the outside — with no invitation — help with enforcement, announcing those who slip in with minor infarctions, dedicated to making their failures known. Keeping these old rules only encourages this kind of behaviour and does nothing to elevate any of us. Again, we can and must do better than this.

Recommendations

1. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D Jackson. After spending the summer with her grandmother, Claudia returns home to find that her best friend Monday is not there. She was already confused by the lack of response to her letters, but when Monday doesn’t show up at school, especially on her favorite day of the week, Claudia gets more concerned. It seems like no one else is particularly interested in looking for Monday, so Claudia is on her own to look, ask, and recruit adults to help her. The premise of this story seems quite simple, but the two timelines — before and after — create more investment in the friendship and finding out what really happened. It gets more complicated when an unexpected piece of information about Claudia is shared with the reader. From the beginning, we know Monday isn’t coming, but finding out what happened to her is quite the ride.

2. Grow your own food. Last year, many people got excited about starting kitchen gardens. They posted their successes on social media and shared the bounty with family members and friends. It is now, again, time to start planting. It is already October, but still quite hot, so talk to the staff at your favorite plant nursery to find out what you can plant now. Be sure to tell them where your garden space is — for example, on the western side of your house — so they can let you know what will do best there given the amount of sunlight your plants will receive. If you don’t have much yard space, don’t count yourself out! You can grow a number of vegetables and herbs in small spaces.

Published in The Tribune on October 13, 2021.

Of all the movies in theaters, plays on stage, and weddings all over the world, none drew attention to match that of the royal wedding on Saturday. People set alarms and woke up early to spot celebrities, critique the wedding dress, give meaning to Queen Elizabeth II’s expressions, and see the way Prince Harry and Meghan Markle looked at each other during the ceremony at St. George’s Castle.

Markle arrived by car with her mother, Doria Ragland, and stepped out in a silk dress by British designer Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy. The palace described it as “timeless minimal elegance.” With a boat neckline, long sleeves, and no embellishments, the soft matte dress drew attention to her shoulders and waist. It stayed true to Markle’s minimalist sophistication and preference for an understated aesthetic. Her hair was styled in a low chignon bun and she wore the diamond bandeau tiara from Queen Elizabeth II’s collection. The trim of her 16-foot silk tulle veil, also designed by Waight Keller, was a composition of distinctive flora from each of the 53 Commonwealth countries, hand-embroidered in silk threads and organza. The yellow elder was representative of The Bahamas.

Celebrities in attendance included Amal Clooney, Victoria Beckham and, Serena Williams and their husbands, Oprah Winfrey, Gina Torres, and Idris Elba.

To enjoy, or not to enjoy?

On Saturday, everyone was talking about the royal wedding. Even those who claimed they did not care about it made statements to assure everyone that they, in fact, did not have any interest in the event. Some even took time to berate or subtly shame people who watched the ceremony or commented on any aspect of the event. There seemed to be two camps — the completely enthused and the utterly uninterested (who still needed to be involved in the conversations of the completely enthused). The first camp was seen as mentally enslaved, foolishly addicted to colonialism, and the reason we are not in a better position today. The second camp, through its most vocal members, became the thief of joy. Because of slavery, colonialism, and the continued effects of white supremacy, they said there should be no black person with an ounce of interest in the royal wedding.

Let’s face it. Most of us are interested in the weddings, funerals, birthday parties, baby showers, and vacations of complete strangers. No? How many days has it been since you looked through pictures of someone else’s event because someone you know (or sort of know) was tagged in one of the photos and you just kept going, because why not?

We can — and should — be angry about slavery and colonialism. We should be a part of the movement for reparations. It should bother us to see people continue to benefit from kidnapping, slavery, murdering, cultural genocide, and crimes and injustices that go unacknowledged by perpetrators and beneficiaries. This, however, does not mean we cannot seek and find joy in the pomp and pageantry of a royal wedding, the supposed discomfort of the queen, the possibility of royal children with afros, the imagination of the monarchy being taken down, or spirited arguments with friends and family members about aspects of the ceremony and its guests.

We can love Wakanda and still sip tea throughout the ceremony, celebrating every drop of blackness we find, real or imagined. We deserve that much. A little bit of joy goes a long way and, for some people, that wedding was the beginning of something else.

Since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement, the discussion about the royal family and race has been endless. Many seem to expect Markle’s presence, as a biracial person in the British royal family, to revolutionize it.

What does Meghan Markle represent?

Meghan Markle is an American woman with a white father and black mother. She has worked as an actress, best known for her role as Rachel Zane in Suits. She is divorced. She is not a typical “royal.” She has had a career, public persona, and demonstrable interests. The Tig — her now defunct lifestyle blog — gave insight into her love for food, wanderlust, and engagement in sociopolitical issues. She comes across as both a dreamer and a practical person and, overall, quite low-key.

Markle has been the kind of black woman it is easiest to like. To love. To respect. To idolize. She is not only light-skinned, but has a biological proximity to whiteness. She has been what most consider to be modest. She has been likable; not controversial in her statements or actions. She is “respectable.”

To the optimistic among us, she signals the acceptance of black people and blackness by the royal family. Maybe she will breathe new life into the family, relax the formalities, and expose personalities. Maybe.

There has been a lot of talk about what Meghan Markle represents for us, but far less about what she represents for the royal family. Might they have an agenda of their own? The family has always been known as stuffy and uptight. Princess Diana brought a new energy that does not seem to have stuck around since her death. They may have realized that, at this point, a change in brand could be helpful. This is not to say that her relationship with Prince Harry is not real, but that the unexpected acceptance — or the illusion of acceptance — could be strategic.

Think about what Princess Diana brought to the family. Recall the reactions to her death. Look at the conversations taking place everywhere, everyday, about gender, race, class, and migration. Markle’s place in the family is no more the end of racism or an erasure of slavery than Obama’s presidency. It looks good, it feels good, and it encourages optimism, but it might not be all we think or dare to hope.

What can we expect from the Duchess of Sussex?

She is certainly different from what we might expect of a “royal.” On the wedding day alone, she made this clear. She was intentional about including black people such as  The Most Rev Michael Bruce Curry of the Episcopal Church, Karen Gibson and the Kingdom Choir, and cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. She went unescorted until the Quire where main guests were seated, accompanied by Prince Charles the rest of the way. Her Cartier earrings were worn for at least the third time on that day. Still, she entered the British royal family. She was baptized and confirmed in a private ceremony, becoming a member of the Church of England. She wore jewels from the queen’s collection. How much will she change, and how much will she be changed?

In her blog post titled “How to Be Both,” Markle explained the bridge between her two worlds — one where she was a successful actress, and another where she did humanitarian work.

“I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches – I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works. And this type of work is what feeds my soul, and fuels my purpose. The degree to which I can do that both on and off camera is a direct perk of my job.”

It will be interesting to see how life as a duchess will suit her, or how she will suit it. We will soon see how she balances that new life with existing interests, and whether or not she will find a way to share it with the world, similar to the way she shared her lifestyle on The Tig.

Published in The Tribune on May 23, 2018.