It's time to rethink Eurocentric dress codes. What should the Caribbean professional woman look like? - Just Analise
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It’s time to rethink Eurocentric dress codes. What should the Caribbean professional woman look like?

14 Mar It’s time to rethink Eurocentric dress codes. What should the Caribbean professional woman look like?

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Where does our idea of professional dress in the Caribbean come from? The answer is so obvious – the Western World aka Europeans and Americans. I have always been disappointed in the way Caribbean women are taught to dress for the world of work as it inadvertently contributes the oppression of the Caribbean female with its rules and restrictions, that show a total lack of respect for our culture, our rules;  restrictions which reflect a gross shaming of our bodies.

Where is the easy-going effortless Caribbean flair?

Where is the Caribbean aesthetic for work wear?

Why are we only trying to submit to a white world-view of what fashion should look like?

We are a people who love to boast about our rich diverse history of various cultures coming together to live peacefully amongst each other (our definition of peacefully coming together means that there is no war, not no discrimination). Yet, our sense of fashion in the corporate world remains as bland as a slice of unseasoned turkey on dry rye toast. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

As a diversity enthusiast, I love celebrating different cultures. Although I don’t like to shop, I see fashion as a definitive expression and celebration of the different Caribbean cultures.

Why aren’t we wearing kurtas, saris or shalwars as professional wear?

Why aren’t we incorporating African patterns in the fabrics as part of our professional wear?

Why is it that the only way that Caribbean women can look respectable and capable of getting their work done is by wearing white-centric fashion?

In our Caribbean world we continue to aspire to the English or in the case of fashion, we aspire to the American, holding it as the single template of professional wear. How I wish we could move away from this mode of brainwashing and create or our own sense of style that reflects our unique culture of a mixture of races. A style that takes pride in our being from the Caribbean, of being a mixture of races, of being a melting pot of cultures. A sense of style that shows pride in our Caribbean identify in our everyday wear.

Another way the hegemony in the workplace is oppressing the creative expression of Caribbean women is through the policing of hairstyles. Rules, which attack the natural propensity of certain hair types and encourages the using of chemicals to comply with the white-dominated Corporate standards. Yes, hair must be neat but braids and dreads should not be discouraged. It is part of the journey of the black or mixed-race woman as she explores the creativity of her hair. Let people wear the hair that is growing out of their heads in peace not enslaved to chemicals to please the Corporate definition of professional hairstyles.

When are we going to sit down as a region and figure out who we are, what challenges us and what we want for ourselves?

I understand that by tackling Caribbean professional wear, I am taking on the globally acceptable image of female work wear. However, this brings me back to something I keep harping on – when are we Caribbean people going to start thinking for ourselves? When are we going to define for ourselves our standards, in our country for our benefit?Who can determine what works uniquely works for us more than ourselves. We always take the first world nation view of the world and try to template their standards, their rules, their regulations and expect it to fit perfectly into our third world, uniquely challenged situation. When are we going to sit down as a region and figure out who we are, what challenges us and what we want for ourselves? Of course we can learn from those who have gone before but when are going to start distilling what is fed down to us and create our own unique approach to doing things that embraces who we are as a people, as a region, as a nation?

As a curvaceous Caribbean bred woman, I am tired of the rampant body shaming I have had to endure and continue to endure in the workplace. I have sizable breasts. I have a sizable ass. They are not going anywhere (unless I magically lose 50 pounds) and no matter how loose fitting the shirt or the pants are, it would still be obvious that I am a curvaceous woman with ill-fitting clothes.


As a thick slim woman, shopping for workwear in Trinidad is nothing short of torture and as the saying goes, I’d rather have a root canal.

Despite never being able to find work clothes locally which are made for the curvaceous Caribbean body, women with curves are expected to cover up their curves even when wearing the same outfits as their thinner co-workers. I am shamed for having a Caribbean body. I am blamed for the unwanted attention of my male coworkers. I am expected to hide my naturally curvaceous body.Where is the Corporate standard that should protect me in this situation, holding them to professional workplace behaviour?

These rules reinforce that there is something inherently sinful with women’s bodies. These rules reinforce that we women somehow invite sexual harassment or assault with our clothing. Why haven’t we questioned that perhaps the real problem might be these individuals who interpret the sight of skin or the silhouette of a womanly form as a suggestion of sex.

The time has come for Caribbean women to fully embrace their bodies, hair, and heritage in their everyday lives. The time we spend at work is the most time we spend during the day. Don’t we want to spend our day being fully comfortable in our skin and radiating beauty in how we show ourselves off to the world?

Beauty, femininity, being productive and competent can all exist within a woman. We shouldn’t have to subvert our heritage or our natural beauty for us to be taken seriously for our contribution to work.  Having dreads, braids, breasts and an ass does not mean I don’t have a brain.

  • Sheena R
    Posted at 08:49h, 14 March Reply

    Nice Article! What is also interesting is that corporate/business attire is changing in the “developed” world but we continue to hold unto a dress codes that are dated or inappropriate for our climate eg. longsleeve vs armless blouses.

  • Nadi
    Posted at 21:19h, 15 March Reply

    I love this. I hope it inspires local designers to give us some options that meet these expectations!

  • Helen Shair-Singh
    Posted at 12:13h, 16 March Reply

    Agree with the comments above… our authentic Caribbean aesthetic is stunning in it’s unique diversity and we should be celebrating that in every aspect of life here. May I ask where the image as staged? That’s my painting in the back there.

    • Raphael
      Posted at 12:48h, 18 March Reply

      Great painting. I hope you got paid for your intellectual property.

  • Simone Tomwing
    Posted at 12:28h, 16 March Reply

    Armless dresses and blouses! Yesss. Up to the other day my mother chastised me for heading out to work in a sleeveless dress.

  • StephAnn
    Posted at 12:52h, 16 March Reply

    The premise of this article was my very concern recently. As a law student, I was concerned that I would have to conform to the Eurocentric standard of beauty/dress in school as well as the court room. However, I sat down with a senior magistrate who told me that nothing precludes me from wearing my cultural dress to work; it’s just that no one has done it. Aside from the somber colors required in the Supreme Court, it is entirely possible to wear my colorful traditional wear.

    That being said, I realize that it comes down to having the inner strength and confidence to go against the grain and change the existing Eurocentric dress culture. One needs to be self aware, rooted in their history, willing to explain that history to colleagues/bosses, and willing to patiently bear with them as they flounder at your style of dress.

    With more people like that, I think the work culture will eventually change

  • A Corey Gilkes
    Posted at 12:53h, 16 March Reply

    Excellent article. My only ‘complaint’ about it is that you were too polite 😉

    The almost slavish. Acceptance of Eurocentric stabndards of dress, comportment, etc (and do NOT get me started on the wearing of suits in this climate), that routinely shames Caribbean women, is something that needs to be more actively confronted, picked apart and dispensed with. Ike one of the previous commenters, I hope this inspires local designers to project their designs more and more until they are seared into our consciousness.

    Again, great article.

    • Raphael
      Posted at 12:57h, 18 March Reply

      Some of us are happy with the Eurocentric professional wear and north american casual wear. I love a fitted suit with an athletic cut and tailored trousers for the board room or the deck. I believe in controlling your environment so I’m very much infavor of air conditioned spaces because the reality is that no clothing is appropriate for this tropical heat. Our indigenous people live practically naked in the rainforest and while that may be appropriate indigenous lifestyle it would be inappropriate for the boardroom. So, it’s not the Eurocentric fashion that’s the problem, but the freedom to wear whatever you like from bikini to burka whichever you choose. I personally dislike the dashike event how it represents my African heritage. But I am male and this is not about me, the writer is concerned about female freedom.

  • Tricia Toney
    Posted at 08:46h, 17 March Reply

    Very interesting article. I am also a slim thick woman and I personally try to keep my curvaceous curves hidden because of unwanted comments in the workplace.

  • Sue
    Posted at 11:47h, 17 March Reply

    I’m happy to read about someone expressing a frustration and an unfair mindset many in the Caribbean have about professionalism and dress. I’m from Jamaica, no longer living there, and something that always astounded me growing up was the uniforms we as students had to wear. Similar to the issues you mention of wearing clothing for a different climate and culture. I do think that action needs to be taken earlier than ththe transition into the workplace. Schools, especially need to change as they provide foundational impact in the molding of minds and what can be seen as good versus bad.

  • Sade Akeela
    Posted at 12:14h, 17 March Reply

    I aspire to dress in a trendy ( to my personal aesthetic) but work appropriate manner but recently. However, I am beginning to challenge the notion of what exactly “work appropriate” may truly mean. Clothes energizes me and it is my way of expressing my personality so I try to always be true to me whether that includes pushing the boundaries or not.

  • Jillian A. Holder
    Posted at 15:56h, 17 March Reply

    I am an aspiring designer who is hoping to reinvent corporate and professional styles with neo afro-Caribbean flair. Watch out now!!!

  • Shabazz James
    Posted at 13:51h, 19 March Reply

    What in God’s name is a “Caribbean Body?” This writer assumes that all Caribbean women are born with big busts and big behinds. Miss Lady newsflash: that is not the case. To refer to Caribbean women as having a Caribbean body is to deny the difference that make us human. That in itself is body shaming. Shaming those women who don’t look like you and making them feel that they are not “Caribbean” enough if they are not. I say get over yourself. You can choose to work anywhere. You can also decide if you don’t want to adhere to a dress code by not working at the place.

  • Kwame Johnson
    Posted at 09:58h, 21 March Reply

    Such a needed discourse on a too long ignored topic. Great article. So many of the questions you posed are absolutely necessary if we, as a vibrant region, are going to define and create our future on our terms.

    I particularly loved how you articulated this: “Let people wear the hair that is growing out of their heads in peace not enslaved to chemicals to please the Corporate definition of professional hairstyles.”

    Hopefully this sparks a movement toward honest self reflection and bleeds into other aspects of life where Caribbean people need to step up and determine for ourselves who we are and what we stand for.

    Love your blog Analise!!!

  • Kwame Johnson
    Posted at 10:05h, 21 March Reply

    Hmmmmm!!! Apparently Mr. James missed the main point of the entire article.

    Let me state it again here for you: the acceptable standards of professional dress in the Caribbean are Euro- and American-centric; but it is high time we define for ourselves what acceptable professional attire is.

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