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