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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Location: Bracknell Towers

Thursday, July 27, 2006

In which Lady Bracknell toys with the idea of developing a "strident feminist" persona

Despite a combination of the advertised drop in temperature and copious open windows, Bracknell Towers is doing its level best to retain the heat and humidity of the last few days, with the result that Lady Bracknell finds herself unable to drop off.

Whilst waiting - in what some might term a triumph of hope over experience - to drift into the arms of Morpheus, Lady Bracknell's musings turned to something the editor had reported to her earlier this evening when she returned (still moderately snappish, Lady Bracknell regrets to report) from her place of work.

Apparently, the editor had encountered a young woman in the lift who, by all accounts, had forgotten an important article of foundation wear when she dressed this morning. (Lady Bracknell would like to believe that the young woman in question was eventually mortified when she realised her omission. However, standards of dress not being what they were in Lady Bracknell's far distant youth, she has a sneaking suspicion that said omission may actually have been deliberate.)

Now, Lady Bracknell is aware that her own behavioural principles are not generally shared by the Youth Of Today, and that times - and dress codes - change. But she remains of the opinion that, whilst young women should be free to dress in whatever manner pleases them during their leisure hours without ever being accused of inciting molestation from unruly members of the opposite sex, outfits which might be deemed suitable for a trip to a nightclub are unlikely to be appropriate as office wear.

(Lady Bracknell has just realised that "office wear" creates the unfortunate - not to mention inaccurate - impression that a range of clothing and/or natty accessories has been designed for office equipment. She now has visions of photocopiers sporting fashionable ponchos, and fax machines wearing fedora hats at a rakish angle. In her defence, it is very late.)

To return to the point she was making prior to her surreal imaginings, Lady Bracknell is aware that the majority of the editor's mature female colleagues regularly deplore the failure to enforce standards of decency and respectability in dress in their workplaces. None of them wish to impose ankle-length, shapeless, fustian gowns on their young female colleagues, but neither do they find bare midriffs, visible thong underwear, teetering stiletto heels, or deeply plunging cleavages acceptable in what is supposed to be a professional environment.

However, Lady Bracknell is disappointed to report that this is not an attitude which is generally shared by the editor's male colleagues. Regardless of their age and otherwise dignified mien, they will all, to a man, if questioned about such divergences from the accepted dress code, snicker like schoolboys, and mutter something to the effect that they have no complaints. Lady Bracknell suspects that they would very soon start to have complaints, though, if their middle-aged female colleagues - whose bodies are no longer firm and lithe, and whose bosoms have lost some of their initial capacity to entrance - were to attend the office clad in crop tops and mini skirts.

So here we are faced with that much-discussed dichotomy between a woman's right to wear whatever pleases her, and the recognition that even those men who are decent and respectable will respond to the baring of flesh in a lascivious manner. Or at least, they will do so as long as the flesh which is being bared is young and nubile. Which results in the acceptable dress codes for mature woman being markedly different from those for young women. But professional dress codes are not enforced, presumably because the only sector of employees who would really like to see them imposed are women in their forties and above, and middle-aged women are not perceived to be a powerful lobbying force. Their motives in such a debate are also often misconstrued as being derived from envy of their younger (and thus automatically more beautiful - at least in the eyes of the persons who are imputing the envy) colleagues.

Lady Bracknell's own equality hobby horse is, as her regular readers will be aware, disability. She is not practised in feminist debate or rhetoric. And she is too tired to develop the argument she has initiated to a logically compelling conclusion. Nevertheless, she remains convinced that there is something repugnant from a gender equality perspective in the situation which she has outlined above.

Perhaps, when the Goldfish is feeling a little stronger, she could be persuaded to comment from her own greater understanding of feminist tenets?


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I too have observed this phenomenon which has distressed the editor so. Although I am bound to say that I have no complaints :<)


11:29 am  
Blogger Charlesdawson said...

La vie est pleine d'injustice, chère Lady Bracknell. It was ever thus. But, seeing as you male colleagues, of whatever generation, are probably still required to come to work in shirts, collars, ties, long trousers, perhaps they may be excused a little misbehaviour in such heat.

I would point out that the prejudice you mention is not confined to the human species. A friend of mine, who admits to being "over seventy", tells me that during this heat spell she, after taking a shower one evening, could not bear to get dressed even in nightwear, but walked naked into the bedroom.

And the (male) cat leapt up with a horrified expression and fled.

1:54 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Had Lady Bracknell not been so tired, she would have recalled her original intention to write something to the effect that men in offices are undoubtedly disadvantaged in the flowing garment department. (Although she gathers from the Editor that many of the younger men are wearing shorts to the office in question and even senior male staff are sometimes known to forego the wearing of ties.)

Nevertheless, regardless of how uncomfortable they are feeling, Lady Bracknell does not condone their casting lecherous glances at their female colleagues. Not when they work for an employer which prides itself (some might say without very good cause) on its commitment to its equality and diversity policies.

8:48 pm  
Blogger The Goldfish said...

Even as a rabid feminist, the Goldfish concedes that the clothes we put on (or not) convey a social message. This is not to say that clothing (or lack thereof) can ever be sited as an extenuating factor in any case of inappropriate behaviour; clothing may be a form of communication, but there are few circumstances where it could drown out the many other ways in which we express ourselves.

Whilst a young gal must be allowed to wear whatever she wants (or nothing at all) during her leisure hours, at work other people are invested in her appropriate presentation. Workplace dress-codes may be unimaginative when it comes to extremes of temperature but deviations must be carefully considered.

For example, if it ever became too hot to oblige Mr Dude to wear a cravat with his chaffeur’s uniform (I can’t imagine it will ever be that hot), then one would not expect him to arrive for his duties in a string-vest and leather hotpants. Similarly, a young gal who cannot dress for comfort without maintaining some smartness and modesty does not command professional respect. She is unlikely to be taken seriously or get very far in an organisation whose rules she disregards.

Are these gals naïve to this fact, or is the sexual approval of their male colleagues the far greater concern? Neither case suggests a culture of gender equality.

The Goldfish suspects that even the consensus among her Ladyship's male colleagues may be partly due to homosocial pressures; what accusation would face the first gentleman to object to this behaviour?

Undoubtedly, gentleman (and those ladies with Venetian tendencies) enjoy looking at women in a state of undress. However, a true gentleman knows that it is not polite to stare and may well feel distracted, compromised or even intimidated by the plunging décolletage of a colleague with whom he is trying to have a serious conversation about the economic cycles of boom and bust.

A true gentleman will not stare, but certain attire will undoubtedly make it more difficult to maintain proper decorum. And I suspect, the established culture makes it all but impossible for him to raise any objection.

11:36 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being female, 27 years old & 7 stone, I am currently sat working wearing a pair of shorts and a halter neck top. Luckily, I work from home so am sat in my garden :)

When visiting clients offices one must wear a business suit and smart blouse. In summer it is permissible to remove the jacket. On extremely warm days it may be permissible to leave off the hosiery. One must maintain standards.

p.s. Thongs are so last year, not to mention "chav".

5:45 pm  
Blogger Caribou said...

Reading you is as delightful as sitting down to a hot cuppa and some Melton Mowbray from Marks & Sparks. I can't decide what is more enjoyable.


7:57 pm  
Blogger Wilf said...

I had to get my mum to tell me what you were talking about. She said it's all about men and women and what they wear to the office and what that says about them. I still didn't understand but I do think that if everyone wore grey trousers and white shirts like we do at school then everybody would be happy.AND there is the added bonus of being able to play football without the worry of getting your nice clothes dirty.

8:26 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Lady Bracknell is bemused by the fact that what she herself believed to be possibly her weakest blog entry to date has attracted so many comments.

She admits to being extremely pleased that the Goldfish and Dame Honoria - though young in years, both are clearly mature in outlook - are as critical of inappropriate dress as she is herself. It is a relief for her ladyship to learn that she is not entirely out of step with the opinions of the better class of modern young ladies.

The Caribou is most gracious, and is therefore welcome back to these pages at any time. Indeed, Lady Bracknell is tempted to lay on a pot of English Breakfast and some hot, buttered crumpets for the event.

She hopes that Will has not stayed up past his bedtime, and that he is behaving himself nicely for his mother.

9:58 pm  

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