Dress Code

I just got back from not quite two weeks in Israel and Jordan with the Campbell University Divinity School Study Tour (for a full recap, head over here–and keep reading. There are about 12 posts).

One of our leaders reflected in his blog today about the dress code to which we had to adhere in various places on our trip. Sites owned/run/overseen by various faith groups required modest dress, which basically meant no shorts or bare shoulders or too much neck. We didn’t have any men wearing wife beaters in our group, so it meant they had to resort to pants–usually the convertible kind in which the legs were unzipped to shorts rather quickly later in the day. It did mean the women had to be more prepared about their dress. Our leader was mindful of the schedule and would let us know when we had to think about what we were wearing–if the women weren’t already mindful about asking. And so we would appear at the bus in long skirts (worn over shorts so the skirts could easily come off later) or long pants, a shirt with a neckline that didn’t plunge and sleeves that were long enough–or a scarf to cover the tank tops some chose to wear that day. Occasionally, hats were required–usually for the men.

In some ways, it was an exercise in benevolent self-interest. Yes, our mode of dress was out of respect for the Orthodox/Catholics/Jews/Muslims who owned(?) the site. But we also knew that if we weren’t dressed appropriately, we would not be allowed to enter or participate in the site. And no one wanted to miss out on a moment of this whirlwind tour.

In the grand scheme of things, I agree with Tony’s take on whether God cares about how we appear in his/her presence. At the same time, I have a different take on the dress code.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a woman and women are usually more affected by these things.

We all have our visions of how Arab or Muslim women dress. Usually they have on long sleeves and pants, and their heads are covered in a hijab. I can count on one finger the number of times I have seen a full burqa in the US. The same was true in the Arab areas we visited. Usually, the women (and girls) wore long sleeves, pants and hijab. I can count on 7 fingers the number of full burqas I saw (which may speak to the more liberal nature of Palestinians and Jordanians–or that these areas are more secular than you might expect).

Although I’m not advocating the burqa, I must confess that it was nice to have to wear pants and short or 3/4 length sleeves. Although wearing a burqa rubs my feminist fibers the wrong way, it sure does take the question out of what to wear, feeling like there’s nothing to wear, and wondering how one’s butt looks in those jeans. And so, in some ways, I appreciated being made to cover up. Then there is no question about the usual things with which American (and I’m sure other Western) women are so obsessed (tan lines, varicose veins, cellulite, arm jiggle, leg jiggle, chub rub…the list, I’m sure, goes on).

The dress code also makes me mindful of our typically less than modest modes (or retail choices) of dress for women and girls in our country. When thong underwear is marketed to girls who are barely in elementary school, we have a problem. Our daughters become sexualized way too soon; our women spend far too much time and energy trying to pull hard in the tug of war of aging in an effort to keep an iron grip on youth and beauty.

Would that we all take more time to think about our dress–not resorting to sack cloth and ashes, but keeping some things under wraps more than we do–and about what our bodies can and were made to do instead of how they look or are adorned.

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2 thoughts on “Dress Code

  1. PREACH.

    I often wish I had the “uniform” that Jonathan has for work wherein he grabs one of four identical pairs of khakis and one of 20 identical but different-colored polos and he’s good to go. Or Evelyn, for whom I can close my eyes and reach into her drawer and pull out a red shirt and blue bottoms and call it good. I’m left standing in my closet bemoaning “nothing to wear” and wanting to wear my comfy underwear but worrying about visible panty lines. As well as how my arms/legs/belly/etc. will look in THAT. Ug. I appreciate dress codes.

  2. Part of me is intrigued by the idea of (most of) my body being only seen in private by my family, and all of it only being seen by my husband. I see the hijab a lot and think of how only that woman’s close relatives and husband will see the shining, beautiful fall of her hair. While I understand the feminist frustration about a double standard (the men have fewer restrictions), It definitely engages my interest and certainly my respect.

    Interestingly, I will strip down to sports bra and shorts for hot summer runs, but when I’m at my gym where lots of young people see me as a leader, I always keep a shirt (tank top or tee) on over my sports bra.

    Even I feel that subtle pressure and desire to cover up.

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