Dress codes are sexist, outdated and need to stop

Photo: Stocksy

No leggings on a plane? No shoulders at the races? Oh please, says Laura Craik, it’s time these archaic rules were banished for good

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By Laura Craik on

Two things I learned this week: that a “buddy pass” is an actual Thing and that United Airlines is an even worse travel option than I already thought it was. If you’ve ever searched “cheap flights New York”, you might be familiar with the sinking feeling that occurs when United reveals itself as being £10000000 less expensive than Virgin or BA. Great. Seven hours to spend with last year’s films, a numb bum and a gristly chicken dinner. 

Quite why United Airlines imagines anyone would bother dressing up for its flights – or any flights – is unclear, so when I heard about the two teenage girls who were barred from boarding their flight from Denver to Minneapolis on Sunday BECAUSE THEY WERE WEARING LEGGINGS, I joined the rest of the internet in feeling outraged. And also: confused. Like, doesn’t everyone wear leggings on the plane? What are you supposed to wear? “Check-in is closed, madam.” “Yuh, sorry I’m late – I was held up in Selfridges choosing a ballgown in anticipation of the palatial surroundings of seat 73E.”

Which brings us to the buddy pass. In the interests of not spreading fake news, it should be made clear that the girls were called out on their leggings specifically because they were travelling on a buddy pass, aka: their family was enjoying “discounted travel for friends and family of employees”, which bound them to the rules of the company. If you rock up for flight UA475 to LAX in your fave unicorn-print leggings, you’ll still be allowed to board. Nonetheless, the point still stands: United’s policy is ridonculous. “Casual attire is allowed as long as it looks neat and is in good taste for the local environment,” tweeted @United in defence, presumably under the impression that Denver’s national dress code is black tie. It still doesn’t explain why the teenagers’ father wasn’t barred from boarding, even though he was wearing shorts. Like, WTF?

“Check-in is closed, madam.” “Yuh, sorry I’m late – I was held up in Selfridges choosing a ballgown in anticipation of the palatial surroundings of seat 73E.”

Here we go again: one rule for men and another for women. God, it’s boring. Soon, The Season will be upon us, with its prescriptive and archaic rules that at times seem engineered solely to make getting dressed as difficult as possible for womankind. For Royal Ascot, for example, “dresses and tops should have straps of one inch or greater” while “dresses and skirts should be of modest length defined as falling just above the knee or longer.” Unless you’re a man, in which case you’re at liberty to swing up in black shoes and a black or grey suit and spend the afternoon getting squiffy on Moet without worrying about the fashion police. And I don’t mean “fashion police” in any fanciful sense. I mean actual fashion police: people employed by Ascot to issue pashminas to those deemed to be baring too much flesh. Yes, this actually happened.

I don’t think it will happen this year, though, because it feels so wrong. And the reason it feels so wrong is largely because gender-biased dress codes are increasingly being challenged. Whether it’s schools making girls wear skirts instead of trousers, restaurants making waitresses wear high heels instead of flats or the Trump administration ordering female staff to “dress like women”, each of these stipulations need to be called out for the sexist bullshit that they are. As for the idea that leggings are unsuitable flight attire… oh, please. You can’t say a man’s shorts are okay and a girl’s leggings are too casual. It’s nonsense, as well as confusing, embarrassing and hurtful to the girls who were discriminated against. United Airlines? Divided Airlines, more like. Thanks to the huge social media backlash, let’s hope they’re not as discriminatory again. Sexist dress codes: we are watching you.


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Photo: Stocksy
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dress code

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