“Where do you think you’re going dressed like that, young lady?”
Now this is not a sentence uttered by a tyrannical father or a medieval mother but the partner of a global accountancy firm, or more specifically the partner in charge of the audit I was working on many years ago when I was a trainee. I have never been a fan of dress codes and uniforms.
I turned my hideous A-line school skirt into a fabulous pencil slim version aided by a flash light and a needle and thread and wore my striped house tie backwards so that the thinner, more fashionable end lay draped across my shirt (stolen from my Father’s wardrobe).
Conforming to Rebellion
On the first day of my first proper job I was given what looked like a telephone directory, full of dos and don’ts and a whole subdivided section on the acceptable dress code for women. At orientation we were told by a more senior member of staff, that wait for it....trouser suits were finally going to be acceptable. But only a suit with jacket and trousers made of the same fabric and colour.
"Why are male politicians so obsessed with how we dress that they feel the need to pass statute in order to enforce it?"Ahlya Fateh
So no going Angela Merkel with your bright pink jacket and boring black pants! I think that was really the beginning of the end for me and accountancy. I had spent 14 years in a uniform and had finally hit my fashion stride only to be told to conform to navy, black or grey for the foreseeable future.
Well, I tried very hard to play along but what can I say, eventually the rebel will come out. On one audit my manager was forced to exclaim in exasperation, “Ahlya, are you determined to ignore every dress code that the company has?!” I think he was over reacting. My skirt wasn’t that short...really.
Turkey (finally) accepts pants for female PMs
I am now at peace with my working wardrobe. I can wear jeans with a Chanel jacket or a cocktail dress and ballet pumps and everyone will nod sagely and say, “Oh yes, she works in fashion.”
So imagine how the female MPs in Turkey’s Parliament must feel now that the ban on trousers has been lifted! Cue images of screaming crowds, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Martin Luther King. This is news why exactly?
In this day and age the fact that there was a ban on trousers in the first place is what causes disbelief. Moreover, it took serious campaigning by a woman MP Safak Pavey, who has a prosthetic leg, to overturn it. Now all feminist outrage aside, I totally understand that there must be standards maintained in Parliament as to grooming and appearance but the fact that this woman had to lobby government just so she could be comfortable and be able to do her job is what amazes me.
Why are male politicians so obsessed with how we dress that they feel the need to pass statute in order to enforce it? Whether it is a scarf draped over our head or the length of our skirt, somewhere there is an industrious soul working out the exact measurement that the male population will find acceptable.
Pioneers for pants
This arbitrary attitude to what we wear is not confined to the East. Years ago I heard a great anecdote about the New York socialite and fashionista Nan Kempner. In the 1960’s Nan was seen trying to enter La Cote Basque in New York dressed in an Yves Saint Laurent trouser suit, and was refused entry.
She simply took off her trousers and entered the restaurant dressed in the tunic, “I put a lot of napkins in my lap and didn’t dare bend over!” Mrs Kempner later said. Every time I think of this I smile, because whether it is standing up to a maitre d’ or to Parliament, it still takes courage, time and effort to bring change where it is needed. So every time you put on a pair of trousers, spare a thought for those who made it acceptable for you to do so in the first place!
Ahlya Fateh knows all about fashion and publishing. As the former managing editor of Tatler magazine and the managing director of fashion brand, Tata Naka, she has combined a strong creative vision with an understanding of strategy and management. Ahlya lives in London and is a mother of two.