I listened to Radio 4 today, driving to the gym. There was an American female politician talking about the dress code in the senate.
Apparently, it was only in 1994 when women on US Senate committees were allowed to wear trousers. She said “pants”, but I live in the UK, and not wearing pants is something entirely different. It is not impossible to imagine that some of those male chauvinistic senators would not mind that… sorry- back to the point.
It made me remember my own small dress code revolution.
I grew up in Prague, in a communist country. My American partner claims the only freedom we used to have was sexual freedom. Not for me, I used to be pretty repressed that way. Things change, ha?
But freedom for women to dress in trousers??!! I think that MIGHT have been a problem in my country before the First World War. Not later.
So when I immigrated to this amazingly free country, Britain, I was very surprised when I was told that as a doctor I cannot wear trousers to work.
I am interested in fashion, and generally prefer elegant to casual. No danger my trousers for work would be jeans. But I complied with the rule and wore skirts and dresses.
In 1993, our receptionists asked if they could wear trousers on Saturday- we did use to have a Saturday morning surgery. To my surprise we discussed it at the partner’s meeting, and the other doctors all said no! One of my colleagues said “Scruffy skirt is better than scruffy trousers”. None of our receptionists, mostly middle class older women were scruffy. He was, in his corduroy trousers bulging at the knees and open neck shirts and cardigans. I was a junior partner, I kept quiet.
But then, a year later, I was in Prague, shopping for clothes. I saw a very elegant trouser suit, light grey wool, charcoal lapels, very nice fit.
“Why don’t you try it on?” said my husband. “No point, I could not wear it to work.” I said. “You can wear it on weekends.” My husband obviously liked the suit as much as I did.
I would have never bought it if it was not for the shop assistant who overheard us and got curious. When she asked why I cannot wear it to work, and I told her I worked abroad as a GP and trousers were not allowed, she said, “Where? Saudi Arabia?”
That did it!
I tried it on, it made me look tall, elegant, sophisticated. I bought it.
Next week, I wore it to work. The reaction was interesting. The senior partner looked at me, opened his mouth and closed it again. He did not say anything. Another partner, the one in scruffy corduroy trousers smiled and said “Hmmm, you have been shopping!”
I can be a bit fierce, they just did not dare to say anything. I think it was partly because I looked much more elegant in my new trouser suit than any of them looked in there casual outfits. My female partners did not say anything either.
I did a Saturday surgery that week. The two receptionists working with me that day came dressed in black trousers and white shirts. I did not say anything. On Monday, our practice manager walked in wearing an elegant black trousers suit.
The revolution was complete. By Friday the next week, the majority of the reception staff wore trousers. They still do.
One of them, a fifty year old woman, so much older than I was, came to my room and said :“ Thank you, doctor, for all of us for making it possible for us to wear trousers to work.”
This was years before my sexual revolution- the one described in my book.
But that day, I felt like a revolutionary suffragette. A nice feeling.
I do not have that trouser suit anymore, so I am enclosing a picture of another of my favourite work outfits. Times have changed!
If only every fight for equal rights for women was so easy!