Today, I saw a brand new poster and notice on the lab door. "Dress Code -No muscle T's and sleeveless shirts, no tanktops, no halter necks, no revealing clothes, no holes in clothing or frayed hems, business casual Mon-Thurs, jeans permitted Fridays, etc. etc."
"Are hijabs and abayas permitted or not? You only mention a prohibition against 'revealing clothing', didn't you?", I asked the lab manager, only half in jest. He seemed a bit non-plussed. I'm not sure if I won't see a new sign prohibiting those for being not revealing enough, unlike the halter necks and tank tops.
"Why does that lady look like an elephant?" queried a four-year old S in all innocence, when we shared an elevator ride with a lady in her abaya and laundry basket, several years ago. I shushed him "Don't be rude, S", while I heard the distinct gurgle of laughter from the elephant with her laundry basket nearby.
A few days later, I got to see what she had been hiding with her abaya: I had to knock on her door when a fire alarm went off in the building. She came to the door and opened it for a few minutes as I explained the situation. She was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, which she promptly covered up with her abaya, as she left the building along with us till the 'all-clear' was given to allow us back inside.
So much for the all-concealing abaya and encouraging of modesty- though it might be very convenient for concealing tatty old clothes and uncooperative hair. My sister-in-law, who has lived in Saudi, swore that she could go to any grocery store even in her old nightgown, under the benevolent cover of the abaya.
I remember my school days, when any hint of nail polish would bring down the wrath of God and of Sister F on all unfortunates, who were ordered to scrape it off. I partly blame my habit of biting nails on that tyranny, and was able to get out of the habit only by assiduously cultivating my fingernails when I reached the 11th grade and moved to a school where there was no such prohibition. There's nothing like a couple of coats of acetone-smelling varnish to keep one from chewing the nails off.
College dress codes were more liberal, at least for engineering students, compared with the medical students, where all girls had to wear saris compulsorily, to convey the required air of professionalism, when combined with the white coats. For us, the only mandatory requirement was that of wearing pants and tucked in shirts on Mech or Electrical lab days, to ensure we didn't get our dupattas or pallus caught in rotating motors and such.
The first office I worked in was still full of old-fashioned fuddy-duddies who looked askance at ladies who showed up in salwar kameez, rather than saris, but I was of a new 'daring' generation and paid no attention to any raised eyebrows on that account. It's now no longer eye-brow raising to wear those. I'm sure halter necks and tank tops wouldn't be acceptable there, even now.
Which brings me back to the current office dress code. With the current Penguins mania and Stanley cup playoffs, I'm sure that an exception will be shortly made for those who wish to dress like penguins, at least until the next game, just as Steelers jerseys were de rigueur every Friday before Super Bowl. We haven't gotten around to dress like a Pirate day ( with fake patches, golden rings in the ears and all), but I'm sure that will come some day, when the Pittsburgh Pirates make it out of the doldrums that they are currently stuck in.