While clothing is a necessity (for some), it is certainly an opportunity to express oneself. It is wearable art and a visual extension of our character. Women in particular have developed a visual language that can quickly discern most of their values, ideals and desires. Across the globe, however, social policy makers from government to universities, are trying to change what women choose to wear, by dictating what is considered proper clothing standards.
In 2004, France imposed a ban on "all conspicuous" religious gear throughout its secular school system. This included headscarves worn by women practicing Islam. Most recently, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and policy makers across Europe are seeking to ban Muslim women from wearing their traditional garb -- the burka, in public. A controversial move, France is increasingly becoming anti-women's rights, anti-immigrant and anti-Islam.
In countries where citizens are allowed to practice Islam freely, rules are also imposed to conceal female sexuality. 01/01/10 marked a new law for women living in the West Aceh region of Indonesia. Muslim women are forbidden from wearing pants and are handed full-length skirts if their outfit is viewed as inappropriate. Sadly, Muslim women living in Somalia (currently governed by insurgents) are inspected and publicly whipped if they are found wearing bras. Extremist consider upper body support for women un-islamic.
In more liberal countries the battle to choose (your own clothes) wages on. In the fall of 2009, risk assesments of heels in the workplace were performed on behalf of the Trade Union Congress. Their reasoning? Many reported a vague claim on women's health and safety and others say it's to prohibit companies from forcing their female employees to wear high heels. The Trade Union Congress hope to require, "[that] heels should have a broad base and be no higher than 4 centimeters".
This new wave of clothing rules also apply to men living in the U.S. In Atlanta, all male college, Morehouse, prohibits their students from wearing women's clothing -- heels, lipstick, purses. The "Appropriate Clothing Policy" is targeted to gay men who enjoy wearing clothing designed specifically for women. Morehouse instituted this policy due to five gay men with open lifestyles.
These examples are an indication of how the political is personal. Women (and some men) are indeed protesting and focusing the attention of the extreme nature of these new clothing rules. Last year, Sudanese journalist, Lubna Hussein, was arrested on an indecency charged. Her crime? Hussein wore pants and because of her failure to follow the law, she was subjected to a public lashing and a fine. Hussein refused both. Because of her defiance, Hussein triumphed.
Fashion and style is often borrowed and inspired from the past, but I would hate to go back to a time where women wore corsets to appear super slim and bound their feet.