EVOLUTION OF DRESS CODE

By Shreenesh Raman & Team.






In a democratic country, dressing according to one’s free will should not be a crime. But college students in Chennai are forced to follow the code of formal attire. Flouting this code could even cost them their career.


Clothes were made to protect the human body from the harshness of nature. But today, clothes indicate a person’s social and economic status. The evolution of dress codes is a complex phenomenon. The 7th century B.C, Greek lawgiver Zaleucus was the first to frame a code. Romans followed them and drafted the ‘nota censoria’.


The divisions of caste, creed and religion started as early as the Aryan civilization and resulted in complex and diverse cultural practices in India. The difference was easy to notice as clothing such as dhoti, kurta and sari where for the ruling elite were made of silk and decorated with ornamental jewels. The working class, on the other hand, wore only cotton clothes.


By the 16th century, class consciousness in dressing became more evident and evolved into a sense of identity. Europe too witnessed the demarcation of dressing styles between men and women; the elites always enjoyed the privilege of dress code and its adherence was thrust on the working class. As George Orwell said - “All animals are equal, but some animals more equal than others”


The 18th and 19th century saw the shift from traditional Indian dressing to the British style. It had social and economic implications as well. With these changes, modesty in dress became an important aspect of Indian life. Over the last few years, there has been a steady increase in consciously dressing as dictated by ones religion. The never-ending argument in every traditional household is the traditional dress code that has to be adhered for a social gathering.


This pattern can be strongly noticed in places of worship. Among Muslims it is offending to pray without covering one’s head, while it is not mandatory in other religions.
Even colour in clothing plays an important role in society. People living in western countries wear black to funerals while people from India, particularly from the north, wear white. In certain places black is considered inauspicious. Black is not restricted to funerals alone, parties see a majority of people wearing black and is considered fashionable. Black is one colour that dominates the party floor.


Dress codes play an important role in professional circles too. It defines the profession and the status that comes with it. Dress codes go a long way in presenting a respectable image of the professional.


However a dress code for the sake of control can definitely stifle creativity in people. The corporate world was not the alone to adopt the dress code. The armed forces of any country and professionals from the medical field have followed dress code based on colour.  It also crept into the games arena where, every player of a team dresses uniformly, thereby signifying the team’s unity. Uniforms in educational institutions, lead to a sense of belongingness and equality.


Dress codes also reveal identities. Politicians in India wear white kurta pyjama indicating political power. For years the unofficial dress code for journalists in India is the kurta.
Regulating dressing patterns restricts an individual’s right to freedom, but it standardizes and maintains unity and identity. At the end of the day, whether one likes it or not, the dress code is here to stay.

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