I have never been a fan of wearing formals. In fact, I absolutely hate them. I somehow feel that they stripe me off my individuality because that’s just not me. Being at a point in my life where I sit for interviews, very often I am advised by others to dress up ‘appropriately’ for them. Wearing my usual clothes is not accepted. Jeans and shirt could be an issue but oh yes, if you wear a kurti probably, it’s cool with them. I love wearing both equally. At times when I feel ethinic, I do go for the pretty Indian attire, but I also love wearing my usual jeans and shirt. What I don’t understand is how people equate one’s clothing with their efficiency or even discipline. Why would people think that someone wearing shorts would not be as hard working or as capable as someone who dresses up in formal pants? I mean, shouldn’t you instead be concentrating on their achievements, interests and the subject knowledge? Beats me. But of course, being a very small part of the system, though I try to fight and question this ideology, I can only cause change in my life. So individually I don’t really apply to places which follow this strict dress code because I don’t see an organisation-candidate fit here at all. I mean, I won’t be able to work in such an atmosphere where I am not allowed to express myself freely. What you wear is an expression of your personality no? It’s as much a part of me as my opinions or actions are. Though I am not satisfied with it and of course it means loss of good opportunities for me, I (try to) deal with it.
But there is a larger ideology here. Having studied it closely, I have come to realise that we are a society which opperates on symbols. This is reflected in almost all spheres. Take politics for example. Unless you given an explicit proof of your ‘nationalism’ either by standing up for the national anthem or by a compulsory shouting of “Bharat mata ki jai!”, you aren’t seen as having any sort of national identity. Instead, someone who doesn’t believe in showcasing their love for the county through overt means is tagged as an ‘anti-nationalist’. Similarly, someone who doesn’t hug their loved ones or say “I love you” to them regularly, is termed as not having feelings. There are many such examples in all fields. What they inherently showcase is our obsession with symbols. Acts described above become physical proof or validation of our thoughts. Anyone who doesn’t display or use these symbols is seen as deviant. And it doesn’t come as a surprise that we don’t like deviancy. Now whatever is not ‘normal’ is ‘abnormal’. Having uniforms in schools, though has its own merits, also comes from a similar ideology. It is generally believed that if the students wear same clothes, they can be kept on a common ground and that would promote cohesiveness among them. This seems alright on the surface but eventually what this unconscious priming also does is take away the liberty of expression. In the race to achieve uniformity, we kill the uniqueness present in everyone. These are subtle attacks on one’s freedom which might in the future take a form of a bigger issue wherein as a society we lose the ability to appreacite differences. Deviancy makes us uncomfortable which may lead to the road of intolerance.
Apart from the dress code, these symbols also come to be applied on the ‘behavior code’. You are supposed to sit a particular way, talk in a particular way, smile in a particular way and God knows probably even breath in a particular way. Honestly, I don’t even understand some of these norms because they are so baseless most of the time. So yesterday I was taking an exam. It was an online exam so we were sitting on those metallic chairs, in front of our PCs. With absolute no intention to destroy the decorum of the room but only because of the constant mosquitoe attack on them, I put my feet on the chair (my own duh). Half way through the exam my invigilator came up to me and whispered, ” Ma’am sir keh rahe hai ki normal tareeke se baith jaayiye. ” First I was confused as to what was this ‘normal’ way of siting which he was referring to and what was so ‘abnormal about the way I sat. Upon realising that he wanted me to sit with my feet down, I had to explain to him and his senior that I had to sit this way because the mosquitoes would probably eat my feet otherwise. After much conscious effort on their part they realised that my reason for breaking the ‘behaviour code’ was legit and ‘allowed’ me to continue sitting that way. Now what this incident points towards is the structure that we have created as a society which symbolically represents the ‘correct’ ways of behaving in different contexts. Again, deviation is not accepted. Because well, of course sitting with you feet up, even when they are clean (yes, they were I swear) and the chair is metallic hence not subjected to getting dirty or something, is not ‘formal’.
With the new ban on wearing jeans in government offices, I wonder if we are leaving any room for choice and creativity. People would argue that corporate places have always had a culture of wearing formals so why would I suddenly have a problem with this ban. Now having a ‘culture’ of something and ‘banning’ something are two very different things. In the former, there is still a possibility of negotiation but in the latter, compulsion kills the alternative. When you make it mandatory to dress in a particular way, it becomes a forced evil for individuals like me who do not identify with the set standards. Being in minority, eventually their voices die down and things continue to work in the ‘mainstream’ manner. I am no one to decide what is right and what is wrong. I can just control (to only an extent) what happens in my life personally. But as a society, I think it’s time that we not only notice but also start to question these paradigms which operate silently. After all, it’s our life! Or is it..?