Dress codes

In recent weeks a series of seemingly trivial events have met with outcry from Australian politicians and civilians alike of “…that is unAustralian”. One might think that these outcries were to protest the countless crimes and injustice carried out throughout Australia, or to shame our politicians into doing what is right for the people rather than political point scoring. Unfortunately you would be wrong. The injustices that have raised the heckles of ordinary Australian are not the big issues that attack the very heart of what it means to live in Australia, but incredibly benign matters, including standards of dress and restrictions on vulgar behaviour.

The phrase “unAustralian” is commonly used by politicians to try to sway public opinion, and over-used by Australians when they mean “too much etiquette”.

In other parts of the world people monitoring the Australian response to seemingly trivial matters, simply substitute the Australian cries of, “…that is unAustralian” with their own views of the Australian reaction being “…that is so Australian” .

UnAustralian is so often used in this instance, when a wider body of people reinforce the desire for a lack of etiquette. For example, the whole concept of black tie has been interpreted in Australia to mean “turn up anyway you feel like on the day”. RSVP has been interpreted in Australia to mean “wait until the last minute to respond or turn up unconfirmed with an invitation in your hand and still expect to have catering”. Not having a firm understanding of a sense of occasion is not a virtue to celebrate.

Recently in the news Quantas announced that it will enforce its lounge access dress code. We appear to be more concerned that we can not walk straight off a beach and into the Qantas Club.

Lounge access is a paid privilege, either directly or indirectly. If any business wants to implement minimum standards of dress as a term of doing business with them, be it a wine bar, club, restaurant, or members’ club, they should be allowed to enforce those standards.

I am often work in the city, and all too often I see mainly male counterparts making a great effort to barely meet minimum office dress codes. Why are they working so hard at dressing like teenage boys on a school outing? With the same amount of effort they could be the talk of the town, rather than its jesters.

Why is it that when Australians are asked to rise above the basic standards of etiquette and decorum there is a boisterous and indignant scramble back to the bottom?

Why do many Australians rail against standards of dress and behaviour that require a modicum of effort and restraint?

Why is the members’ enclosure at the Melbourne Cricket Ground seen as “the establishment” or “those who are up themselves” rather than a standard of dress and behaviour that we should strive to achieve, and to be embraced throughout more of the patrons?

Surely we should strive to be better than those who came before, and acquit ourselves with confidence and dignity on the world stage. Dressing and behaving with pride and respect will go far in this regard.

By fervently turning their backs on ceremony and etiquette, Australians fall short on fully experiencing a sense of occasion.

I recently attended the Victoria Multicultural Commission’s Premier’s Ball. It was a grand affair encouraging a mix of cultural dress, elegance and sophistication. All the women looked stunning and had made a huge effort to mark the occasion. Unfortunately this was not realised by all the male guests, some of whom embarrassed themselves with open collars, sports coats and in some cases, no jacket at all.

I was also recently in Japan, where ceremony, tradition and dress are at the core of their culture. It was reassuring to see the tradition behind their national dress. Every fold had to be sharp and every sleeve in place. If something was worth doing, it was worth doing with accuracy, precision and meticulous detail.

While in Japan I attended a few onsens, and even here I observed Australian patrons, uncomfortable with the etiquette of the onsen, openly disregard its rules despite being gently directed by locals.

If Australia is to be taken seriously on the world stage it must start with etiquette, and to become comfortable with etiquette it must be taught in schools and learned at home at a young age.

We as Australians do not do well at adapting to unfamiliar social situations; instead we try to shoehorn our irreverence for formality into our surroundings.

There is an argument that the miners will revolt at being forced to wear other acceptable footwear in the Qantas Club, but the definition of flip flops was clearly stated on the Qantas website, so anything from sandals to boots and everything in between is acceptable as long as they are clean.

Seeing how this pans out would be a direct reflection on what it is that we as Australians hold as important. Is it the bigger, broader issues to truth, justice, and what it means to live in Australia, or whether you can wear flip flops into a Qantas members’ lounge?

It is interesting that this, an apparently trivial matter of the dress code in a privately-owned club, has so many people up in arms, when other more difficult topics such as the treatment of refugees in our name, or the recent rape of a seven-year-old aboriginal girl, goes widely unchallenged and undiscussed.

When was the last time that you had a informed and engaged discussion about politics or world affairs over the water cooler? Yet we would readily argue with passion about the AFL, the price of a slab of beer, or the Qantas dress code.

Why are we in Australian afraid to tackle to difficult issues, and shy away from those that require a little effort?

“Answers on a postcard please to…”


~ by jeditopcat on 18 April, 2015.

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