On the floor: Why women don't wear the trousers

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The Independent Culture
Freddie was the one who started it. A few weeks ago, he was in some club on the Kings Road, one of those places that only hardened Sloanes visit deliberately and the rest of us find ourselves in when we're too drunk to remember the ghastly hangover and estate agent we woke up with last time. Anyway, on this particular steamy night the joint was packed - couples were tottering cheek to cheek on the dancefloor whether they liked it or not, and you couldn't even see the bar.

"It must have been about a hundred in there," Freddie told us the next day. "So I was just slipping off my jacket and loosening my tie, when some chappie says pompously: `Gentlemen may not remove their jackets in the club.' It's only then I noticed that the other men had all three pieces of their suits on. And there are their girlfriends prancing around happily in little silk numbers that barely cover a thing! It's discrimination, isn't it? You women can get away with wearing anything."

It's hard to say whether Laura, Marlene and I felt more like laughing or weeping at this last comment of Freddie's. The boy plainly doesn't look around much or he'd see that all the women at work wear skirts, dainty high-heeled court shoes and ultra-fine tights, even in the depths of winter when the boys are in woollen trousers, thick socks and stout brogues. This isn't because we girlies are somehow impervious to cold and positively enjoy that northerly whistling up our skirts as we cross London Bridge. No, it's because that's the dress code, and woe betide the female who transgresses by wearing the trousers.

Freddie might also like to ask himself why, if skirts and tights and court shoes are so wonderful, you never see women in them at weekends. Friday evening, and it's off with the hateful uniform and on with the garments we really love: palazzo pants, bootleg trousers, Birkenstocks, T-shirts and sensible jumpers, anything, in short, that doesn't make us look like we work for an airline.

Of course, men don't wander around outside work in their suits, either, but what they do put on isn't so very different: sturdy, comfortable shoes; a nice pair of trousers; perhaps a jumper; possibly a jacket; shirt. Not wearing a tie seems to be the only real change, and you can hardly call it a radical gesture, can you?

What men don't have is two completely separate sets of clothes. I can't be the only City girl with a schizophrenic wardrobe, and if I ever stopped doing this job, I'd never wear half my clothes again. Lucky Soraya, my old school pal who's recently landed herself a job in journalism, gets to swan around all day in leather trousers and little cotton cardigans. "Well, it's a broadsheet, you see," she told me. "If I worked on a tabloid I'd have to dress much smarter. Funny, really; all that muck-raking, you'd think overalls and gum boots would be more appropriate."

Anyway, once Marlene, Laura and I had pointed out to Freddie some of the ways women don't get to dress as they please, we settled down to work again. But every so often one of us would get another idea and pipe up something like: "And what about fashion designers telling us what to wear?" By the end of the afternon, Rory had clearly had enough.

"For heaven's sake, shut up," he groaned. "It's obvious why you have to wear skirts at work. If you walked around in trousers, those half-blind doddering old public-school types in the boardrooms would never be able to tell the sexes apart. Good heavens, they might even let a woman into their club by mistake..."

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