Why do I think these uncomfortable thoughts?


I was thinking a lot this summer about armpits. You do, if you're a feminist. Because generally women shave their armpits and generally men don't; armpit hair becomes a feminist issue. But, if it's anti-feminist to shave your body, does that mean that all empowered men should wear beards? Or are we just obliged out of politeness to depilate the bits that other people see? It would seem a bit weird if a hairy man could not go sleeveless to the office, and yet women are apparently allowed to feel the summer breeze around their vest tops. What if men shaved and wore something strappy? What would happen if we all just wore the most comfortable thing we could find to do our jobs? Are comfy T-shirts just one step away from chaos? Do I think too much about armpits?

At least I am not the only one, it turns out. Last week, a new minister at the Department of Health went public with her intention to tackle builders' bums, and a blog by an intern at a City law firm was removed from its website after "inappropriately" castigating red bras and "more than a half inch of cleavage". (More than half an inch of cleavage? Chance would be a fine thing!)

The minister, Jane Ellison, to be fair, aims to replace "the image of the bottom-baring, overweight builder" with one of "workers who are hands-on, well-oiled machines" by improving their diets rather than by telling them to pull their trousers up or buy a belt, or some hair removal cream (extra sensitive) for their furry bum cheeks. But I still reckon that she thinks too much about bums.

The intern, meanwhile, seems obsessed with her colleagues' underwear. At least, I'm assuming that the unnamed blogger is a her, because she tells wannabe lawyers to invest in "neutral T–shirt bras and non–VPL knickers", and find me a man who uses words like "neutral T-shirt bra" and "non-VPL knickers". She also dictates that skirts should be no more than "one Bic Biro's length" above the knee and that shirts must be "fitted white, light blue or pink (for Fridays)". Man alive, Fridays must be crazy at that place! She also tells men to wear black patent leather shoes. Does she not know that some naughty boys use them as mirrors to look up all those Biro-length skirts?

In the post-recession world, where everybody who still has a job is really doing about three jobs, dressing appropriately for work is becoming impossible. How can you dress smartly and survive public transport? How can you eat fresh, healthy food while laying bricks from dawn until dusk? How can anyone wear black patent leather shoes, a charcoal suit and a white or blue shirt every day of his working life (except Fridays) without dying of boredom?

Meanwhile, if anyone can tell me what to wear on Tuesday for a day of emptying dusty Jiffy bags, carrying around crates of books, attending news conference and the Man Booker Prize black tie dinner, please let me know asap. So far I can think of nothing appropriate, though I have decided that I'll be taking armpits.


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