A bare midriff should be a punishable offence

Wherever you go you risk rubbing up against bare flesh; some pimply, some hairy, most of it flabby
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The Independent Online

Well now. The capital's familiar landmarks are really starting to look rather handsome. The mayor has sorted out the traffic. All we need to do now is smarten up the people. What a mess! The lot of us need a makeover.

Well now. The capital's familiar landmarks are really starting to look rather handsome. The mayor has sorted out the traffic. All we need to do now is smarten up the people. What a mess! The lot of us need a makeover.

There was a time when we used to dress up to visit the capital, as many French people still do when they go to Paris. No longer. Wherever you go in central London these days, you risk rubbing up against bare flesh; some of it pimply, some of it hairy, most of it flabby and obviously surplus to corporeal requirements. The phenomenon is exacerbated by the arrival of summer, but not of it: girls and even grown women were walking around with designer goose-pimples on their bare midriffs months ago.

Nor is the exposed flesh exactly - how shall we put it - enhanced by the apology for clothing that "covers" the rest. It is poorly designed, ill-fitting and of uncertain cleanliness. Half the time it is not even suited to the task at hand - staying on, for instance. But what it is least of all suited to is enforced close congress with fellow human beings.

If London's mayor can reduce the number of cars driving around central London by dint of a £5 a day levy - thereby also upgrading the ones that do come - something similar can surely be applied to people. After all, if nightclubs across the country can maintain their reputation by selecting their clientele according to standards of appearance and turn-out, surely London as our capital city could do the same. The large Cs on the approach roads that now stand for Congestion could be made to stand for "City-dress" as well.

What we need is some appearance-police. Do you remember the wardens who used to stand at cathedral doors in Italy - perhaps they still do - turning back the disrespectfully dressed? They wielded long, slender sticks and would bar your way, tapping the appropriate part of your anatomy if you failed. No headscarf, skirt too short, shorts... If you did not pass ecclesiastical muster, you were turned back. Now there's a model for London. Our inspectors could be housed in little kiosks beside each pavement entrance to the C-zone and at all main railway stations in the capital. Improperly dressed? Stay out of the C-zone.

So let's set a few ground rules.

Rule one: No shorts for anyone who does not qualify for a child fare on public transport. While we are at it, shorts should be ruled out as suitable dress for the whole adult population of this country, except at the seaside - and when I say seaside, I mean the actual beach, not even the streets leading to it. We are not the right shape for shorts, and the shorts sold in our shops are not the right shape for us. Foreign visitors should be required to comply out of deference to our national handicap. One rule for all means that we would not risk expensive lawsuits for discrimination from American tourists, whose taste in shorts is possibly even more execrable than our own.

Rule two: No bare midriffs. I'm sorry, all you budding Britneys out there, but there has to be one rule for all. And my conclusion from a year or so of casual observation is that the less the stomach resembles Britney's, the more likely it is to be exposed.

Rule three: No denim (jeans, skirts, headbands or anything, OK?). Jeans have become so much the global tourist uniform that a long lead time may be needed to establish this rule, or perhaps those with student ID cards should be exempt. But look around. How many people actually look good in jeans? London deserves better than its current horde of visitors whose nether regions are clad in an international uniform whose whole point is to be too tight or too loose or just plain crass.

Rule four: No commercial brand names or slogans on T-shirts. Cities display quite enough advertising in the places where it belongs - building-site hoardings, bus-shelters, taxis etc. We should not have to endure it on people as well.

Rule five: Footwear. No flip-flops (away from the beach, they look slovenly and they fall off), no inch-high platforms (their wearers trip over and they could contain bomb-making material). No trainers (student exemption possible, as above). Above all, no sandals with socks (we all know why).

If, as is quite possible, niftily-dressed inspectors with big sticks are not enough to uphold London's dress code, we may have to consider something more drastic. I wouldn't wish to impose chadors or burqas on anyone, but perhaps - as a last resort - we could consider the threat of Sharia-style punishments, chopping off the offending part of the anatomy. Just a thought.

As my mother told me, and I am sure yours did too, a nice pair of trousers or skirt and a clean shirt (now known as smart casual) will take you a very long way. Even, I suggest, into the C-dress zone of our capital city. And once the capital has smartened up its act, other cities would surely want their own C-dress zones, too.

m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

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