Dress code relaxed – Slippers, vests, torn jeans ‘appropriate’ for Government offices

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

NOW APPROPRIATE: Come next Monday, this sleeveless jersey worn by Anthony Julien on Frederick Street in Port of Spain on Friday, will be adequate attire to access Government offices, thanks to a change in the dress code. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB – ROGER JACOB

AS of Monday, men and women wearing vests, torn jeans or slippers will all now be deemed to be properly dressed to be allowed entry into most government buildings, Minister of Public Administration Allyson West said on Friday.

No entry will be allowed to those sporting swimwear, sheer fabric or obscene prints, or who are bareback. Gang symbols are also out, West said.

She was addressing a briefing at the Old Fire Station on Abercromby Street, Port of Spain, to launch a new dress code for visitors to public offices.

West hoped to bring clarity, a more relaxed outlook, and a consensual approach between the authorities and the general public.

Shorts are okay, once at least mid-thigh in length, she said. Religious facial coverings are allowed, but security guards will check the wearer’s face in a private area.

She said past practice had been “archaic and rigid.” West said the Ministry of Education would maintain its own dress code policy for visitors to schools.

Further, the new code is subject to rules set by those government offices which specifically deal with head shots of individuals, such as the Immigration Division, Licensing Office and Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).

West explained at length why the new code was developed, saying the issue has had “a chequered history.”

“Traditionally there has been no uniform policy in respect of the dress code for members of the public seeing services out of government offices,” she said, “but there have been traditional approaches – based on historical norms – that we have been grappling with.

“As a result of that quite a few members of the public have been refused entry into government offices and refused service because they have been ‘seen’ to be inappropriately dressed.” She said in the past the lack of a formal policy on dress code had confused members of the public as to which offices they could enter in various types of attire.

“So they may be able to get into one office dressed in a particular way but not another office.

“So because of a lack of certainty, there were difficulties receiving services and because the Public Service is about addressing the public, we thought we needed to address that issue.” West recalled several notable examples of individuals refused service in government offices due to the old dress code.

“We had the lady who turned up in an office without sleeves and was turned away and went and draped a curtain over her.

“We are aware of the gentleman who went to another office in shorts, was turned away, and went and stapled brown envelopes to his pants and was allowed in.

“So all these ridiculous things occurred because of the absence of a reasonable policy.”

She said her ministry had looked at the situation, examining norms and trends, to prepare a report which Cabinet approved last December.

Since then her ministry had trained front line staff in the policy, to minimise people’s difficulty in getting access to government services.

“We have asked each ministry, division and agency to identity customer service representatives (CSRs) who would be the arbiters of any issues that may arise between the front line staff and members of the public seeking to enter.

“Even if he or she is not allowed to enter, what we are trying to do is make arrangements to ensure the service that is being sought is received in a reasonable manner.”

She said 431 workers in the Public Service across TT have been trained in the code, including front line staff and CSRs.

“Essentially the dress code goes into effect from Monday, January 15.

“Briefly, what we are asking you to do is ensure your upper body is covered (and) that your lower body is covered at least up to mid-thigh.”

People may wear face masks/coverings for health or religious reasons, she said, but may be asked to remove it so staff can see what you look like.

She addressed the wearing of the niqab, a facial covering worn by some women, for religious reasons of modesty.

“We will not require those persons to expose their face in public. We will take them into a private area and then they can reveal who they are and we will allow them to continue with the service.” Footwear was mandatory, she said, and should allow the wearer to be safe, such as not wearing slippers to visit a construction site.

“What we are asking you not to do is not have vulgar displays in respect of your clothing, or in respect of any signage or pictures or whatever on your clothing.

“No swimwear, no sheer clothing, no bareback, no vulgar or obscene messages or images, no gang symbols, the latter being to ensure we don’t encourage any outbreak of violence in our public spaces.” West said the focus of the police and all done by her ministry was to serve the public expeditiously, efficiently and with satisfaction.

“Our approach is to find ways to provide the service, rather than hiding behind archaic rules and regulations.”

Permanent secretary Claudelle Mc Kellar viewed the code as a step to liberalising.

Ministry departmental head Colleen Galaxy presented ministry staff sporting various acceptable attire, each of which would be allowed entry under the new policy.

She noted, “Sleeveless clothing is permitted.” Among the models, a man wearing a vest, jeans and slippers was deemed suitable.

Mc Kellar advocated a focus on courtesy, making people feel like people, and having no one turned away.

Newsday asked if cut-up/ripped denim jeans were permissible and what type of shorts was allowed.

“Distressed (cut-up) jeans are allowed. The overriding approach that we are asking the public to adhere to is decency.

“So even with the distressed jeans – there are different categories of distressed jeans and where the distress goes – we are asking you to be decent. But distressed jeans are fine.

“Shorts are fine. Again, the requirement is the shorts not be shorter than mid-thigh, again for decency purposes.

“We are dealing with all kinds of members of the public, so we want to ensure we don’t distress the grandmother who comes for service, the same way we don;t distress the teenager who comes for service. So decency in all things.”

Newsday asked about Tobago and tourist visitors. West said the new dress code would apply across the board to Trinidad and Tobago, with a focus in decency and on providing the service as required. She said, “The policy before was a combination of archaic and rigid.

“What we have tried to do is introduce a more relaxed policy to accommodate the provision of services.”

West advised the public to check the websites of ministries/agencies that handle photographic IDs (such as EBC) for their rules.

Newsday asked if the new code would temper the dress codes posted outside school gates for visitors.

West said, “Some people may be react negatively to the fact that there are specific rules in terms of the dress wear for schools that are probably not going to be significantly relaxed (by the code), but you need to remember that we are training the nation’s children and we are trying to set examples for them.

“I just ask you facilitate that approach and understand why it is what it is.”

The changes comes two years after the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) relaxed its dressed code for members of the public, with THA leader Farley Augustine damning a colonial and vowing to serve individuals wearing shorts, slippers and sleeveless attire.