Dress codes: Not just for the Knesset, it appears.
Girls traveling yesterday on a United Airlines flight were asked to change into something a little less comfortable. The story — which broke following a tweetstorm by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America founder Shannon Watts — involves some young girls, exact age unclear, getting turned away while trying to board a domestic flight while wearing… leggings. As it turns out, the girls were traveling on a free pass intended for employees and dependents, which involves a dress code. A dress code without, evidently, much relationship to what girls in 2017 wear while traveling, or even necessarily have in their wardrobes. Leggings are what many — most? — women and girls wear these days, especially when traveling. And as anyone who’s shopped for women’s jeans in the last decade or so can attest, finding pants that aren’t leggings-like is if anything the greater challenge.
There are, I think it’s fair to say, plenty of contexts where the existence of a dress code isn’t inherently sexist. Regardless of gender, corporate lawyers — and Hasidic Jews — aren’t heading to work in yoga pants. Life is not a leggings free-for-all for all of us, at all times, and if United wants infants of all genders in business casual, so be it.
But definitions of appropriate dress for women (and, more upsettingly, young girls) tend to have a built-in shame component. A man dressed wrong for a particular setting — or whose clothing is more snug than ideal — isn’t generally presumed to have seductive intent. Whereas if a woman’s skirt is short or top low-cut, this gets read as a message, even if (as is so often the case) the item in question was purchased several dress sizes ago ago, or shrunk in the wash. Not infrequently, the very same outfit gets to count as appropriate on one girl or woman, but not on another, simply because of a difference in build. For these reasons — and especially because children are involved — I’d urge United to give leggings-wearers a pass, even if they’re kids traveling on a pass.