The letter S seems to touch off raw nerves in the Philippines and I don’t mean the four-letter English one used as an expletive. Or the three-lettered government agency that sometimes leads to expletives.
I’m talking about sartorial prohibitions whose enforcement now even involves the police and security guards.
There’s the Department of Labor and Employment directive prohibiting companies from requiring women to wear heels higher than two inches, so that’s my first sartorial S ban: stilettos.
That was actually a good directive because women do suffer from high heels, not just pain on the feet but on the legs, hips and back from the strain of trying to balance themselves. The higher and thinner the heels, the greater too the risk of accidents, including serious falls.
Yes, I do support that ban on stilettos in the work place, but I’m ambivalent about many other S bans.
Last Wednesday I wrote about a poor man in Caloocan who supposedly resisted arrest and shot at the police, who then fired back and killed him. His alleged crime? Going around shirtless.
Several cities have ordinances prohibiting men from going around shirtless and I think it just leads to more police extortion. The rationale, too, for the ban is that it’s unsightly, more of an issue of our public image. You know, what will foreigners say.
There are times when I do agree it’s unsightly: men who are not only shirtless but are scratching their beer bellies. When I see them loitering around during the day, I think of them as lazy jobless bums who drink a lot. Now that’s a bias of course because some of them might actually be overseas workers, seafarers especially, who are home on vacation.
It’s all in the eye of the beholder and while some people may think these shirtless ones are eye candy, even a sign of being an idle rich (relatively, in urban poor communities), others might say we didn’t even need to pass an ordinance to ban them because we could have them arrested under a provision in our penal code for unjust vexation.
While the ban on shirtless men has actually been enacted as ordinances, there’s a more common SSS ban that you often see in government offices: No Sando, No Shorts, No Slippers.
Some smart aleck could attempt to go to these offices without a sando, without slippers and without, horrors, shorts, and argue that the sign orders you not to wear those three sartorially sensitive S’s. We know of course the signs ban those three items and security guards will be strict and not allow you in, especially if you’re trying to see an official.
Well, strict most of the time.
One time in a government office, I saw the security guard stopping a man in shorts. When the visitor’s woman companion pleaded (this is again so typical in the Philippines), the guard suddenly turned reverential and asked if the man was a senior citizen. Yes, he was, and that allowed him to get in wearing shorts.
Not all government offices have the SSS ban but I’d warn you to be careful with many establishments, government and private, where you may not be banned but where the matapobre (disdain for the poor) attitude kicks in and you’ll be treated shabbily. Some people still think sandos, shorts and slippers are declasse, wa klas, oblivious to recent trends where some of these items may run into the thousands of pesos each.
When I did my column on the matapobre some weeks back, quite a few readers wrote in to say that they often get that treatment because as balikbayan, they like going out in the SSS, plus the occasional duster.
While I dislike the matapobre, I actually agree that there are many situations, in both government and private places, where the SSS might be inappropriate in the sense that you send a message of being disrespectful.
I do have my biases. Many years ago, I attended a conference in the United States and, after an evening event, we were brought back to our hotel in a bus. I was tired and was dozing off when I felt something creeping up from behind to my waist. I looked and let out a silent scream: it was practically glowing in the dark, crimson red, and moving, or rather, creeping.
I realized quickly it was the woman behind me who had taken off her slippers and decided to relax by putting her feet up on the seat in front. Besides being in slippers, she was also in shorts and a sando-type blouse.
No, I don’t think it was sexual misconduct—she was actually a friend and knew I would not have been interested in her feet or in her. Smile. But after that incident I’ve found myself cringing whenever I’m in a bus, train or plane and see rude passengers like her. I also see that occasionally in schools, including UP ( not just students but faculty and staff) and those are times when I’m tempted to require uniforms.
Yes, we want students and employees to be comfortable, but there are times when skimpy SSS can be an affront. Adding insult to injury, people who wear slippers often have the dirtiest feet imaginable, including unclipped toenails.
Talking about clipped nails and toenails, let me say too that I think it’s a sign of respect for men to meet visitors with a proper shave. I’ll say I often forget to do that myself, but now keep shavers in my bag and in my office so I can do an instant shave when needed. Proper grooming—nails, beards, never mind the armpits—is a sign of respect.
Religions probably started all this concern about how to dress, and mainly with a moral angle in mind. Reflecting the sexism in religions, there are more rules about what women can’t wear, as well as what women must wear (veils for example). Even in secular societies, morality might kick in. Some years back, I read in a Hongkong newspaper about a woman who had filed a case against a construction worker who was working on a site near her apartment and his being shirtless, she said, was offensive to her.
Cultures differ in what they consider to be acceptable with clothing and the Philippines has a wide latitude of tolerance, but there will be variations too among Filipinos on what can be accepted. We will just have to be aware of, and respect the rules.
Respect is what sartorial rules should be about. We have such extremes in the Philippines of overdressing and underdressing, and both extremes can be disrespectful, the overdressing as “yabang” (being an arrogant show-off) and the underdressing as being condescending. Just remember the occasions, including that first date, when we change our outfits several times to get the right touch, a blend of impressing, showing we have healthy esteem, comfortable enough to be a bit kikay or kikoy (flirtatious), and yet showing respect for the person we are meeting.