Why can't a man wear a dress to work if he wants?

There's an outrageous sexual double standard playing out in society right now, one that's so quietly insidious it's everywhere, so taboo it's almost never discussed and yet strikes at the heart of the rights of almost 50 per cent of the population.

Well I'm not having it any more. I'm calling it right now. I'm standing up – carefully – for my right to wear a dress to work.

Hear me out.

Equality in the wardrobe

Every year, from October to March, the average bloke suffers through rivers of sweat five minutes after we leave the house, feet wrapped in leather, legs wrapped in wool, no matter what the weather? Yet everywhere we look, our sisters are skipping to the bus in a sundress and strappy sandals, enjoying a gentle breeze cooling pretty much everything.

It's a different sort of privilege that admittedly comes from an entrenched system of subtle sexism in the workplace, but still we tug our ties in angry jealousy, as we gasp for another breath.

If we've got it so sorted, why must we stand in the sun in a black suit when it's 32 degrees and 90 per cent humidity? Somehow, somewhere, it's all gone horribly wrong.

Future leaders

New Zealand has always been politically progressive. It was the first country in the world to give women the vote and now it's the first to release us from our pants.

Revolutions always start in the minds of the young. And the Let Us Wear What We Will movement has taken bloom, like flowers on a Camilla kaftan, in Kiwi schools. The kiddies at Dunedin North Intermediate stood up for their rights, demanding they be allowed to wear whatever uniform they felt comfortable in.

In a remarkably open-minded decision for a public servant in authority – let's face it, I don't remember much progressive thinking amongst members of the education community I encountered when young, but I do remember a good deal of mean-spirited pettiness-by-the-rules – their principal said "yes".


"I went away and had a think about it and thought, that seems reasonable, principal Heidi Hayward said," in a gob-smacking blast of clear thinking that is bound to change society as we know it. "I would take offence to being told I had to wear a skirt to work every day because I am female, so this is about being responsive to the kids telling us we are perpetuating gender stereotypes, and what is going on in society at the moment."

Unspoken rules

Halluluah, Heidi. This also means, of course, every little boy who wishes to wear a skirt and some cute ankle socks is more than welcome to trot into class just as comfy as his female classmates who have chosen shorts – perhaps more-so.

And before you start, don't even think about trying to tell me I can wear what I want to work. Societal rules won't allow it. Once, I used to have to wear a suit and tie, and now I'm lucky enough to be on the creative edge of media. That means T-shirt, jeans and boots or trainers. The unwritten rule is you must wear a "decent shirt" when seeing a client. You can wear your creative soul on your sleeve, but there had better be a sleeve.

The comfort of others

There's just no way I could, without consequence, sport a charming shift dress and a pretty little open-toed shoe.

Sure, my pedicure isn't great (I've never had one) and I suppose more leg-hair would be on display than most people are used to seeing in the boardroom, but, hell, I'd be comfortable.

But the harsh reality is personal comfort often takes second place to the perceptions, and comforts, of others.

In fact, I can see it now. I'd lose clients. I'd lose my job.

Just let me be happy

I'd love to see my partner's face, who's very comfortable stealing my jackets and t-shirts to accessorise outfits, and has even been known to sleep in my underwear, when I waved goodbye, wearing her favourite tailored Ellery because it's hot and a long walk to the bus.

I have actually worn shorts to work a number of times, with brogues (I have some of those tiny socks you can't see) and a nice shirt. Even then, the sight of a male leg in a professional environment seemed to get everyone hot and bothered. What an outrage.

So thanks, kiddies of New Zealand, for showing that the future is in good hands. If you see a large man in his early 50s on the 440 bus up Oxford Street next week, smiling and wearing a stylish little skirt, leave me alone. I'm happy.

Have we reached the end of gender stereotypes when it comes to clothes? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.