Freedom of Dress

woman wearing blue burqua veil

Without going into too much detail on the whole Britain first’ awfulness I wanted to comment in particular on one image making its rounds on facebook recently, in the days since the terrorist attacks, as below.


I equate freedom of speech and freedom of dress. Banning any element of religious dress gives fuel to the few racists and bigots who unfortunately will need little enough encouragement to verbally or even physically attack people ‘breaking the law’ by choosing to wear particular clothes. Banning the burka would also mean that those forced to uncover themselves (and those who support them) might feel persecuted by the state fuel for the extremists fire!

I vehemently disagree with the philosophy behind wearing the burkha but banning them is not the answer. Should we ban balaclavas because a few criminals choose to wear them? People have as much right to wear a bikini without being hassled as a burkha and I will defend their right to that choice.

My university dissertation was in part about how ‘Modesty’ is relative and respect for such choices should be encouraged. Victorian anthropologists insisted on uncovering the genitalia of some near naked African tribes with the idea that their being so nearly naked meant uncovering the tiny bit they chose to cover was no matter; no one would argue now this was not offensive in the extreme. In the 18th century it was unlawful for women to cover their cleavage at court, low necklines (amongst other things) were mandatory; that seems fairly crazy to us now! Forcing any one to uncover, or cover anything they prefer not to cover, should be what is banned.

We should lead by example by showing respect for the human body, for the owners of those bodies and for their right to express their beliefs outwardly in a harmless manner.

I recently spent 7 Saturdays with 4 young moslem women, (students aged 15-21). They chose to wear hijab and were eloquent about their reasons why, but if one had come in a burka I would not have felt threatened. If the negative reasons behind some women’s choice (or pressure) to cover themselves more than conventionally for our society, need to be addressed it should be on an individual or at most community level, not by a law. And remember some women wear it genuinely through positive choice, they feel safer and happier, and who are we to judge them?

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Felicity Westmacott

I write about all aspects of weddings, dressmaking, fashion history, and the human relation to clothing. I welcome comments and debate.

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