‘My mini skirt and I’ by Guest Contributor Saffron and Lace

“If you arrive at the airport wearing a short skirt, you will not be allowed into the country.” Words uttered by a colleague referring to Malawi.

In 2013, a bill was tabled before Parliament with the intent of banning the mini-skirt – location, Uganda.

In 2012, women marched, protesting against attacks on women wearing short skirts – site, South Africa.

Old news you say, so thought I.

I wore a short dress on Monday. The soft and smooth cloth starts its journey at my collar, slightly mimicking a turtleneck and then it travels down encasing both my arms in material until it stops at my wrists. The rest of the material runs down body, over my breasts, clinging to my waist, curving over my hips and stopping mid-thigh.

It is a tight fitting and elegant dress. It looked deceptively simple and boring on the hanger in the shop and I almost walked past it, except something drew my eye and when I tried it on, I loved the silhouette, the material, but more importantly, I loved the feelings it evoked in me as I stared at my reflection in the dressing room mirror. Excitement, confidence, satisfaction and desire sizzled through my body and I found myself mentally sorting pantyhose colours, perceptually sifting for the perfect heels and lipstick hues, something I had not done in a while.

Months later (read this past Monday) I decided to give the dress a trial run at the office. My office does not have an official dress code except no jeans and t-shirts on Fridays and as such I decided to test the system’s lack of rules. The dress is short but not so short that I should reserve it for evening dinners or night club antics. I paired the black and white dress with pantyhose in Mexican silver, a pair of black pumps and a black long soft knit jersey.

I loved my outfit. Dresses tend to improve my mood and in this number I felt bold, confident, and sassy with a dash of sexy.

I paid attention to the reactions to my outfit. The men were the utmost fun to watch and respond to. They gave me broad smiles; there were smirks and appreciative glances. More men than usual opened doors for me, allowed me to climb the stairs and enter the elevator before them (ahem). Twice I was told I looked sexy. Conversations with the gents often led to male eyes wandering south to my legs encased in pantyhose.

The women were fascinating to watch. I received looks of horror and disgust, dirty looks. There were looks exchanged between two women or glances followed by whispers. One of my colleague who often wears above the knee dresses remarked on the length (or lack thereof) of my dress. On several occasions, I stopped conversations between women as I walked by or entered a room.

Later, two of my male colleagues and I laughed and joked about my experiences with men and women throughout the day. They noted that ours is a conservative society and that certain groups of people find it disturbing that women insist on wearing short and/or tight dresses and skirts because such dresses and skirts reveal parts of the body that should be covered up and not flaunted – thighs, curves and silhouettes should not be shown off. The flaunting one’s thighs and figure is an affront to our traditionalist culture.

I asked their views on short dresses and skirts and they said they appreciated short dresses and skirts – more precisely, they appreciated the view and they said they did not mind women choosing to wear short dresses and skirts. I asked if their wives wore short dresses and skirts – the answer was no. I asked if their wives had worn short dresses and skirts prior to their marriages and they said no. I was left wondering if I had engaged in a politically correct conversation on the mini-dress.

I asked them their thoughts on the reactions I received from women and they ventured female competition and cattiness.

Growing up, while my mother enforced the principle of non-negotiability on certain matters e.g. sex, her values and principles, household chores etc; she gave me leeway with my wardrobe. I was allowed to wear short skirts and dresses although she often impressed upon me prudence, I had to have awareness of my surroundings – safe environment, exit strategy in the event someone decided to take liberties with my body against my will or I had to ensure the presence of male protection as a deterrent. She often ensured that I had trusted male escorts or force of [trusted] girlfriends in numbers if I was leaving her home in a short skirt/dress heading for a party – day or night.

My mother rarely policed my wardrobe, I suppose it was easy for her because as a child and teenager, I preferred jeans and long[er] shorts. However, when I wore dresses I preferred them short – as my mother before me in the prime of her youth.

When I entered the workforce, I was determined to succeed and make my way to the top of my profession, a male dominated field. I chose to wear professional clothes that reflected my professional intentions and seriousness. Well fitted jackets and structured trousers most of the time. I wanted to progress in my career on merit (as opposed to sleeping with the boss) and dressing in a sexy manner or perceived sexy manner (never mind too sexy) meant that sexual propositions from male colleagues and supervisors would be guaranteed.

I had to navigate my professional world in a way that made me comfortable and ensured my physical, psychological and emotional safety – I did not want sex to ever be an issue at the office (unless I was the initiator). And so I sacrificed the dresses in my wardrobe on the altar of a sexual harassment free professional progression.

There are ‘smart’ dresses that fall just below or at the knee and I could have opted for those. However, when I wear dresses, I want to feel confident and sexy and short dresses enable that internal environment for me.

I went through a lengthy period during which I struggled emotionally and this was reflected in my range and choice of clothes and I had a despise/dislike relationship with my wardrobe. I could not bring myself to wear dresses especially short ones, I hated short skirts and I did not buy or wear them – even at parties and events outside work. Around that time I travelled to Uganda for work and the change of environment rebooted my physical and mental system.

I saw confident and sexy Ugandan women, boldly wearing their short skirts and dresses in vibrant colours with sensual heels and everywhere I looked in the shops, markets and stalls, I saw gorgeous short dresses that were perfect fits for my frame. I fell in love with the dress again.

On a particular warm evening, I went walking around some stalls and found a beautiful red dress – that was my first purchase, like that first shot of your favourite brand of whiskey after a ten year alcohol hiatus. I asked myself “why did I abandon dresses again?”

It was much sadness and trepidation that I watched and read about the bill to ban mini-skirts in Uganda and the work place ban on skirts at a newspaper company in Malawi.

With a lot of travelling and a bit of budget, I had replenished my wardrobe with a significant number of gorgeous little dresses in varying textures and colours. And while I have worn a number of them to formal dinners and evenings out, my black and white number was my first attempt at a short dress in the office.

Generally in Africa, a woman’s body is heavily policed. Clothes, sex, motherhood, abortion, marriage. Society (particularly men) is determined to dictate and legislate women’s bodies in the name of tradition, culture and morality.

Women are often at the fore front, encouraging the policing. From my maternal grandmother who remarked that ‘I was dressed like a prostitute’ when I wore a short purple and lavender peplum dress for a night out with my two closest friends. Never mind that we were headed for dinner at a suave restaurant and a night of conversation and wine at my friend’s place. We weren’t on the prowl and sex was the last thing on my mind; my paternal aunt who (disrespected my personal space) commenced uninvited to pull down my dress which stopped mid-thigh and despite the fact that my thighs, legs and feet were covered in thick winter wool tights and this was at a family event within a family member’s yard. I respectfully stepped back, hitched the dress up and walked away [because as a young African woman passive aggressive behaviour is one my greatest tools against faux-conservative older relatives ;-)]; to the young and older anonymous women who shot me dirty looks.

From a young age we teach African girls to hide their bodies, to be ashamed of their physique. We ingrain in their psyche that someone else controls their bodies. In the minds of girls, we sow the seeds of male ownership and control over women’s bodies and we remove their ability to make decisions over their own bodies. We terrorize girls into believing that if they are sexually harassed, assaulted or battered, defiled or raped – it is their fault. Women preach these messages consciously and unconsciously to girls and the messages stick.

Should we teach girls prudence? Of course. A woman is always her last and often her only line of defence. She should ensure that she is safe and she should not deliberately or naïvely place herself in harm’s way. But genuine discussions should be had with boys and men as well. They should be taught and told that a girl/woman’s body is hers and no one’s property. A girl and/or woman’s body and the decisions she makes about her body, from the clothes she wears to the decision to be a mother or not, these are her prerogatives and should be respected.

When I wear a short dress, I wear it because I have made a decision that on this particular day I want to feel powerful, I may not control a country or determine policies but I control my wardrobe, I decide whether I want to feel sexy, flirty, smart or all three at once. Is confidence and self-esteem a mind-set? Yes, but I don’t mind getting assistance [from a short dress] to achieve that frame of mind.

Sometimes I‘ll wear the short dress to impress and attract a man – most times I’ll wear it because I look and feel great in it and if the males [and females] gets their fill – good for them as long as they’re clear – this is about me and I’m not putting out.

Today, I read about a female police officer in Kenya, she was reprimanded because she wore a ‘tight’ skirt.

I have a bottle of Tennessee whiskey and a magnificent orange dress – short and tight. I’ll swig the whiskey as I choose my accessories (and silently salute every African woman who successfully and unsuccessfully wore a short dress or skirt) and I am wearing the orange dress to work next week.


7 comments On ‘My mini skirt and I’ by Guest Contributor Saffron and Lace

  • Most women who complain about short dresses seem to have ulterior motives. It may stem from the fact that they don’t have the guts to wear such… Most women who shame others, have deep seated issues with themselves and not the target of their criticism

    • Nandi — Agreed. Sometimes we tend to believe that if we can’t do something or wear a particular outfit, then no-one else should. My family has a number of dominant women and lots of women in general therefore I’ve seen the deep-seated issues play themselves out. Even amongst some of my friends.
      I once had a heated debate with a friend because she vehemently opposed a mutual acquaintance’s choice of outfits. This mutual acquaintance (a classmate at the time) during her second (and third) trimester of pregnancy wore beautiful dresses of varying designs, patters and material. In terms of length they either stopped at knee level or slightly above. This lady looked amazing, she was glowing, happy and gorgeous in her outfits. But one day, I found her reduced to tears in class because a number of women in class had been telling her not to wear ‘such dresses’ and that it was disrespectful to her husband to wear short dresses. This was a class made up of women between the ages of 25 – 35, women who were fond of short and tight outfits time and again themselves. Turns out the pregnant lady’s husband liked the outfits and accompanied her when shopping for some of the dresses.
      That incident (which was also a class/status issue) made me angry and ashamed. We women should and do guide and correct each other when wrong but we often avoid celebrating and encouraging each other which is just as, if not more important.

  • You would think that these ‘conservative’ older women were not the same ones parading in short dresses in the 70s/80s. How they are able to equate length of dress with morals is befuddling.

    If I’m going to rock a skirt or dress, best believe it is above the knee. Nothing lonnger. I ‘prudencify’ the look with pantyhose, because well showing legs and a little of thigh meat, may give guys permanent boners and conservative girls gossip fodder. We don’t want that, do we now?

    Personally, I really don’t care. If I’m not infringing on your breathing rights, mind your own business. I’m quick to dismiss bullshit, with humor of course, not unless it’s that time of the month, you will get read for filth.

    • AM–S’truth! My mother’s photograph albums from 60s and 70s show young ladies in tiny skirts! And they were gorgeous. It was classy and chic then but the gatekeepers decree it isn’t now – no, I’ll pass.

      “Personally, I really don’t care. If I’m not infringing on your breathing rights, mind your own business…”
      Awesome and thank you! People meddle in all the wrong issues and mind their business when they should be getting involved.

      “…I’m quick to dismiss bullshit, with humor of course, not unless it’s that time of the month, you will get read for filth.”
      Now that’s a savvy strategy, I’ll employ more humour henceforth.

  • Makes you wonder how African society survived the era when most women walked about with their boobies flapping in the breeze.

  • Interesting how some parts of Africa formulate regulations. Happy to know Ghana doesn’t have to deal with such challenging legislation. Perhaps it’s because we are not faced with the problems which stare at them in the face in such geographies.

  • @ Edward,

    What ‘problems’? Manufactured ones?!

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