LETTER: Dr. Cleon Athill Says Gov’t Should Rescind Dress Code Policy for Public Sector

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Dear Sir/Madam:

                        Re: Dress Code for the Public Accessing Government Services

Today, July 01, 2024, I came face to face with a policy/practice within our public sector that begs to be relieved of its post! Today, I accompanied my dad to the Passport Office to follow through on the passport renewal process. Upon entry, I was told my attire was not appropriate and was asked to leave. Of course, I did not leave; as a citizen, I have a right to decide how to dress and as a taxpaying citizen, I have the right of access to the services of the state.

How I’m attired should not determine whether or not I enjoy the service of any government agency. 

Today, I had on a long-sleeved cotton shirt with distressed jeans with heeled slippers.

The truth is though, it could have been any from a long list of clothing. 

All would have met the same senseless rebuke, and the wearer, whether a tourist, a returning or visiting national, or a resident would have been denied the right to pursue business with the State.

I have worked for over 40 years in the public sector, and I cannot recall from whence this policy came! Nonetheless, this practice or policy (I do not know which) has now become part of the standard service access protocol to the dismay of the general public, local or visiting.

Over the years there has been sporadic uproar but this has been futile in its attempt to seek redress. I am, however, bringing this more directly to your attention with the hope of bringing this to its natural end.

Further, I am sure that you are aware that this policy is not only archaic and antiquated but also that it is unconstitutional and serves no useful purpose.  A regulatory dress code for the public wreaks colonial control and reminds us of a time long past.

A time when those in the colonies were regarded as imbeciles lacking the mental capacity or moral fortitude to behave properly. However, the most compelling reason for a cease and desist decision as far as this policy /practice goes, is that it is a direct violation of the constitution.  

Expressly, the constitution of Antigua and Barbuda confers on all its citizens a host of rights and freedoms, among them the freedom of expression. This includes dress.

The constitution also assumes that citizens are decent, are agentic, and are deserving of respect. This policy’s assumptions run counter to those of the Constitution. Consequently, I strongly urge that this policy/practice be rescinded.

I am aware of and do appreciate that the government will make laws, and policies, and pursue practices in order to maintain order and peace and promote collective good and development. These however should not be made on a whim, nor should they be based on personal bias or a sense of morality or taste. Instead, policies and practices should reflect sound judgment and reasoning, social responsiveness, and respect for our constitution.

The policy to regulate the dress of the public does none of these things. It is simply senseless!

Additionally, the argument that without a dress code, the public will be able to “dress anyhow” and that this will undermine the professional atmosphere in the ministry or statutory body, is not a valid one.

Take the banks for example. There is no dress code for the public. Customers can “dress anyhow” and this has not affected the professional climate or culture in the bank. Developing a climate and culture of professionalism at the workplace has absolutely nothing to do with how its clientele is attired!

Instead of policing an archaic unconstitutional dress code, efforts could be better spent on building a better, more productive public service machinery: Improving professionalism and building a culture of productivity and accountability; putting measures in place to measure outcomes and evaluate the efficacy of programmes; improving service to the public instead of harassing its members through a restrictive and backward policy.

This is a gentle request to rescind the dress code “policy” for entry into government spaces. I’m hoping that with an exercise of good reasoning and commonsense, a decision will be made within the next two months to roll back this policy/practice across government both at the ministry level and at the statutory bodies.

It also serves to register an intention to pursue this more vigorously and with all the tools and power afforded me by our constitution should the government fail to follow through as requested.  Thanks for your timely and reasoned action.

May good judgment and respect prevail.

Respectfully,

Cleon Athill

Cleon Athill, PhD

Social Psychologist

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22 COMMENTS

  1. One day Antigua will gain an enlightened government, however for the time being politicians are more interested in stuffing their pockets than bringing Antigua into the modern world!

  2. Thank you. It is about time the country does away with these outdated rules that hark back to colomial times. This over reach on governments part should be rescinded immediately

  3. I agree. Once I went to the library similarly attired. A button down, long sleeved linen shirt and distressed jeans and I was told by security I was violating dress code. We are deterring people from accessing literature now? Even paying bills at APUA through dress code? Utter madness.

  4. I respectfully disagree with Dr. Athill. Common sense and decency is not common and although her specific case may be an outlier, without restrictions, some people will come with breast, batty, panty, and brief out for all to see.

  5. I have read this not once but twice. Am agreeing with everything you said Athill. A few years ago l had an experience like that l could not understand why hot summer day l went to the passport office to take in my application and was told l could not go in dress like that. I have on a summer dress it was a little above my knees l said to the officer do you know how hot it is. Anyway l went back the next day dress differently you know he had the nerves to tell me the next time my attire should be a little lose. I remember saying to him their are other things out there that need more attention than the attire am wearing. Every one knows if you are going into a court room how you must dress apart from that give people a break, that’s my 5 cent piece

  6. One would like to think, that in these days of enlightenment and cognizance – that the people, and governance would have long cast off the mantle of the bastard’s mantra of colonialism as symbols of an abhorrent tyrannical past. Yet we still cling to their trappings and overture; as though worthy of emulating. Thus lending ourselves to the condescension Colonialism was meant to evoke: such as the archaic dress code mandate. (A relic of Old England’s sensibilities) The professional habits, and posturing by public servants -and to a lesser extent; the private sectors (rendering services to the public) is in dire need of remedial effect in mannerisms and decorum, reflective of the growth of the people’s consciousness as being enlightened. Of-course , One would not be expected to be doing business in governmental offices dressed in beach attire or, a clown suit. Thus, the author of this post is surely within her right to be of conscientious objection to the pretentious buffoonery disguised for civil consternation.

  7. The dress code for government institutions are ridiculous, hypocritical, unfair, sectarian, archaic, bigoted nonesense.
    Short of exposing private parts, I can’t imagine how one’s attire can influence the way that business is conducted on government property.
    The way I see it is this. If the clothes worn would not constitute lewd apparel and would cause someone to be arrested for public indecency, I see no reason why that same outfit cannot be allowed into government/public entities. Much of the outfit that we have seen and accepted during carnival would constitute lewd apparel even for public space in my books, yet no one is ever cautioned muchless arrested for their carnival outfit. We live in a tropical environment and it’s as if they expect us to dress like Eskimos going into government office. The dress code does border of the ridiculous.

  8. This country is so backwards and still rely on colonial outdated rules .. there are alot ALOT ALOT of laws on our books that need desperately to be revised !!!! THIS IS 2024 almost 2025 in a few months and we are an independent nation and most of the laws are from colonial days and have never been revised

  9. It is my belief that this proliferation of ‘proper dressing’ has been propagated by an over-zealous senior civil servant who has taken his/her bible seriously and wants everybody else to do likewise. One by one, I have seen many government offices fall in line.

    Give me a break. If a tourist off the ship comes to the passport office and wants just to see how our system works, will they be denied the opportunity to go inside the building? I have seen persons come off the ships and while walking through town they see a church service going on and they enter. Whether they are in shorts and slippers, they go in and nobody turns them away.

    Some security officers at these offices are very gleeful when they get to play important by turning people away. This is their time to be in the spotlight. They are not paid minimum wage to think. They just love being important for a change. From some of them, the attitude is out of this world.
    To them I say, get over yourself!
    This is a stupid policy. Some of the things we see are not palatable. But we cannot legislate morality.

    • I remember that just within the last ten years a tourist went to the St John’s police station to report a theft, and the police turned her away because she was wearing sleeveless and that is against their dress code!

      Imagine! The police station is for people to report emergencies. And the sooner the emergency is reported, the better. How can you turn victims away? She clearly did not intend to offend.

  10. Oops! I find Dr Cleon athille to be overly tumultuous and aggressive, such decorum towards the rule law bemused me coming from somewhere like her who claimed the same of being in the upp and experience some push to be aggressive towards her political opponent.

  11. This government claims it’s taking Antigua to the ‘next level’ while simultaneously keeping an archaic dress code that serves no purpose. I blame Antiguans for allowing them to implement this ridiculous notion that wearing an arm sleeve blouse in 98 degree weather is unacceptable. That’s what happened to me on one of my visits to ANU when I tried to pay my elderly father’s utility bill.
    People just don’t seem to understand how dangerous government overreach is — they easily relinquish their constitutional rights and conform without a fight.

    NWO agenda: NO autonomy — NO agency!
    That’s Next Level.

  12. INTERESTING ‘OPEN LETTER’ TO PASSPORT MINISTER

    Aint gittin een nuh dah tupid argumont ‘ (Vernacular).

    BRAVO, GOOD LADY.

    The ‘…Good Lady,’ not only has a ‘…WELL-TAKEN POINT,’ but also likened to the ‘…ROCK OF GIBRALTAR,’ or a ‘Tree’ planted at the ‘River,’ she firmly stood her ground.

    Authoritatively, ‘…Nat ah darn ting dey cood ah dun’ (Vernacular).

    WHY?

    They would have to show the ‘…Dress Code’ offended or affected;

    (i) ‘…National Defence:
    (ii) …Public Safety; or
    (iii) …Public order.’

    Moreover, they would have to show that:

    (a) ‘…The ‘…Dress Code’ was a ‘…Creature of Statute’ and that it was:

    (b) …Contained in Law; and

    (c) …That which they had reportedly ordered or demanded of the ‘…Good Doctor,’ had the ‘…AUTHORITY OF LAW’ [CO: 1981: Section 8].

    ABCRE says: ‘…KNOW the Constitution, ‘…EARN YOUR FREEDOM.’

    TALK GOOD: …WALK GOOD.

  13. Lady have several seats. U didn’t have a problem when u was in the civil service especially when u was head of youth affairs but now u out u coming with ur pick me story talking about change dress code. Woman please right message wrong messenger

  14. I have to concur with Dr. Athill on this archaic policy. I was asked to be a guest on the Big Issues a few years ago before the pandemic. This was the topic of contention. It serves no purpose whatsoever.

    When I visited the south of France on one of frequent visits there, I ended up in a small town called Amelie Le Bain Palalda. The temperature in the summer carried a sweltering heat no beaches in proximity.

    Upon entering the bank to transact a foreign exchange assignment, to my surprise, the queue had at least four women wearing two piece swimsuits who were not related. Well, my eyes grew large as I was not expecting it. I was subsequently informed that it is the norm there as heatwaves were the norm in that town.

    The staff was dressed comfortably as they are in an air conditioned atmosphere all day.
    It did not affect the way they do business. They were efficient. The culture of accountability and productivity was in place.

    I hosted a meeting in the conference room of a government office at 6pm in April when I was in Antigua. The security guard attempted to stop me from entering the building because I was wearing a French hemmed loose dress shorts to the meeting. I had to advise him that it was after work hours. So he needed not to say anything to me. He said that he was giving me a warning. His other coworker told him it was okay because it’s a dress shorts. Yeah, okay, whatever…

    Dress codes ought to reasonable. Perhaps a no shirt, no underwear style shorts policy would suffice.

  15. I think it’s ok to have some kind of dress code e.g. no deep v necks, no see through tops, no underwear showing etc. The reason would be that hypothetically a member of the public might try to “seduce” a public official to do favours for them using their government position. That is probably the reason for the rules. Lots of people love to hate things they label as “colonial” and “biblical” rules, but I think people in the past had common sense reasons for a lot of what they did. So, it would be wise to consider how the rules were useful before tossing them out without a second thought. These days, wearing a sleeveless top or slippers or slightly close fitting clothes would not cause any public official to pay any extra attention to anyone so the rules can be amended to reflect the times.

  16. Different strokes for different folks, because I’ve been to the PM office and seen police turn away dark skin people people they have on slippers and t shirt, then allow a muzungu woman with shorts and spaghetti top . Different strokes for different folks. Dress code only apply to dark skin people. The government agencies would never dare tell a Chinese, Syrian or Muzungu they are not within the dress code.

  17. Colonial my bottom foot!

    There is nothing particularly colonial about the dress code and an attempt, even if over the top and misguided, at appropriate attire.

    You should see what has transpired at the hospital over the years during visiting time.

    At the mortuary some would come to identify a dead body for autopsy as if they were trying to raise the dead. Totally out of order and disrespectful of the decedent.

    Instead of ranting, or in addition to raging, it would be more useful to regard the fall and rise of the dress code over the past 3 or 4 decades and make suggestions, or start an advocacy group to this end.

    Imagine you wear distressed jeans and you are distressed over your treatment. How distressed were the jeans?

    Let’s open the passport office on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

  18. I still can’t wrap my head around People adhering to The Dress Code in these places but the same people would come to church in T strap arm sleeves and very low cut tops as well as back out attires Church
    Need I say more Food for Thought

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