The fierce and fraught ground of gender equality has got itself a shot in the arm. Oxford University, among the oldest educational institutions in the world and a venerated seat of learning, has decided to ease up on the strict dress codes for formal occasions that it prescribed for male and female students. While the sartorial specifications remain in force, one is no longer bound by one’s gender while choosing a wardrobe. From now on, men can very well wander into a dinner in skirt and stockings, while there is no preventing a woman from sporting a tie and jacket at those very dos.
It is apparent that we have traveled quite a bit in time, space and ideas from the time Virginia Woolf’s female narrator in A Room of One’s Own was ordered off the lawns of an Oxford college where she had accidentally strolled, as it was strictly off-limits for women. Not only can women now study, teach, stroll or enter any library as they please, they can actually do so accompanied by men in skirts. In case you are worried of a fashion faux pas, remember the rigorous standards set by no less than the male members of the British royalty, who spend every summer lounging in their kilts in the idyllic environs of the castle at Balmoral.
While the gender neutrality in Oxford’s new dress code is meant to address the concerns of the community of transgender students, we are quite interested in probing its linguistic and cultural implications, especially if skirt-wearing catches on among men in the wider world. The next time someone refers to a reprehensible creature as a skirt-chaser, you will struggle to figure out what he was chasing in the first place. Much of social chatter (gossip that is) will no doubt centre around who wears the skirt in the household. In any case, there isn’t going to be a way to skirt around the issue.