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Uniforms with wiggle room


Uniforms with wiggle room

Jane Stephens is glad that when held up to the mirror, brand uniformity is allowing individual taste and preferences in this day and age.

Among the cake and cattle, rides and hoopla each year, Queensland’s premier agricultural show the Ekka crowns a showgirl. This year, 10 finalists were selected from 128 agricultural shows across the state, recognising, developing and celebrating young women leaders.

A bikini-and-high-heels beauty pageant this is not. Thank goodness for that.

Instead, the gals are tested on their knowledge of local, state, national, and international affairs, their awareness of agriculture and community challenges, public speaking, and leadership qualities.

And this year, there was not a sequin or frill in sight, with the Queensland Showgirl Award finalists supplied uniformly with a demure, navy, linen knee-length dress.

What a brilliant way to put the focus on the function rather than the façade.

I do love a uniform. It levels a playing field, but also offers a consistent face to the world and helps make the wearer easy to identify. But in the modern workplace, there must be some wiggle room with how a uniform is worn. Today, the grooming around it must have the same rules for men and women – long hair for men is as culturally acceptable as short hair is for women, for example. The days when tattoos were just for sailors, bikies or prisoners are long gone. A uniform is a brand asset. And a brand comprises many things, including the personnel.

Recently, Qantas announced major changes to its uniform policy, allowing Qantas and Jetstar employees to choose whether or not they wear heels, jewellery or makeup. Men will be allowed to grow their hair out and women to wear flat shoes for the first time. This is a big deal for a company that once moderated everything from sideburn length to eyeliner colour.

Air New Zealand – seen as setting the benchmark for combining cultural representation, polish and practicality in its uniforms – is also undergoing an update for the first time in a decade.

This is a modern world and uniforms do not have to mean absolute uniformity. The comfort, integrity and expression of the people inside them matter. Forcing a man to cut his hair or a woman to wear heels makes no sense. Uniforms have to move with the times in composition as well as application. After all, the humans they adorn are not mannequins.


Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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