Public sector offices in Trinidad and Tobago enforce a strict dress code. You are not allowed to wear anything sleeveless, short, tight, sheer or transparent, and despite the country's tropical climate, slippers are frowned upon. Some state bodies — and even local banks — may also prohibit headwear, citing security reasons. Fly in the face of any of these rules and you will be barred from accessing these services, sometimes accompanied by a loud and humiliating explanation as to why you must leave the building.
Citizens have long railed against these regulations, arguing that they do not take into consideration factors like temperature (daily averages are about 26.5 Celsius or 79.7 Fahrenheit), cultural or religious norms, the great distance people often travel to access government services, and the fact that many people simply do not have a wardrobe that falls in line with the preferred dress code.
On October 10, however, Allison Skinner-Bacchus, a caterer who had travelled into Port of Spain from east Trinidad and found herself denied entry into the Treasury Building because her attire did not fit the bill, decided she was getting her business done one way or the other. Her friend, Iya Ajè Bernard, shared what happened next:
She proceeded to her car take out ah whole curtain and drape she self. Town tell meh dee Bank nearly shut dong yes. Drama fuh so when she walk back in. She geh dem ah designer special in dey tail…cloth fuh so 😆 🤣 😂 😹 […]
But on another note I think it's time we get rid of those dinosaur colonial policies eh…please & thanks!!!
Accompanied by two photos of Skinner-Bacchus elegantly draped in a sheer pink curtain over her striped, sleeveless black and white dress, Bernard's Facebook post was widely shared and reported on by media outlets.
She said she saw the curtain in her car and said come, we going.https://t.co/Rh5lHcBTF5
— LoopNewsTT (@LoopNewsTT) October 12, 2022
Skinner-Bacchus told journalist Laura Dowrich-Phillips that a “very pleasant” security officer pointed out the dress code stipulations and advised her that she couldn't be admitted with her arms exposed. As she reached her car, she spotted the fabric and the unorthodox idea of wearing the curtain took root:
I see this curtain watching me fix in my face and I say come here, we going. I extra so I could have done it like a lil scarf, but I shake open the whole curtain and drape it like a superhero and went in; the security was in stitches.
After completing her transaction, she asked a “random stranger” to take a few photos of her in the outfit, sent it to Bernard who posted them on social media, and the rest is history.
The average person may not have been so lucky. As a caterer, Skinner-Bacchus said she usually keeps fabric in her car, either to cover the food or to help prevent slippage when trays or boxes are stacked. She finds the dress code “archaic”:
I do not know what is the vulgarity or offense about a woman’s arm. I am into rules and I understand as a caterer there is certain attire not acceptable in my business, but [to cash a cheque] why can’t I show my bare arms?
[A] government minister, when asked why is this archaic regulation [was] not removed in Trinidad, the response was that they had more important things to attend to.
Indeed, in January 2022, Minister of Public Administration Allyson West said that while public service reform was in train, dress codes were “not high on the agenda.”
Whether or not it is a priority for the government, the fact remains that Skinner-Bacchus’ stunt struck a chord with citizens, most of whom have their own stories of exile from government offices.
By October 12, Iya Ajè Bernard, the friend who shared Skinner-Bacchus’ curtain style with the world, noted hopefully:
Well well well….
I never expected this thing to blow up like this. However we will be happy to see policies amended as a result […]
In the words of journalist Kejan Haynes:
Not all heroes wear drapes https://t.co/HLld8c5jkb
— Kejan Haynes (@KejanHaynes) October 13, 2022