Social Dislocation

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Dress Code and the Challenge of Social Dislocation
Rev. Fr. George Ehusani,


In recent times indecent dressing among many young people in our society and the widespread advocacy for the application of dress codes especially in our institutions of higher learning have received a lot of media attention and generated quite an amount of debate amidst a cross-section of Nigerians. I have followed the debate closely and I have observed that the war on indecent dressing is being waged in many circles as if indecent dressing is the primary pathology that is plaguing the Nigerian socio-cultural and moral environment. Those who are spare-heading this war, including University Administrators, Leaders of Religious Organisations and even Legislators, are responding to the very serious challenge of a major dislocation in our corporate existence with an inverted, passionate prescription of dressing.

Indecent dressing or immodesty in dressing, though a moral aberration, is in my view among the least of the many social, cultural and moral problems that are threatening to destroy this nation and its people. In fact, what we see today as widespread indecent dressing (as well as indiscipline) among the youths of our country is only indicative and symptomatic of the system collapse that is inevitable in a society run aground, where as it were, the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are on edge.

Quite apart from the overarching factors ruling the country's social pandemic, a good part of the debate on the subject of indecent dressing has often been devoted to treating the symptoms rather than the causes of the opprobrium that it has thrown up. To fully appreciate the contribution of dressing to today's social predicament and its implications for youth development, it is important not to concentrate on the linear and vertical considerations alone, but with a bit of lateral thinking to examine the wider socio-cultural dimensions of the problem.

Dress habits and its evolution in human societies

It is attested to by human experience all through the ages that dress is not just a symbiotic identification of a people with their environment but is also an evolutionary expression of their uniqueness. Before the boundaries of the world's communities became obfuscated with expedition, conquest and the overlap of cultures, dressing was closely linked to the habitat and reflected nature and the environment. Whereas the Eskimos fashioned their heavily laden dressing for maximum protection from the bitterly cold elements of their environment, the hot climatic conditions in our part of Africa under the tropical sun largely indicated a scanty dress code. The bare covering of the midsection would prove adequate for everyone including adults, and the sight of a young mother thus openly suckling her baby would hardly elicit any emotions of shame, arousal or indignation. It was a normal, natural sight.

However, as new cultures and values found their way into our society with the advent of modern civilisation, dress seemed to have changed from being essentially a natural expression and identification with one’s environment and became a symbol of acquired values, sometimes adorned for status or affectation and at other times for one to be seen to identify with the Joneses. Events have developed to a point in Nigeria where society has set formal and informal codes of dressing for virtually all occasions. Consequently such professionals as lawyers and bankers are obliged to dress in suits sometimes under the most inappropriate weather conditions. For most social events, Nigerians are often heavily padded with layers of clothing even when the hot whether conditions and the incessant power failure clearly indicate light or scanty clothing. Anyone lightly (but otherwise appropriately) dressed in such situations could be greeted with condescending disapproval.

Every society is said to be self-regulatory - setting...
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