In Sydney of all places, in 2005, I encountered a boxing champion-turned-cleric who said rape victims had no one to blame but themselves.

I faithfully reported his hallucinations in The Indian Express where I was employed. “Strapless, backless, sleeveless, nothing but satanic skirts, slit skirts, translucent blouses, miniskirts, tight jeans—all this to tease a man and appeal to his carnal nature," Sheik Faiz Mohamad said. And this was years before the launch of Levi’s Revel, made with Liquid Shaping Technology whose “four-way stretch" apparently “shapes and lifts".

The next day, the gentleman predictably announced he had been misunderstood. But he refused to let go of the idea that dress and rape were correlated. He said women were “partly to blame but not fully to blame" as they “attracted attention to themselves" by the way they dressed.

Back home, we’re tired of these ideas. Just when you think Our Guardians of Sartorial Shame (politicians, university vice-chancellors, policemen, mannequin trackers and other assorted people in power trip positions) can’t come up with any more absurd reasons to control the way Indian women (and occasionally men) dress, they surprise you by adding new spin to an old debate.

The Karnataka government recently informed its employees that they should dress “decently" to work. The state banned jeans and T-shirts for men, and Western wear and “designer" blouses (blouses that acknowledge women have shoulders, shoulder blades and breasts, I presume). Earlier this week the government modified its circular to remove the specifics but reaffirmed its demand for “dignified dressing".

Sangeeth Varghese, a Bangalore-based leadership researcher affiliated with the London School of Economics and Harvard Kennedy School, says dress and productivity are linked. “Systems can’t get more efficient unless people start facing their stakeholders in a more effective and efficient manner," says Varghese, who cites decade-old surveys by Korn Ferry International and by consulting research psychologist Jeffrey L. Magee to back his point that dressing down leads to lower work productivity.

Personally, I can’t remember the last time I was adversely affected by the dress of an Indian government employee (whose unique workplace behaviour, I might add, is unlikely to be captured by any Western world survey). The only time the idea of dress and government comes together in my mind is on the rare occasion I’m considering what “I" should wear on my visit to a government office.

I also believe that if government employees wearing “designer blouses" or tight jeans smiled at us, actually acknowledged our existence when we were standing directly in front of them or, god forbid, spoke politely, we would all be so shocked we would not notice anything below neck level, killer cleavage and big bulge included.

The government should instead consider a circular that alerts its employees to the mystical fact that citizens are not their enemies. How about one that says it’s okay to wear a “designer" blouse as long as it doesn’t come equipped with secret compartments that stash the bribes you collect?

All these outdated rules come in an age when Indian men are finally moving beyond monochrome. According to one estimate cited by Mint recently, 40% of urban men between the ages of 18 and 25 have coloured denims in their wardrobe. Sales of formal wear are falling. Most high-street brands have launched trendier, smart casual lines that are becoming increasingly popular. Friday dressing is now everyday dressing in offices around the world. Get with it, government. Encourage them, I say. Don’t cramp their style.

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