UNIFORMITY

Yours truly – JWT Reservations early 1980s! (great hair!)
Last week The Guardian Newspaper reported that following a two-year battle, female British Airways cabin crew had won the right to wear trousers.  Later in the week a young girl from a school in Dublin was interviewed on Newstalk Lunchtime about petitioning her school to allow girls wear their tracksuits every day should they wish to.  Both stories made me smile.
Uniforms are a great idea.  Especially if they are good quality and look smart and are appropriate to the job in hand.
I wore a uniform in my first job which was working for, what was then Ireland’s largest tour operator, JWT – ask your ma, this was back in the early ‘80s.  Our uniform was a grey A line skirt, sharp white shirt (although mine generally lacked sharpness prompting regular enquiries as to whether my iron was broken), a red, white and navy scarf and a navy blazer.  Footwear was a matter for ourselves but it was generally agreed that navy court shoes were the way to go.  Again it took me a while to get into wearing what I considered to be ‘mammy shoes’ and so for my first summer as a sales clerk I wore white clogs, yes the Dutch version – wooden and leather.  Again – ask your Ma – they were all the rage in the early ‘80s.  In fact, there was an actual clog shop on South King Street if my memory serves me correctly.  But I digress.
Every so often the company (JWT, whose tag line was ‘join the JWT set’) got a bit anxious about the fact that being a very young workforce we socialised a lot and on occasion (read ‘very often’) ended up in the basement nightclubs of Leeson Street with uniforms looking slightly the worse for wear.  Yes, I know, I am a little ashamed now (no I am actually not).
My being six feet tall seemed to be a much bigger deal way back then (you all seem to have gotten taller since) and meant that when we went to get measured every year for our skirts, my order had a note attached which said ‘add three inches to skirt’.  Knees were kept out of sight – which in my case was a very good thing, they’re a long way from being my best feature.
Most of the time I wore my uniform with pride and pretended I looked as good as the Aer Lingus girls who back in those days were only seen at the Airport and on board flights, as they were transported to and from work by minibus, ensuring they were never spotted in Leeson Street dens with uniforms akimbo.  They also got regulation shoes, ensuring no clogs could spoil their lovely designer outfits. 
Winter was very sartorially challenging, particularly when one had no company minibus to get to work.  The JWT set were reliant on shanks mare, bus or in my case the train.  Yes, the train – the DART was not yet a twinkle in CIE’s eye!  Standing on the platform by the sea in Seapoint on a bitter winter morning with bare legs would bring a tear to a glass eye.  I mentioned my height already and hence tights were not an option as I never got comfortable with the gusset swinging down around my knees.
But winters could be somewhat circumvented by availing of Joe Walsh’s (he of JWT – clever isn’t it?) crafty cost saving plan.  In those days people generally only went on Summer holidays which they booked in January which was mad busy.  But us sales people had very little to do in October, November and December, so Joe offered us ‘winter leave’.  We could take off for up to three months unpaid and most of us who availed of this headed south to the Canary Islands where we picked up some ad hoc rep work to keep body and soul together while we holidayed and partied the winter away. 
It was on one such winter leave that I fell in love with a pair of Spanish, thigh high, bright red, soft leather boots.  I thought they were made for me. No heels, but long enough to go over my knee and so with my extra inches added skirt, my legs would be sheltered from the worst excesses of an Irish winter and sure weren’t they red – one of the uniform colours.  I parted with my cash and brought them home.
Their inaugural outing was on my first day back to work in early January.  As the train chugged its way towards Pearse Station I admired my legs.  As I glided out of the train with hundreds of other morning commuters I noticed that the station had added a ramp where the stairs used to be. So off I set, head held high, convinced that every young fella must be admiring my red boots, my winter tan and my statuesque height.  I probably flicked my hair too. 
The ramp was wet and my boots were brand new.  Yep, you guessed it. Feet went from under me and down I went, landing very ungracefully on my arse in the middle of Pearse Street Station.  Various people came to my aid and I muttered “no I am fine, thank you, I am fine, no damage” and tried to reassemble myself and retrieve some of my shattered pride.  To make matters worse I then had to endure the walk to Baggot Street with most of the commuters who had witnessed my fall from grace.  I was also terrified that I would slip again.  The boots were lethal.  The journey took ages.
I had somewhat recovered my composure by the time I arrived at JWT HQ.  On the safer surface of carpet tiles, I once again flicked my hair as I entered the office, one red booted foot after the other. And sure enough I was greeted with comments like “Wow, some boots”,  “Great boots, Scully” although the remarks lacked envy or admiration and carried a hint of mirth.  Then my boss came out of his office.  In those days it was OK for a man (boss or not) to pass remarks on a female colleague’s appearance.  “They are not appropriate with the uniform.  Don’t let me see them again.”  All in all, it was a dark day.
So my tan faded and I went back to having legs purple with the cold by the time I arrived at my desk for the rest of that winter.  School days all over again.

Now we have a DART and a Luas into town.  JWT are no longer the giant of the Travel Business they once were.  Aer Lingus have long since abandoned their staff mini bus.  Bosses would be very reluctant to make remarks on a female colleague’s appearance – uniform or not.  But we still insist on some women wearing skirts.  I have never seen a female member of Aer Lingus or Ryanair cabin crew wear trousers; although I have seen some of the latter in bikinis.   I should be thankful for small mercies I suppose.
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One Comment

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  1. Great piece Barbara, the boots story is amazing x

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