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'No-sleeveless' rule gives rise to thriving business

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Observer staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, November 10, 2017

THE 'no-sleeveless' dress code for the public's interaction with State agencies and departments has given birth to a thriving cottage industry.

This informal industry involves T-shirt selling and renting by vendors outside public institutions like the Registrar General's Department (RGD), hospitals and prisons, to the hapless person who may not have been aware of the rule that their armpits, shoulders, or even toes, in some cases, should not be exposed.

When the Jamaica Observer visited a number of these institutions and spoke with vendors on Tuesday, they said that at every corner of Jamaica there is an opportunity to 'hustle' and they are taking advantage of it.

At the RGD, where a T-shirt is sold at $300 and rented at a flat rate of $200, a man who gave his name as Fabian Johnson said he has been vending outside the institution for a number of years. According to Johnson, on a daily basis, an average two to five people either rent or purchase a T-shirt from him to enter the premises.

He said: “A lot of people honestly don't know and some travel from very far. What are they going to do? Turn back or pay for the shirt? You have to hustle and if you can mek a money one way, you do it. Usually, though, as long as your back is covered, they (RGD) don't usually stop you. But it also depends on the security guard's discretion.”

A female vendor outside RGD, who requested not to be named, said rules are rules, but it is the double standard with which she does not agree.

“No spaghetti straps, no shorts, no rods in your hair are allowed inside, but I have seen them let in some and don't let in some. Just today a lady was sitting outside as she could not go in and she said, 'Look how they let in that woman with her shorts and telling me I can't go in.” So sometimes they are biased, I don't know if is who they know or what,” she said.

At the Bustamante Hospital for Children on Arthur Wint Drive in Kingston, the vendors across from the health institution's entrance also confirmed the business.

Devon Hunt, one vendor who sells his T-shirts at $200 when in stock, said on a daily basis mothers can be seen seeking to purchase or borrow T-shirts, or making calls to people to bring an item of clothing to them so they can access the compound with their sick children.

“A lot are indigent or destitute and sometimes I, or other vendors out here, have to lend them a shirt, sometimes the ones on our very backs, in order for them to go in,” he said.

But like the vendor at RGD, Hunt said he has seen some people get past security at Bustamante Hospital for Children that has caused him to question why they were allowed in, but others weren't.

He added that enforcers should be a bit more flexible with the rule.

“I've seen people come from country and cry because they weren't aware, and trust me, it puts stress on them because they come with an emergency, and when your child is sick sometimes you not thinking of what you wearing when you rush them to the hospital, you just run with them. Now, if they don't come you hear they are negligent, and when they rush come in probably [whatever] they had on at home, you hear, 'You can't go in'. How that go? You really can't look at a child and determine their level of ailment, so the child will stay outside and suffer, get worse, and who knows, one may die one day.

“So with the rule, you have to exercise better judgement,” Hunt said.

He said, too, that some women have even had to ask taxi men that traverse the route to Cross Roads to purchase shirts for them, which costs them $500 as they have to pay for them to leave the hospital and drive to Cross Roads for $100, purchase the T-Shirt for $300, and drive back to the hospital from Cross Roads with the shirt, which is another $100.

At the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, also known as the General Penitentiary, Madge Clarke, a vendor for more than 20 years, sells T-shirts to visitors for $250 by the waiting area. She said some will buy the shirts, while others will just leave the facility and return another day.

Another female vendor, who calls herself Pam, said she believes in the dress code for certain items of clothing, such as ripped jeans, spaghetti straps, shorts, and tights, but certainly not for capped sleeves.

“That should not be pushed as heavily as it is. No inmate is touching you when you go inside. It is the warder who is seeing you and sometimes it depends on the warder. I agree, we must be tidy and put ourselves together, but for a sleeve, they can be lenient,” she said.

The issue of the 'no-sleeveless' dress code was once again brought to the fore in Observer stories which reported social media users' reactions to a Facebook post by Professor Verene Shepherd questioning the dress code, after sharing that she went to a high school in St Thomas and a security guard looked into her vehicle and asked if anyone in the group was wearing a sleeveless top.

The post elicited a number of responses on Twitter after Latoya West-Blackwood posted a screenshot of Shepherd's Facebook post on Twitter with her own caption which said: “With Kingston as one of the global cities experiencing climate change departure let's see if it will be death before sleeveless #mentalslavery.”

Prominent attorney-at-law Bert Samuels also argued that the rule is unconstitutional and could offend an individual's right to liberty, freedom of association, and freedom of movement.

He said the legislation that speaks to clothing is the indecent exposure law, which prohibits too much exposure of the body, moreso the exposure of private parts.

Samuels maintained that, a sleeveless-clad individual is not unlawfully clad, nor breaching any law.



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