Women Shouldn’t Have To Apologise For Wearing What They Want In 2020

International Women's DaySupplied/PA Images

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), something that has taken place each year for more than a century. The IWD movement deems equality not a women’s issue but a business issue, and this was recently proven in the UK Parliament.

Whether you’re a female MP, a celebrity, a mum-of-three or a teacher, most women will have been judged for the way they have been dressed at some point in their lives – much more so than our male counterparts.

Picking up your children from school wearing loungewear is dubbed ‘inappropriate’ by some, the same way Labour MP Tracy Brabin’s off-the-shoulder dress was classed as inappropriate to wear in Parliament.

The following day, Brabin was plastered all over the newspapers and online for her choice of dress, which saw the beginning of the trending topic of ‘shouldergate’.

Tracy BrabinPA images

For those of you who didn’t see the dress Brabin was wearing, it was a black, formal midi dress with – God forbid – her shoulder out. Not her breasts, or legs, or bottom – her shoulder.

Following the outrage her dress caused, Tracy tweeted:

Hello. Sorry I don’t have time to reply to all of you commenting on this but I can confirm I’m not….

A slag, Hungover, A tart, About to breastfeed, A slapper, Drunk, Just been banged over a wheelie bin.

Who knew people could get so emotional over a shoulder…

From her tweet, which has since been retweeted more than 13,500 times and received more than 128,000 likes, Brabin received an array of comments, some of which were supportive while others were, to say the least, negative.

One woman tweeted Tracy telling her to ‘try getting dressed tomorrow’, while another woman said, ‘If i had a quid every time someone had commented on what I wore rather than what I said’.

Unfortunately in today’s society, there’s no pleasing some. Brabin could have arguably come in with a long-sleeved dress down to the floor and still be chastised for it.

Someone who has been in a similar situation is 24-year-old Labour councillor Tele Lawal.

Lawal caused a stir because of the photo she used on her campaign poster, in which she was wearing a red, one-shouldered jumpsuit.

Tele LawalSupplied

Just like Brabin’s dress, Lawal’s outfit was deemed ‘inappropriate’ and she received calls, tweets and emails all expressing opinions on her dress sense.

Speaking to UNILAD, she said:

For me, it was just like, if this is the main thing that’s an issue in society today then I’m quite scared with what the future is like – this is what we’re so focused on, that we’re saying this is how a representative of a party has to look, rather than talking about the policies and issues.

This is a thing I’m quite worried about for the future of my constituency too, if this is what people actually care about. To me, looking at that picture doesn’t say if I’m skilled, it doesn’t tell you about my knowledge, it doesn’t tell you anything about me. It’s just a picture. You don’t know who I am and how I’d represent you in Parliament just off that.


Being a councillor at the age of 24, Lawal was always going to make waves, and is happy continuing to do so. She added that she loves being the ‘underdog’.

When asked if she planned on changing the way she dressed anytime soon, she said:

I remember when I first walked into the town hall and people were looking at me. One of the guys came up to me and was like ‘How did you do it?’, and I was like ‘Do what?’.  He said, ‘Win your first election. How did you do it?’. I said I just told people who I am and what I’m for, and that’s how you do it.

I knew what he meant – people always say things like that. I’m the youngest person to be elected in the council so this is unusual for my area and it’s unusual for a lot of people when they see me. People are like, ‘You look so pretty’, or comment on the fact I do my makeup nicely, get my nails done and get my eyelashes done too.

People are so used to seeing maybe a woman who’s in politics dress bland, and might not look glam – but I would never ever change. I will come in in trainers and tracksuit and I will scrutinise all the officers, put forward recommendations etc, and people will just be looking in awe like, ‘Who is this person?’.

I love it because you remember me.

In contrast to Lawal’s views, ex-Love Islander and former policy adviser at the Department of Education Zara McDermott preferred to blend in with her colleagues.

Zara, 23, ended up changing the way she dressed while working in government because she preferred to fit in, and felt she wanted to be remembered for her hard work rather than being seen as going against the social norms.

In the 21st century, Zara felt the need to conform to what society expects of women; something that we’ve have had to do for decades.

Zara McDermottSupplied

Speaking to UNILAD, Zara said:

When I was going into government, I was obviously starting a brand new job with people I hadn’t associated with before. I can completely understand that some people are not going to want to change the way they dress, however – for me – it was more about fitting in.

I would probably disagree with Tele and say that in a job, I’d want to be recognised for my hard work, for my dedication, for my ability to work in a team, and I wouldn’t want to be known as the person who was wanting to go against the social norm and stand out.

Obviously I understand completely the reason behind wanting to change those social norms and I agree that we should be, but I think at this point in time we’re not going to change any social norms very easily; it’s going to be a shift over a really, really long period of time.

For me it was always about fitting in – whether that’s right or wrong is down to whoever is reading the article, but for me that’s just what worked and how I felt most comfortable.

While working as a policy adviser, Zara was once pulled aside by one of her superiors who called her choice of dress inappropriate. At the time of the incident, Zara was wearing a skater dress that she – in hindsight – realised may have been a bit short on her, as she sees herself as quite tall.

Zara McDermottSupplied

She said:

I think I was wearing quite a short skater dress [at the time I was pulled aside] but as I’m quite tall, it might have been a normal length on most people. For me, maybe it was a little too short as I couldn’t bend over and stuff, and maybe she saw something if I was moving around and she thought, ‘Oh I need to have a word with her about that’.

I completely understand the reason as to why she pulled me up on it, but I don’t think she really said it in the right way. She said it in a way that was a bit dehumanising and embarrassing; I would have personally handled it in a different way.

She was just like, ‘What you’re wearing is hugely inappropriate for the office space that we’re in’, and she said that we have stakeholders, and those external stakeholders judge us on what we’re wearing and we don’t want to be putting you out there dressing in this way.

Following her stint on Love Island in 2018, Zara’s had quite the career change and is now an Instagram influencer and reality TV star, meaning she has a lot more freedom to wear what she wants.

Zara felt that people should be more conscious of debuting their fashion sense in a more social scene, something that she can do all the time now on social media.

View this post on Instagram

Dubai I love you 🤩 dress @shein_gb

A post shared by Zara McDermott (@zara_mcdermott) on

Zara added:

There’s definitely a time and a place to be showcasing your fashion abilities and if you want to keep up with the latest trends, and one thing I’ve learned is that when you’re working in an office you can still be fashionable – you can get some really lovely pieces, but you maybe don’t have to feel like you stand out too much for the ‘wrong reasons’.

If you want to showcase your fashion, you can do so in a more of a social scene. I’m just very lucky that I can do that all the time now.

Zara gives further advice on dress codes at work here.

Basically, women of all ages will always feel judged unfortunately – it’s just down to the individual on how they deal with it. As per Milkround, Gen Z in particular felt judged for what they wore, with 65% of them admitting they felt judged about their appearance.

For Tracy Brabin, she went on to do great things and sold the dress from the ‘shouldergate’ ordeal for thousands of pounds, all of which is being given to charity.

Tele Lawal still continues to be a fantastic councillor for her constituency – red jumpsuit and all – while Zara is arguably living her best life as an influencer, where she can wear what she pleases and fully express her love of fashion without judgement.

Society still has a long way to go in terms of equality, but people like these women will continue to make those much-needed waves and speak out about the changes we need, however – whenever they do happen.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]