The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – On Nearing Fifty (ii)

Jeff Cumberbatch - New Chairman of the FTC

Jeff Cumberbatch – New Chairman of the FTC

BU shares the Jeff Cumberbatch Barbados Advocate column – Senior Lecturer in law at the University of the West Indies since 1983, a Columnist with the Barbados Advocate.

MUSINGS: […]On nearing fifty (ii)

”Style is a way of saying who you are¡­ without having to speak.” -Rachel Zoe

This is the second in a proposed series of essays on miscellaneous topics pertaining to local matters as we approach the commencement of our 50th year of national sovereignty. The first essay, published a few weeks ago, treated the issue of unduly delayed justice in our courts, a matter on which the Caribbean Court of Justice has had cause on more than a few instances in the recent past to chasten the local judiciary primarily, and the entire court system on occasion. It is to be expected that appropriate and seasonable steps will be taken to remove this avoidable blot of unconstitutionality from the local judicial and curial landscape.

Another area of topical interest and one that surfaces periodically is the notion of appropriate public dress. If we are to listen to the frequent carping, whether from the churches, the schools, government offices, and the courts themselves, many Barbadians of all ages have seemingly forgotten or are ignorant of, in the first place, the rules of etiquette governing appropriate dress for a given occasion.

This phenomenon may be owed to a number of factors. First, perhaps through a cultural lack of self-confidence, there is, here, no concept of national dress; hence our idea of what is suitable (no pun) wear for men involves the mimicry of that which is considered to be acceptable in other jurisdictions with far more temperate climates.

It would be in vain to argue now for the displacement of this notion from the national consciousness, and it is, of course, a reality not peculiar to Barbados, but the idea of the wool-rich suit and a tie becoming de rigueur wear for males on most formal occasions ¨C church, Parliament, the courts ¨C in a country where temperatures may reach as high as 900F on some days does seem incongruous. In consequence, some have compromised and managed to force a reluctant social acceptance of the less formal and apparently more comfortable shirt-jac(ket) suit ¨C an outfit that may be better suited to our environment, provided it is made of a sufficiently cool material.

Nevertheless, the tradition of the lounge suit wearer being presumed to be ‘properly dressed’  has by now become hallowed by the passage of time and it is at least doubtful whether this ensemble will ever lose pride of place as the ultimate male costume for most significant occasions.

Second, many of the criticisms of the deportment of some of our women are based principally on our ostensible Victorian prudishness of regulating the public dress of the female, lest she might prove a distraction to the male. Thus, while it would be clearly impossible nowadays to require the local woman to cover her face, knees and ankles from public view ¨C a tradition that still obtains in some religions ¨C the various negative assessments of female wear as being too tight, too short, or too revealing are of much the same ilk.

Not that some of these criticisms are totally unfounded. Having been liberated by an emancipation that has served to remove them from an existence of being a mere appendage of the husband under the old law of coverture, some women now appear to hold the view that the greater exposure of their physical charms to public scrutiny is a consummation devoutly to be wished for. And while this may be connived at by a few prurient others and some of their escorts, perhaps as some evidence of the latter¡¯s power of sexual conquest, the official stance remains that conservative dress for women remains the acceptable standard in those places where the state is occupier and therefore free to restrict entry on prescribed terms as well as on those occasions similarly formal.

My musings this week on this potentially controversial matter were incited by the press report earlier this week that some primary school teachers had expressed discontent with the stipulations as to their form of dress on those occasions when the Governor-General may visit their particular school in his personal choice of scheduled visits. Naturally, given our innate reluctance to confront officialdom, no dissatisfied teacher chose to be named and there was, indeed, some doubt about whether such objections even existed.

However, it appears that there are in fact official dress stipulations emanating from Government House for an audience with the Governor-General. This is understandable since an audience with the constitutional representative of the Head of State may easily be categorised as an official occasion, although I should think that the prefatory passage to the statement of the code to the effect that Government House remains ‘one of the last bastions of good form, etiquette and protocol in the face of what can be perceived as a national decline in deference and decorum’ seems to overstate the case in some respects.

After all, while there may be arguably some regrettable faux pas in terms of what is considered acceptable dress on some occasions, it does not appear to me to have become a general pattern of behaviour among the majority of our citizens.
Nevertheless, as it may be with most codes in general and perhaps dress codes in particular, the best of intentions are not easily formulated into clear English. Thus we read from the code that the minimum standard for men is ‘a formal shirt’ and dress slacks with a tie. I suppose that the immediate intention was to exclude polo shirts and perhaps even short-sleeved buttoned shirts, and to refer to dress shirts, but the insistence on a formal shirt conjures up in my mind an hardly-intended one with a winged collar, studs and a pleated front. Other vague notions such as dreadlocks (sic) worn in a professional manner and shoes fitting the description of sober and free from ostentation may also be unhelpful indicators. Does this latter mean that shoes should be always laced? Are Guccis or Salvatore Ferragamos with snaffles across the instep acceptable? Would monk straps be deemed kosher?

All the same, as earlier asserted, the publication of the code is understandable to negate the probable embarrassment of those who may pay little regard to such matters. We should insist however, that the rules be enforced without any discrimination whatsoever. A cartoon in the Jamaica Observer on Monday illustrates this point. There, a male clad in a polo shirt is refused entry into the courtroom by a security guard who, in the next panel, is ushering into the same court a shapely female clad in a see-through shift exposing her fashionable underwear. The gist of the cartoon appears to be the ease with which one may mistake a transgender person for one born a female, but the finer point is that attributes such as attractiveness, race, or apparent wealth or status should play no part in the exclusion of lawful visitors from entry into official premises on the ground of inappropriate wear.

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21 Comments on “The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – On Nearing Fifty (ii)”

  1. David November 22, 2015 at 6:52 AM #

    Interesting view Jeff on the challenges of a lack of a relevant dress code and related. It is obviously a very subjective issue however there is no reason we should not be able to determine a style/standard which is aligned to the Bajan identity. Of course to pursue such a goal raises the understandable quandary for many, what is the Bajan identity.


  2. ac November 22, 2015 at 10:44 AM #

    ”Style is a way of saying who you are¡­ without having to speak.” -Rachel Zoe


    A very provocative statement which can indicate racist or bigoted undertones

    Style like beauty can be perceived on how one receives or appreciates the fullness or richness of its originality .

    on examining what Rachael Zoe says, there is a light bulb moment of fear with a necessary cause to seek immediate remedy defining other cultures way of dress as an indication of hostility aligned to rigid religious beliefs with an instinctive need to avoid them


  3. de Ingrunt Word November 22, 2015 at 10:52 AM #

    @Jeff, I would engage on two aspects from your interesting musing. You noted that “… given our innate reluctance to confront officialdom, no dissatisfied teacher chose to be named …”, but is it the burden of confronting officialdom that chills our ardour or is it a real fear of retribution from the officials?

    I suggest that in our small ‘everyone-knows- everyone-somehow’ environment there is a practical awareness that speaking out can cause long term blow-back. In real terms that is not specific or unique to B’dos but it does often seem to be more acutely practiced on our 166 sq miles.

    And re the point of the “official dress stipulations … for an audience with the Governor-General” it can be argued of course that when visiting Rome, one has to do as the Romans dictate.

    Of course, that does not speak to your main thrust of what you cite as a “cultural lack of self-confidence” related to “the notion of appropriate public dress”, but that apart if one is invited to the nation’s house for a meet-and-greet or a personal official investiture or whatever then one either accepts sans confrontation re dress and how, for example, to wear your ‘deadlocks’ or one can respectfully decline.

    On a completely unrelated point.

    An online story of a jury in NY causing a mistrial because one ‘white’ juror was accused of racism was interesting because of the absolute ‘reverse racial discrimination’ it evoked and also based on memories of ‘similar’ stories back in the late 80s/early 90’s of juries in that jurisdiction also creating their own version of ‘mistrials’- jury nullification, is the correct legal perspective, with which you would be quite familiar.

    The white juror in the case determined (according to reports from other jurors, all Hispanic, Black or Asian) that the defendant had to be guilty because he was indicted by the District Attorney of that jurisdiction who was also Black.

    From a Bajan perspective I wonder if there has ever been instances of perceived jury nullification???

    Frankly, based on the apparent piss-poor state of our system, cited by no less an authority than the CCJ, that would be the MOST excellent and retribution-proof form of confrontation to officialdom… it would certainly get attention and do no more harm to the system and society than already being wrought by those in charge!

    But just a whimsical thought of course…blog folly!


  4. David November 22, 2015 at 10:58 AM #

    @Dee Word

    If what you opine is correct and we see it on BU i.e.a preference to be anonymous, what can we do to compensate for this constraint a small society creates.


  5. de Ingrunt Word November 22, 2015 at 12:11 PM #

    David, in truth the answer is simple and you already know the rudiments of it based on your extensive years as a social activist. In sum, there needs to be what the first-world folks call strong ‘whistle-blower’ protective legislation coupled with independent investigatory power to an entity whose top officers themselves are insulated from job termination or retribution by political leaders.

    Very, very simple. But like ITAL or other such it is seemingly virtually impossible to implement.

    Let me give you a story validated to me as gospel truth to highlight how difficult small island life can be – re this broad matter of practical fear of officialdom.

    A Waterford friend told me that there was this football game between Lodge and Cawmere (many here know that Joe Physics Smith was a Dep. Head and Head at those schools). Now back in those days the Waterford area crew were often a large contingent of those games and one of them hears this school boy start mouthing off about Smith’s son who was in attendance with his old-man and watching the game not far from the back wall of that big building one sees there…the Hall.

    He fussing and cussing about how Smith used to ‘cut’ his ass and how much he would like to get back at the son and all that sort of palaver. But, as the story goes he actually acted out his anger.

    The lad takes up the Bajan proverbial ‘big rock’ and shrouded by the excited crowd’s focus on the match he hurls the rock against the wall of the Hall – anyone can confirm this with the son- and on that day they tell me his aim was accurate and the rock ricocheted and struck young Smith.

    Of course, Smith junior reacts and immediately looks in the direction from which the blow came and is staring at a big wall! Whaloss, no one there!.

    David, as a boy when the story was related to me I broke out in fits of uncontrollable laughter but of course that was not proper as that situation was some really dangerous shiitttee.

    My point of that little episode goes to the question of retribution and the real issues of how one can be in the cross-hairs although not the actual source of the original pain.

    That was school-boy stupidity so imagine adult confrontation on real issues that people feel truly aggrieved about….so when possible anonymity works very well.

    BTW, no name no lock up, but based on the identity suggested of the culprit back then I believe the lad became a police officer. Imagine if he took that mentality with him to his profession.

    Knowing is easy….Doing, a whole different game.


  6. David November 22, 2015 at 12:30 PM #

    @Dee Word

    Your reference to whistleblowing is exactly where the exchanges need to go. You maybe aware whistleblowing legislation was recently introduced to T&T.


  7. pieceuhderockyeahright November 22, 2015 at 1:18 PM #

    @ DIW

    Some days you are seriously provocative and den, like de ole man, de udder days does come and whaplax…excellent observation re carrying that youthful characteristic Onward and Upward(s)


  8. pieceuhderockyeahright November 22, 2015 at 1:46 PM #

    @ The Blogmaster

    I just read that article part of which reads “…the introduction of the Whisleblower Protection Bill 2015 “represents the making of legislation which will protect those who may know, those who may have seen, those who may have heard and of course those who may be too afraid to disclose information of scandalous and deliberate acts of corruption and criminality all too often hidden behind closed doors within the public and private arenas. “We firmly believe that corruption is a transgression, a crime which has been not just swept under the preverbal rug but has been almost inherent within our society…”

    I did not see the commensurate component i.e. the (funding of the) Witness Protection Programme though but I am still looking


  9. Sargeant November 22, 2015 at 1:46 PM #

    Jeff C
    As a legal man you must be aware of the opinion of one Potter Stewart a USA Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on the issue of pornography.

    “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing So. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that”.

    So it is with Dress Codes. There is a whole mish mash of rules and interpretations relating to dress codes and people “know it when they see it” whether it is based on some religious tenets or other obscure Gov’t regulation.

    Some people do push the envelope but it is hard to reconcile common sense with some of the attitudes displayed at some Gov’t Offices e.g. the Registry. Why should walking shorts or an “armhole” top be considered verboten to some individuals if the client is simply going to apply for/ or retrieving a Certificate?

    For reference I had a short employment stint at the Registry during CA Rocheford’s time as Registrar and I can’t remember a time when there was so much attention to Dress Codes but that was a different era.


  10. David November 22, 2015 at 2:00 PM #


    Here is the 1st reading of the Bill.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Bush Tea November 22, 2015 at 2:11 PM #

    @ DIW
    The matter of whistle blowing is easily taken care of in the Cooperative movement by the existence of a HIGHLY EMPOWERED Supervisory Committee to which all members have access to provide confidential or other information.
    This Committee then has the legislative POWER to initiate their own investigations to determine the validity of the information AS WELL AS the authority to act against the offending power brokers…..

    The prevailing environment of OPENNESS and TRANSPARENCY removes any need for the big rock to bounce off any wall…

    Wait…you were around in those days…? 🙂


  12. de Ingrunt Word November 22, 2015 at 2:25 PM #

    @Pieces @1:10 PM, so the question is what day is today? LOLLL! Da fella couldn’t have gone school wid you though. And at 1:46PM, absolutely my query also, ‘where de Witness Protection’.

    @David, you are quite right that the discussion must go in that direction but as I stated it’s very simple to legislate some of these things but it’s always very, very difficult to properly implement. I am sure you know of the many cases where even ‘protected’ whistle-blowers in big jurisdictions were still badly victimized.

    I haven’t studied the T&T legislation yet so I do hope that there is ample financial sustenance apportioned to the whistler linked to the quantum of the revenue related to the malfeasance/corruption validated by an investigation, or based on a % of fines levied on the criminal or some other method to provide the financial support they will need after they become a pariah who can’t find another job.

    We will not even consider the context of Pieces’ query. Suffice to say as mentioned here before, the AG of T&T Mr Selwyn Richardson literally dedicated his own life being the chief antagonist of the O’Halloran bobol; even long out of government.

    Any number of criminals he put-away in T&T could have planned his death, yet the association with that matter always seems to linger as being the cause of his violent demise.

    The way how things progressing in lil BIM that is no longer just a fanciful concept impossible here.


  13. David November 22, 2015 at 2:51 PM #

    @Dee Word

    The way how things progressing in lil BIM that is no longer just a fanciful concept impossible here”

    In today’s Al Gilkes column questions if hit men operate in Barbados like elsewhere.


  14. Well Well & Consequences November 22, 2015 at 8:13 PM #

    It’s quite obvious anyone having the guts to whistle blow in Barbados would have to relocate themselves and their families from the island, unless like me, they know everyone of the culprits addresses. In saying that, whom may I ask will they be blowing the whistle to, who wilĺ this agency be made up of, please don’t tell me it will be the very same corrupt people, because I know there is no one else.

    Barbados is so tiny with everyone being someone else’s cousin, it will be an exercise in futility.


  15. ac November 22, 2015 at 8:39 PM #


    i dare you to blow your whistle .i dare you. ignorant blow hard,.All you ever make is threats about what you gonna do, well just do it ,you little ole wanna be donkey, you have nothing just sitting here talking bile to impress , go ahead blow yuh friggin whistle or shut up,


  16. Well Well & Consequences November 22, 2015 at 9:04 PM #

    AC..are you scared of something. You dare me, the amount of names I called on here already was not blowing any damn whistle, that is for school kids, I been blowing a trumpet, where have you been. Then again, you are ac, the insipid yardfowl and jackass, no one would expect you to notice….lol


  17. Well Well & Consequences November 23, 2015 at 4:57 AM #

    AC……what have your masters done to the people of the island now that this link is scaring them. I bet it’s something worse than Cow-an/Cahill. Don’t worry, it will all come out in the wash and when it does I will be here.


  18. Alvin Cummins November 24, 2015 at 5:00 PM #

    You may remember at Independence, the young turks who made up the First DLP government; people like Brabford Taitt, Patsy Springer etc. attempted to introduce a formal change in the dress code by introducing the Shirt Jac. It caught on for a while but there was such a clamour to revert to the Jacket and the, that all except Brabford reverted back He continued wearing that attire until he died. I have decided not to wear Jacket and tie, preferring jacket and open neck shirt, and no jacket unless required. In my opinion Shirt Jac, is preferable.


  19. Dompey November 24, 2015 at 5:50 PM #


    I do believe that nothing is set in stone, so therefore, we must not be resistant to change because is inevitable. One could well make the argument that people used to go to church dressed in a suits, but today it has become readily accepted to visit church dressed as one so desire.

    I often make the argument that just because some person said many years ago, that the colour black as well as white, goes with any other colour that we ought to follow his or her directive.

    Nevertheless, let me end by saying this: the old is in the new concealed, and the new is in the old revealed. I do believe in acting upon our own initiative, and dressing in the way which makes us feel comfortable.


  20. Gabriel November 24, 2015 at 9:07 PM #

    As in most Latin American countries,the long sleeve shirtjac for formal and office wear and the short sleeve shirtjac should be the acceptable dress for men.Not the ugly thick poorly tailored things worn by Hamilton Lashley and muscle faced Trevor Prescod.More like what David Commissong wears.I saw this in Grenada in the 80’s and conformed.Very comfortable


  21. millertheanunnaki November 24, 2015 at 9:36 PM #

    @ Gabriel November 24, 2015 at 9:07 PM

    Very comfortable for sure indeed!

    If these male parliamentarians only knew how awfully inappropriately attired they look in their ill-fitting attire made of fabric suited for much cooler climes they would smash every mirror about.
    Just a bunch of black monkeys dressing up to look like Westernized jackasses. That is how they come across to Europeans.

    What is wrong with properly designed suits or formal wear made of sea island cotton material?
    Would such a move not act as a fillip or stimulus to a local and regional design and haute-couture industry based on indigenous materials and talent?


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