Letters to the Editor

Dress code rarely popular

Editor's note: The following editorial appeared Monday in the Los Angeles Times.

Who hasn't wanted to ban bad taste and inappropriate dress at one time or another? Just about anybody with a teenager understands the desire to lay down the law on pants that ride too low or skirts that are hiked too high. Anyone who takes offense at such revealing dress, or who abhors Mohawk haircuts or the deadly Goth look, may at times wish that such style choices were simply forbidden.

But in modern-day democracies, lawmakers have generally resisted state-mandated dress codes, and rightly so. Unfortunately, two countries moved in the opposite direction this week, with Iran trying to fight Western cultural influences by regulating men's haircuts, while France, conversely, sought to counter Islamic influence by banning women from wearing full face cover in public. Both attempts are wrongheaded, as it were.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has long told women what they may and may not wear in public. The standards have varied slightly depending on the faction in power, but the range is narrow -- say, whether a strand of hair might escape the headscarf or not. Now, the guardians of Islamic morality are turning their sights on men. Just in time for the summer Veil and Modesty Festival, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance is expected to adopt a list of men's haircuts deemed culturally appropriate. Although it allows for sideburns and even an Elvis-style pompadour, it rejects ponytails, mullets or spiky, heavily gelled dos that suggest Western rebelliousness.

In France, meanwhile, the minister of justice went before Parliament to defend a bill that would ban full face cover in public, arguing that such dress violates French values as well as its constitution. Public life in France "is carried out with a bare face," said Michele Alliot-Marie. "It is a question of dignity, equality and transparency."

A similar law has passed the lower house in Belgium, and a lawmaker proposed one for Britain this month. The need for openness, full identity and security were cited, as was the wish to protect women from repression.

A recent Pew Research Center poll found overwhelming support in France for the ban; majorities in Germany, Britain and Spain support similar bans, while nearly two-thirds of Americans do not.

For the record, we don't like the burka, and we're no fans of full face cover. We don't believe women should be forced to veil themselves in any society. However, we also do not believe they should be prevented from doing so in what is sure to be interpreted as a limit to freedom of religion and expression. Such laws demonstrate intolerance, particularly in societies with only a few thousand women who cover, and are a form of Muslim bashing.

The state, be it France, Iran or the United States, should concern itself with security, justice and the well-being of its citizens, but bad hair and dubious couture should be left to individual choice.