LETTER: Dr. Cleon Athill Says Gov’t Should Rescind Dress Code Policy for Public Sector

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room

Dear Sir/Madam:

                        Re: Dress Code for the Public Accessing Government Services

Today, July 01, 2024, I came face to face with a policy/practice within our public sector that begs to be relieved of its post! Today, I accompanied my dad to the Passport Office to follow through on the passport renewal process. Upon entry, I was told my attire was not appropriate and was asked to leave. Of course, I did not leave; as a citizen, I have a right to decide how to dress and as a taxpaying citizen, I have the right of access to the services of the state.

How I’m attired should not determine whether or not I enjoy the service of any government agency. 

Today, I had on a long-sleeved cotton shirt with distressed jeans with heeled slippers.

The truth is though, it could have been any from a long list of clothing. 

All would have met the same senseless rebuke, and the wearer, whether a tourist, a returning or visiting national, or a resident would have been denied the right to pursue business with the State.

I have worked for over 40 years in the public sector, and I cannot recall from whence this policy came! Nonetheless, this practice or policy (I do not know which) has now become part of the standard service access protocol to the dismay of the general public, local or visiting.

Over the years there has been sporadic uproar but this has been futile in its attempt to seek redress. I am, however, bringing this more directly to your attention with the hope of bringing this to its natural end.

Further, I am sure that you are aware that this policy is not only archaic and antiquated but also that it is unconstitutional and serves no useful purpose.  A regulatory dress code for the public wreaks colonial control and reminds us of a time long past.

A time when those in the colonies were regarded as imbeciles lacking the mental capacity or moral fortitude to behave properly. However, the most compelling reason for a cease and desist decision as far as this policy /practice goes, is that it is a direct violation of the constitution.  

Expressly, the constitution of Antigua and Barbuda confers on all its citizens a host of rights and freedoms, among them the freedom of expression. This includes dress.

The constitution also assumes that citizens are decent, are agentic, and are deserving of respect. This policy’s assumptions run counter to those of the Constitution. Consequently, I strongly urge that this policy/practice be rescinded.

I am aware of and do appreciate that the government will make laws, and policies, and pursue practices in order to maintain order and peace and promote collective good and development. These however should not be made on a whim, nor should they be based on personal bias or a sense of morality or taste. Instead, policies and practices should reflect sound judgment and reasoning, social responsiveness, and respect for our constitution.

The policy to regulate the dress of the public does none of these things. It is simply senseless!

Additionally, the argument that without a dress code, the public will be able to “dress anyhow” and that this will undermine the professional atmosphere in the ministry or statutory body, is not a valid one.

Take the banks for example. There is no dress code for the public. Customers can “dress anyhow” and this has not affected the professional climate or culture in the bank. Developing a climate and culture of professionalism at the workplace has absolutely nothing to do with how its clientele is attired!

Instead of policing an archaic unconstitutional dress code, efforts could be better spent on building a better, more productive public service machinery: Improving professionalism and building a culture of productivity and accountability; putting measures in place to measure outcomes and evaluate the efficacy of programmes; improving service to the public instead of harassing its members through a restrictive and backward policy.

This is a gentle request to rescind the dress code “policy” for entry into government spaces. I’m hoping that with an exercise of good reasoning and commonsense, a decision will be made within the next two months to roll back this policy/practice across government both at the ministry level and at the statutory bodies.

It also serves to register an intention to pursue this more vigorously and with all the tools and power afforded me by our constitution should the government fail to follow through as requested.  Thanks for your timely and reasoned action.

May good judgment and respect prevail.


Cleon Athill

Cleon Athill, PhD

Social Psychologist

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