Serena Williams

Why is women’s clothing still being policed around the world?

Posted by for Life

In 2019, we’re still seeing efforts to dictate how women dress. We take a look at some examples…

The catsuit that caused controversy


In 2018, Serena Williams wore a Black Panther-esque catsuit to play the first three rounds at the French Open, saying it made her feel like a “warrior and a princess”. But it was also a protective fashion choice for Williams, helping to prevent life-threatening blood clots after she faced complications while giving birth to her daughter.

Despite this, officials ruled that in future, female athletes would no longer be allowed to wear such suits – not because it wasn’t functional, but because players “have to respect the game and the place”. The decision felt like a pointed attempt to control and restrict a woman who had made a political and social statement. And shouldn’t the competition respect players’ rights to safety and freedom of expression? 

Serena Williams was told her French Open outfit was inappropriate.

Fashion police


Women in Uganda can be jailed over how they dress.

Short skirts have been banned in Uganda since 2014, when the Anti-Pornography Bill made “dressing indecently in a manner to sexually excite” illegal. Simon Lokodo, the ethics and integrity minister, said women who wore “anything above the knee” should be arrested, and the day after the act was passed there were reports of women being stripped by mobs of men claiming to ‘help’ the police. There were protests against the ban, but the country has continued to limit fashion freedoms: in 2017, rules for female civil servants were introduced, including a ban on flat shoes and “too much” make-up. 

Veiled threat


Protests against Denmark's burka ban.

Six countries in Europe have banned the burka in public spaces, the most recent of which was Denmark in 2018. Hundreds of people took to the streets of Copenhagen to protest when the law banning any covering of the face was introduced, as human rights activists deemed it “neither necessary nor proportionate”.

It’s thought that only around 200 women in the country wear veils that cover their faces. Amnesty International’s deputy Europe director, Fotis Filippou, said the law “criminalises women for their choice of clothing, making a mockery of the freedoms Denmark purports to uphold”. In the first year, 23 people were fined the 1,000 kroner penalty. 

Flying shame


Dr Tisha Rowe was told to cover up.

This summer, Dr Tisha Rowe was told she needed to cover up while wearing a playsuit on an American Airlines flight back from Jamaica. Dr Rowe, who was with her son, said she was “threatened with not getting back on the flight unless I walked down the aisle wrapped in a blanket”. The airline said that an investigation is under way.

Rip up the dress code


A college in India has banned ripped jeans.

In 2016, St Xavier’s College in Mumbai added ripped jeans to the list of clothing women aren’t allowed to wear. That list already included sleeveless tops, shorts and short dresses. Other Indian universities have enforced similar dress codes, and in 2009, all the colleges in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, ruled that women shouldn’t wear “vulgar Western” clothes to help prevent sexual harassment. 


Globally, we continue to see efforts to dictate what women can wear. It would be great to shine a light on some of those stories.

Images: Getty, Instagram

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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