Tradition or sexism? Dress code under fire

Fran Robinson, Thetford town councillor

Fran Robinson, Thetford town councillor - Credit: Archant

As one of the oldest mayoralties in the country, tradition is important to Thetford Town Council.

Thetford Town Councillors in their ceremonial outfits before an event last year.

Thetford Town Councillors in their ceremonial outfits before an event last year. - Credit: Archant

So while other authorities reserve full ceremonial attire for just its most senior officials, in Thetford all councillors must regularly turn out in gown and cocked hat.

Now, though, this long-standing tradition is under attack, after allegations of sexism in the way the dress code is enforced.

A female councillor has objected to the current arrangement, which requires women to keep their hats on, until they have permission from the mayor to remove them. Men, by contrast, are able to take theirs off without seeking assent.

Fran Robinson, a Labour member elected to the council for the first time last May, says women should have the same rights as men when it comes to taking their hats off.

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'I'm not a fan of the robes and I don't think I should have to wear them if I don't want to,' she said.

'I can understand why they are used for outdoor civic events, but when you are sat inside the council chamber it gets very hot.

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'Men are allowed to take their hats off, but the women have to ask the mayor. I just think it's sexist and discriminatory.

'If you are so hot that you want to pass out, I don't think it helps you engage with the meeting.'

As it stands, councillors currently wear the outfits at five civic events a year, including two ceremonial meetings in the town council chamber.

In the past, tradition stated that when the heat rises in the chamber, men were allowed to remove their hats but women had to keep them on.

Recent discussions over a formalised Civic Policy amended it so that women could ask the mayor if they could remove their hats.

But Mrs Robinson is still unhappy with the policy.

However, Robert Kybird, mayor of Thetford, defended the rules, saying it was important to recognise the past.

'Thetford is one of the oldest mayoralties in the country, dating back to 1199, and I think it's important to recognise our historic traditions.

'The policy makes it clear as to what councillors should be wearing at civic events, and helps the public identify who is a councillor.

'I don't think the fact women have to keep their hats on is sexist, it's just tradition.' he said.

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