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Vietnamese official clutches at East vs. West argument to justify ban on jeans in public offices

By Vi Vu   September 8, 2017 | 11:14 am GMT+7
Vietnamese official clutches at East vs. West argument to justify ban on jeans in public offices
U.S. President Barack Obama in jeans as he joins his wife Michelle in a children program at Yosemite National Park in 2016. Photo by Reuters

The official behind the ban says jeans are for cowboys, not civil servants.

A ban on jeans in government offices and state-run firms in Can Tho City has drawn so much public ire that the official behind the decision has been forced to come up with an explanation, which could end up raising more eyebrows.

“They do not suit Vietnamese customs,” said Nguyen Hoang Ba, director of Can Tho’s home affairs department, which floated the idea to the city’s government. The proposal was made following extensive cultural research and consideration, he added.

Ba told local media on Thursday that he'd discovered jeans originated from Western countries and were originally made for people who worked in factories or grazed cows and sheep.

Banning public workers from wearing jeans to work is an appropriate regulation for a first-class city like Can Tho, he added. 

The Mekong Delta city is one of five classified as central government metropolises in Vietnam, together with Da Nang, Hai Phong, Hanoi and Saigon. It is the country's fifth-largest city.

The rule also requires staff in government offices and state-owned firms to remove T-shirts from their weekday wardrobes.

Staff that ignore the ban twice will receive an official rebuke that will go on their employment record, and the next offense will lead to heavier punishment, Ba said.

“Workers can be flexible with their clothing over the weekends,” he said.

Earlier, he said that he had followed the lead taken by Hanoi and Saigon, and that he only proposed the rule after consulting different government agencies in Can Tho and receiving no opposition.

Since the decision was announced to local media earlier this week it has received mixed reactions, with some people supporting it while others saying it's “rigid” and “groundless”.

Chuong Dang from Saigon said that cowboy jeans have grown into a popular fashion icon and are now widely accepted and loved.

“This restriction on jeans needs a more convincing argument,” the fashion designer told Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper.

Vietnam’s government offices have repeatedly been jeered at for their efforts to intervene in personal choices.

Various jokes have been made among civil servants about a long-standing ban on jeans, including a poem which makes it sound like people are banned from wearing pants to work altogether.

Last December, Hanoi announced plans to ban its public workers from having tattoos or wearing “improper” cologne. The capital city received more criticism last February when it threatened to name and shame people who wear skimpy clothes in public places, saying it wanted to become a “civil and polite” destination. Experts warned that it would be difficult, if not illegal, to impose restrictions on how people dress.

Vietnam abolished cash fines for people who wear what it deemed to be indecent clothing in public in 2013.