‘In Donkey Jacket and Doc Martin Boots’: Women Workers, Uniforms and the Patterning of Exclusion in the Male-Dominated Transport Industry
journal contributionposted on 16.03.2022, 05:44 by Emma RobertsonEmma Robertson, Lee-Ann MonkLee-Ann Monk
Uniforms played a key role in the construction of masculine occupational traditions in the British and Australian transport sectors: traditions that made it extremely difficult for women to enter these particular areas of employment. This article explores how attitudes to women’s clothing in non-traditional areas of transport work (especially on trains, trams and buses) changed over the course of the twentieth century. It shifts focus away from the wars as the only moments when women donned uniforms to enter these male professions. Women workers in the late twentieth century, even with anti-discrimination legislation in place, found a battle to enter male-dominated workplaces and to be provided with appropriate clothing. Management and union preferences for a feminised uniform, bound up with assumptions about women’s bodies, devalued women’s status in comparison to male colleagues and persistently excluded women from equal access to appropriate workwear. Nevertheless, women developed sartorial tactics, including dressing in men’s uniforms, that helped them to succeed in non-traditional roles. Some women transport workers were able to take pleasure in their workplace clothing, even as it posed significant challenges to their ability to be comfortable, safe and efficient in their daily tasks.