It's been the hottest June in 40 years in Europe. To beat the heat--and as a protest against dress codes that don't apparently envision men wearing shorts--European men and boys have been wearing skirts and dresses to work and school.
All of this has resulted in three surprises: First that people cared, second that the stories went viral--and finally, perhaps most surprising, that the protests have largely worked.
Here are several recent cases in which hairy-legged fashion statements led to the right to reveal their knees at work.
The schoolboys of Exeter
The first of the protests that made news on this side of the Atlantic came last week at a school in Exeter, England, where British boys wore their female classmates' school-authorized skirts. As in the other protests, it was over the fact that boys weren't allowed to wear shorts to school despite 86-degree weather.
The Guardian reported on the story, including one of the most British sentences I've read in a long time:
"Quite refreshing" was how one of the boys described the experience, pointing out that if even Royal Ascot had allowed racegoers in the royal enclosure to remove their jackets, then the school ought to relax its dress code.
Result? After international news coverage, the school's headmaster "sent a message to parents saying that shorts would be allowed - but only from next school year - after consulting with pupils and parents," according to The Guardian.
The call center workers of Buckinghamshire
This protest was a one-man show, staged by Twitter user and call center (sorry, centre) employee Joey Barge, who asked not-so-hypothetically on Twitter what would happen if he were to wear "smart shorts" to work, given that "women can wear skirts/dresses at work."
I say not-so-hypothetically, because Barge was already wearing the shorts while driving to work in a photo he posted to Twitter. The answer came later the same day, in the form of another Tweet, after he'd been sent home for not adhering to the office dress code.
So, he decided to change into a pink and black dress--presumably allowed for women, anyway--and returned to the office.
Result? It's not clear whether Barge was sent home for the dress, but his protest was successful, as we learned--how else, but on Twitter, that his bosses decided to allow "3/4 length shorts ... black, navy, or beige only."
Besides the right to dress for the heat, Barge also became mildly Internet famous; his Tweets got a few thousand shares and likes.
Les bus drivers de France
Finally, we have a group of bus drivers in the city of Nantes, near the Western coast, who asked permission to wear Bermuda shorts as they drove their un-airconditioned coaches.
Permission denied, reportedly, despite the drivers' claim that temperatures can rise to the equivalent of 122 degrees Fahrenheit in the drivers' seats. So, the drivers came to work in skirts--again, authorized for women drivers--and snagged some media coverage. A video of their interview racked up more than 300,000 YouTube views, for example.
Result? "In the end bosses at bus company Semitan conceded and pledged to update its uniform policy," according to an English-language French news site. "[W]orkers would be allowed to wear shorts while waiting for an updated uniform, as long as they correspond to the uniform's colour scheme of black and beige."
I guess we should find some lessons in all of this...
According to The New York Times, these protests are "worth considering, for a number of reasons."
Among them: that "implicit gender bias in dress codes works both ways," that "the balance of power [is changing] in the relationship between the individual and the institution," and that they "reveal our own strange prejudices against men in shorts, and our growing level of comfort with men in skirts."
I freely admit--that's a lot more meaning than I took out of this.
In fact, I was part of a similar protest back in high school, and we could barely get a mention in the student newspaper. Maybe that's why, as a man in his 40s working in a New York City media company, I love the dozen or so days each year when I feel like it's hot enough to justify my wearing shorts to work. (End of this week, for example.)
What do you think? Shorts at work, or not--and if not, would a protest change your mind? Let us know in the comments.