OPINION: Nothing uniform about dress

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

So open-toed sandals are out, and laddered tights must never be seen in charity offices. That, at least, was the opinion of Fiona Ingram of image consultants, House of Colour, in an address to third sector workers through the auspices of Fifth Estate, the PR network (Third Sector, 4 February). Presumably La Fiona hasn't spent much time hanging around the battered old furniture that fills most charity offices or she'd know that snags in tights are an everyday hazard - on a par with Nicaraguan coffee and back issues of Third Sector.

I'm unabashed to admit that I've got a pair of Birkenstocks that I was very fond of last summer. I bought them in a trendy leather shop on the King's Road. And, yes, I did commit the cardinal sin of wearing them to several charity offices. Was I letting the side down? I think not. Will I wear them again this summer? Maybe. It depends if there is something a bit more cutting edge on offer instead - and if they're not too smelly.

Does any of this matter? Sorry Fiona, not a jot.

The tank-topped, Jesus sandal-wearing charity worker is the oldest cliche in the book. Like all cliches there is an element of truth to it. So you do notice a stronger than usual whiff of body odour at environmental charities and, if I were going to a 1970s party, I might slip into the cloakroom at an aid agency to seek sartorial inspiration or at least a hand-made Guatemalan poncho.

Fiona needs locking in the changing room, however, when she starts linking such grooming gaffes and fashion foibles with success. I can think of few staff frocky horrors that would prevent me giving money and/or time to a cause I consider good. The notion that if we exclude from the payroll anyone whose clothes don't conform, we will all thrive, is almost as silly as a Vivienne Westwood smock. If it is donors we are trying to impress, two of the most generous I have come across of late would give Bet Lynch in one case, and Ab Fab's Edina in the other, a run for their clothes allowance.

So long live the open-toed sandal and the laddered tight. Just don't wear them together.

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