Today I read - a little late, I know - this article by Intravino dedicated to 'Quer pasticcio brutto della skirt per sommelier (con tanto di querela FIS annexa)'. A piece by Tommaso Ciuffoletti that I found very intelligent and fluent on a controversy that, in my opinion, made no sense at all. Given that he, Jacopo Cossater (Intravino), Lara Loreti (La Repubblica), Nicola Porro and others have already written about the matter, I will limit myself to sharing this reflection in point of pen on the sommelier uniform and - more generally - on the uniform as a concept.

Sommelier uniform: let us start with the summary of the story as a basis for reasoning

A 32-year-old American girl of Japanese origin, Nicole Hesslink, is taking sommelier courses in the Marche region and asked if she could wear trousers instead of a skirt for the uniform of her association (the FIS). The FIS replied to her - in short - that the official uniform stipulates a skirt for women and therefore either she puts it on or she can go eat tofu and take selfies elsewhere. The girl publicly 'denounced' everything, complete with screenshots on social media, the FIS sued her for defamation, and the news raised a big fuss where everyone is discussing the sex of angels for five minutes of fame. After all, with the war in Ukraine, the drought, Covid, monkey pox, the gas problem and the elections coming up - to name but a few - the national newspapers have nothing better to deal with than this caciara.

Don't get me wrong: the subject of sommelier uniforms is very interesting to me, but I haven't read a single article that has addressed an issue that is certainly less than sexism, but underlies all the arguments I will make in this article. Respect for the rules.

Let's make it simple: my parents never wanted me to get a dog as long as I lived in their house. It was their house and - rightly - they made the rules. If I didn't agree, I went to live on my own and could even buy a raccoon if I liked. In fact I went to live on my own and within a few months Paco, my beloved 15-year-old Pomeranian fox, arrived. But more about that in a moment.

Laura Donadoni divided sommelier ais fis FISAR

Sommelier uniform: sexism & ...

When it comes to throwing in sexism and violence against women, Laura Donadoni is always ready to ride the wave - in a skirt and in this photo in which she looks really beautiful - (if you missed it, I invite you to read this article which I dedicated to violence against women after the Italian Wine Girl's victim-blaming rant with the now lost Franco Ziliani). And with her other more or less popular young ladies with such a desire for prominence. Yet I cannot see any sexism in the work of the FIS. As always, I would like to start with the Treccani definition:

Sexism. Term coined in the context of the feminist movements of the 1960s to indicate the attitude of those (men or women) who tend to justify, promote or defend the idea of the inferiority of the female sex with respect to the male sex and the consequent discrimination operated against women in the socio-political, cultural, professional or simply interpersonal field; also, with more general meaning, tendency to discriminate against someone on the basis of their sex.

So, since we are talking here about a piece (or more) of a uniform and not about the possibility of holding one role rather than another within the association (FIS, Tizio, Caio, Sempronio) nor even the possibility of exercising the profession of sommelier, to speak of sexism seems to me at least hallucinating. Rather, let us discuss the concept of uniform together, which is far more tasty and intriguing.

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Sommelier uniform: what about defamation?

I have said that talking about sexism is absurd, but the lawsuit exposed by FIS to me is no less so. I really don't think that Nicole Hesslink can be said to have defamed the association in her Instagram posts, rather it can be said with reasonable certainty that she committed a levity by publishing unauthorised screenshots of the emails between her and FIS (even if with the sender covered, the association was still recognisable).

I therefore believe that the FIS had every right to give her a (metaphorical of course) triple pike flying kick, but they went too far in suing her and - for me - they could have happily spared it and drunk a good bottle to her health.

Sommelier uniform: skirt or trousers?

That I am a child of Japanese manga - and in particular of Sailor Moon, A Fashionable Girl, Little Problems of the Heart... - and of Korean dramas - Goblin, Boys over flowers, Cindarella and four knight... - where seeing a girl without a uniform is rarer than drinking a natural wine without any stench is no mystery. I have always wanted to wear a school uniform that is so college-esque and therefore basically have no aversion to (cute) uniforms. In real life, however, I have only worn the uniform of my tennis club and the AIS uniform, which, in my opinion, do not have the charm of the oriental sailor uniform. I have always worn the AIS uniform with a skirt and tie, I have never even bought a scarf. I love ties, both on men and women. Anyway, let's start with another definition, again from Treccani:

Uniform. A particular style of dress, also called uniformwhich serves to distinguish the wearer by indicating membership of a particular body, to a certain categoryand also, possibly, the rank and function he holds within that body.

Sommelier uniform

The uniform therefore has two main functions:

  • identifying elementi.e. make the category and/or rank of the subject immediately recognisable in the eyes of the beholder;
  • element of uniformityi.e. making the social/economic status of the subject not immediately recognisable in the eyes of the beholder.

And then I would also add an aesthetic function because let's face it: not everyone has good taste in dress or is at least accustomed to the concept of decorum. Therefore the uniform also serves as element of protection of the place and context in which the subject fits in.

Dress code. Dress code, set of rules for combining clothing appropriately and correctly according to different situations. (Treccani)

It is therefore legitimate for FIS - at home - to ask young ladies to wear skirts, just as it does for flight attendants and a thousand other professions. I understand that in Scotland handsome young men wear skirts - kilts, pardon me - without disturbing their manhood. It is called a dress code, which is required in a certain place by the 'landlord'. Please note: the dress code is known even before you decide to attend a certain event or join a certain association. When you complete your registration - as in any online or offline transaction - you accept the terms and conditions of the 'shop' you are buying from. If Nicole signed up without reading the rules, it is her right to leave the FIS and change association (as in fact she did by going to FISAR), but she should not blame the shop she bought from for having rules she does not like. And let's be clear, I don't like them either: I find it absurd that in 2022 we still have uniforms that dictate skirts for women and trousers for men. When will a man be free to wear a skirt and a woman to wear trousers? Ah, it's an aesthetic matter you say... whatever! 😄

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As for FIS, I would rather recommend changing this page on their official website which - in my very humble opinion - does much more damage to the image of the Association than Nicole's useless polemic. 

Beware of fake sommeliers!

Our Sommeliers have completed the most important Professional Qualification Course in the world and are constantly updated.

Apart from a questionable use of the Italian language to say the least, I kindly ask a 'high-ranking' member of FIS to tell me who 'christened' the FIS course 'the most important Professional Qualification Course in the world'. I mean, did we at AIS, Fisar & Co. by any chance do a sommelier course for cheese makers?

I'll be honest, it never crossed my mind that the AIS sommelier course was the best - and consequently insinuating that the other courses are inferior - even though I am absolutely proud to be an AIS sommelier and would make that choice a thousand times over.

And then who would be the 'fake sommeliers'?

Sommelier uniform ais fis FISAR sommelier course

With this article, I want to remind everyone that we sommeliers - of whatever association - have always chosen to be humble and curious.

With this article I want to remind you that the choice of AIS, FISAR, FIS and any other association should not be a reason to divide us or to make 'stadium choruses'.

We are all sommeliers.

We are all wine enthusiasts.

We are women and men who, by profession or hobby, have chosen to put ourselves at the service of wine culture. Each of us with our talents, our limitations, our dreams.

As for rules, if there are any, they must be respected, even those we do not like.

If it is not acceptable for us to abide by a rule, it is absolutely legitimate and in our right to go elsewhere: no one forces us to belong to an association and we are always free to no longer belong.

But let's leave sexism at home... out of respect for all those women who in 2022 are still victims of it.

Real victims.

Cheers 🍷


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