Some years ago now, a judge passed a comment to the effect that a young woman who had been raped, had been dressed in such a way that she was asking for it.

The comment caused outrage. Feminists and that far larger group 'I'm not a feminist but . . .' as well as many men, made it clear that such a view was unacceptable.

This was a serious crime and no woman could be held responsible for her own violent rape because of her clothes. Young women could chose to dress as outrageously or minimally as they wished without it being taken to mean consent to sex.

I am reminded of this controversy as the current debate started by Jack Straw about women wearing a full veil, gains national interest.

We live in a country where the majority of people are in a position of sufficient material comfort to be able to choose what they wear.

Many of our daily communications are with people whom we don't know very well, may never know very well, and whom we don't know at all. It is this group of people who notice what we wear most.

Clothes are great indicators of the sort of person we want to be seen as. They are very rarely, if ever, neutral in signifying who we are.

It is right men and women should be able to choose what they wear - Jack Straw, himself, says that - but along with that goes other people having the right to make judgments about our choice. We have after all made our choice so to expect no consequences of that choice is unrealistic.

The question is what is the message that is being sent? Is it read the same way by everyone? There are plenty of examples of people getting it wrong -women wearing clothes to look attractive who end up, to others, looking fat and vulgar; boys who are indignant when told their appearance intimidates - whether it's punk, goth or hoodies.

We have problems knowing or controlling what others read into our choice.

What does choice actually mean in relation to clothes anyway? Even if, when we choose, we could be sure we had predicted correctly that others react as we intend, can we be sure it is a real free choice?

We are hugely conditioned by factors such as our social group, fashion and class as well as practical considerations such as the weather.

If we assume that women who are wearing a full veil have chosen it freely themselves, there is still the question of what reaction they expect.

They can hardly be expecting none. What do they think others will read into their decision? A devout, or a strict, or a radicalised, Muslim? A statement about their attitude to the relationship between men and women and indeed the fundamental nature of men?

An expression of their views on the role of women in our society outside the home and the contribution women make to the wider economic and political community?

If you are free to choose, others are free to make judgments about your choice. If you think their judgment is wrong, then there is a huge responsibility on you to enter into rigorous debate. ..SUPL: