Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wearing Cross Cultural Clothes

~the whys and therefores

About me (contextualizing my comments)

My name is Tiffany Jones.

My Australian-born parents are a mixture of Welsh, English, Scottish and Chinese heritage. I have lived in Australia, Japan, Norway, Denmark and Spain. I’ve travelled to thirty countries.

I wear clothing I’m comfortable in and clothing I like. (I know its not the same as everyone else and still, I’m happy to be comfortable rather than fit in.) I’m a believer in discarding clothing that I identify with negative experiences or makes me feel negative towards myself.

Questions on Cross Cultural Exchange (why I wrote the post)

Last week, a friend of mine posed some questions about cross cultural dressing. For example, why decorate the face with Bindi’s if you are not Hindu, why dye your hair a different colour if you obviously have black hair, why try to be whiter if you are naturally dark, why do white girls have cornrows sometimes, and why do some Asian people surgically ‘round’ their eyes to be more Caucasian. Why not just display your own heritage and be happy with that?

These questions are not exactly in the same category as cross cultural fashion, but they do point to an opinion many people hold that consists of ‘what you are, is what you were born as, so stay that way and don’t mix your creativity with others’.

Because our image, the way we present ourselves, the way we dress, adorn and paint ourselves is a creation. We can create sloppily, or with high skill, with little thought, or with great care. Its a creation.

Who Decides What We Wear?

The fashion changes have often been brought about by necessity. The changes of women’s fashion were the greatest during war times when material was in short supply (so skirt hems went up), or because women started working (trousers and clothing with more freedom of movement).

We’re inspired by what we see on TV, in magazines, on the street and by our friends. The images that we see are created by fashion designers from across the globe. We are wearing and buying clothing that other people design, and we choose from these designers. (Designers are typically the first to admit that they are inspired from other culture's interpretation of clothing.)

Denim Jeans

I bought my first pair of jeans when I was 30. I hated jeans because I thought they were ugly, heavy and common. Everyone wears jeans. I changed my mind because at that time in my life I wanted to be common. I wanted to be just like everyone else. And jeans was a way to feel normal.

And ‘normal’ my dear friends, is what we see, mostly on TV. What we see on TV comes from North America. Teenagers in Norway, Australia and here in Spain are highly influenced by American TV and American fashion. What do teen queens wear? Jeans and a cutsie little top.

The story of jeans is a classic example of how fashion travels. The material, Wiki states, originated both from Genoa and India in the 16th century for sailors. In the 1800’s, were being sold in North America for factory workers. In the 1950’s, they were popularised by teenagers in North America. So, who owns the copyright or national identity of jeans? The Genoese, the Dhungaese, or the Americans?

So then, if I go to India, and I wear a Punjabi suit (suitable since Hindu’s and Muslims living in India are typically modest) I am cross culture dressing. Perhaps its acceptable in India, but if I wear it here, in Spain, or in Norway? What do you think?

Do you think ‘ahh, that girl can’t wear that, she’s not Indian?’

But what if I wear the pants only, and a singlet? And a bracelet? Then, am I being a ‘hippie’ or am I cross culture dressing or perhaps you didn’t even notice since the pants are in fashion at the moment.

And what if an Indian person wears jeans? Are they disregarding their culture for that of the Americans?

Accepting or not accepting the fashion of different cultures seems to be based on how often you’ve been exposed to other culture’s ideas of fashion or not.

The pants from the Hill tribes of Thailand are in fashion right now in Spain. Every tenth female is wearing them. Its fashionable and I can tell you right now that most of the females wearing them do not know where they come from. They just like what they look like. They are, in short, cool.

Does it matter?


Where do shirts come from? Who has the right to wear them?

And if we really want to get picky, can only Italians eat pizza? (God forbid)

Everything is personal and nothing has a blanket answer. There is no right or wrong. There can certainly be ugly and attractive, but we all know that admiration is in the eyes of the admirer.

On a personal note, I love Indian clothing. The colours, the freedom of movement – you can eat what you want and the top is big enough that your stomach doesn’t show its bulge, its elegant and protective from sun and wind and more feminine than any pair of jeans.

I have never felt as comfortable as I do in my favourite blue Punjabi suit.

Other opinions are heartily welcomed.


Lisa said...

Love it (!) and completely agree. I'm trying to get around to reading some of your blogs and stumbled across this one...I believe what we adorn ourselves with not only speaks to who we are but helps create it.

Funny - I rarely wear much other than jeans! They suit me and allow me to play with my tops (jewelery, accessories, etc.) while I have a stand-by for part of the outfit. Call it easy dressing, I guess.

I love to feel beautiful and I completely agree - beauty is something that crosses cultures. Limiting ourselves to one form of outer appearance because of the associations (connotations, etc) of that appearance severely limits who we can be!

Thanks for a great blog.

Tiffany said...

So glad you could stop by, and thank you so much for your insightful comments.
Is that little thumbnail I see you doing yoga in jeans!!? :D and is that snow? wow - this is really yoga off the mat girl!
Thanks for being a great blog buddy! (posting pal could also satisfy my urge for alliteration)

The Little Red Baron said...

I can't remeber why, but when i was young I didn't want to wear jeans, but now I'm a jeans girl. Why?
They hold their shape, they don't show dirty marks (that usually wash out well), and they last a long time.
This resembles the original reason for them being made, and worn.
So while 'in styles' come and go, and many people wear them, maybe one reason they are so popular is because they are a practical, and quite comfortable (ok depending on the style), item of clothing.