Dress and clothes as Markers

Today on the anniversary of the 9/11 tragic event I reflect on how much changed in the Western world. The Eastern world was not left unaffected either. In the early nineties I was struck by how easy it was to board an internal flight in the United States. There were hardly any security protocols. If my memory is right, almost anyone, travellers and non-travellers, could enter the airport and walk up almost to the gate of the flight. All that has changed, almost to the level of paranoia.

Here I reflect on one of the markers of race, ethnicity, country of origin, culture and much else that became obvious in the 2000s and after, Dress or Clothes. Did it ever strike you that the clothes you wear could convey some meaning, a signal? As long as you lived in a closed and safe environment of your culture and associated mainly with your peer groups in the same culture, this thought does not strike you. At least it did not strike me that what we wear is some sort of a signal to observers. That is, for the larger part of my life, till after the game changing event in 2001!

I invite you to read a couple of my earlier blog posts on the issues.

Calvin’s Wordrobe and Mine! I was in United States again in 2002, in Washington DC. I reflected on the situation I observed, or sensed at that time, with regard to what your dress signaled to the public at large. “In my travel to the West, I started to notice much more attention directed at me or my salwaar kameez! Once when I lived in DC for a few months I had borrowed my daughter’s trousers and T-shirt to wear at home and go downstairs to the washing area. One day, due to sheer laziness I walked down the street to do my shopping at my usual local store in the borrowed trousers and T-shirt. Suddenly I felt that I was invisible! No one looked at me, I seemed to melt into the surroundings! What was it? Obviously the colour of my skin or the colour of my hair did not attract attention, it was my clothing! So finally even the patriot in me has resigned to the idea of Western clothes, at least in public places while travelling in Western countries!!” 

Dress code travelling in Scotland!

Wordly Wardrobe Woes! Dress code is common in the corporate world. The way you dress and what you wear conveys something. When women embark on their careers, Management or otherwise, the dress code remains. “I recently came across an article on women entrepreneurs and incubation in the US. The same struggle for the Western women, one quote ‘I spent many years wearing trousers and being, trying to be one of the boys and I think as I’ve got a bit older and I’ve matured in my own sense and belief in my own abilities I’ve decided that I can dress a bit more girly and get away with it’. Recently I came across a number of tweets on the wardrobe of Asian women. It swung on both sides of the pendulum. Some were appreciative of how Asian women manage to maintain a balance between Western and Eastern attire. And some were, well: ‘Sometimes I really question the wardrobe of middle aged Asian women!’ ‘Are Asian women born with an incredible wardrobe?’ Given the range of comments, I am not sure if this was a compliment or sarcasm? We appreciate colour and this reflects in our dress sense and hence my earlier apprehension of the disappearance of colour from campuses. This becomes the butt of various not so nice comments!”

The world has become even more polarised than even a decade ago. Dress in the international or even within the national context is a marker. Adam Smith, considered the Father of Economics, used the phrase, “to appear in public without shame”. Dress has become something more than that. It is a marker of class, race, ethnicity, region or country of origin. Today with the new phenomenon of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have a new addition to the wardrobe, the Mask. Welcome to the Masked World of the matchng new accessory, the designer mask!


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