Costume, Ethnic Dress, or Wearing Culture?

Wearing Cultural

Written by Alana Jolley

July 1, 2017

Costume, Ethnic Dress, or Wearing Culture?

Google created 3,000 years of  Wearing Culture.  It is not only about Ethnic Dress, but about the clothes worn every day and for special occasions, celebrations, or traditions. It is definitely not just costumes, or ethnic dress; it truly is about wearing culture.  There are many ways to express culture; and dress is one of the most visible signs.  In the case of clothing, we are allowed to judge a “book” by its cover.  The Google green link at the bottom of this post will show you an amazing array of cultural styles from antiquity to modernity.  Let’s examine a few populations and how they wear culture.

Everyone is familiar with Afghanistan; but how familiar are the Hazara people?  Who are they? Where in Afghanistan do they live?  Is Afghanistan the only place where the Hazaragi culture thrives? Which of the Global Villages should we place them in?  What do they do for a living?

The Hazaragi culture has been richly developed over centuries of settled occupation in the regions of Central Asia.  The Hazara people descend from the Mongol peoples. Legend says they have been there since Genghis Khan rode in. They make up almost twenty percent of Afghanistan’s population.  Their native language is a variation of the Persian language. Traditionally the Hazara people have practiced pastoralism; and they are farmers. They herd their livestock in the southeastern highlands of Afghanistan.  They practice Shi’a Islamic traditions; but some are also Sunnis.  The Hazara people live in the Islamic Global Village. The Hazara women below are wearing their culture.   Afghanistan is an unstable country; and Hazara Afghans are among the millions of refugees fleeing to European countries for a better life.

Something to think about: How much culture is lost when large groups of populations leave their homelands?  Often the first two things immigrants give up is their language and their ethnic dress in order to assimilate into their new cultural surroundings.

Ethnic Hazara Women

Hazara Women in Traditional Dress

If you saw the beautiful ladies in the picture below on the street, would you guess their cultural roots? They are the epitome of modesty and they live on islands.  The ladies are wearing the Ta’ovala, which is a formal attire worn to demonstrate respect and authority.  Even men wear the Ta’ovala instead of a suit and tie. The Ta’ovala is worn over a wrapped skirt.  Men and women must always have their knees covered.  Swimming suits are not worn; and both men and women swim fully clothed.  Notice the braided rope around their waist.  It is called a Kafa. These women exhibit their culture by what they are wearing.  Wearing culture is a source of pride to Tongans. 
Women in Ethnic Dress

What is the woman in the fur hat carrying?  Can you guess the culture she is wearing? As her fur hat tells us, and the snow in the background shows us, her cultural environment is cold. She lives on the Kola Peninsula in the Arctic.  She is a member of the Sami cultural group found in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and on the Kola Peninsula of Russia.  If you guessed she is carrying a baby, you are right.  Such baby carriers are hand-made and handed down to the next generation.

The women cited are a few examples of wearing culture-not just a costume or ethnic dress.  When you visit a foreign country, watch for types of ethnic dress you see.  What does wearing culture tell you about those who are wearing it? What can you learn from studying ethnic apparel?  What are the reasons people choose certain types of clothing to wear in certain climates or environments?

Such a question begs to be answered, especially during trying times.  Wearing culture can be even more creative, when the signs of the times are not good.  For instance, during WWII there was a lot of rationing going on in Europe where the war started.  There was rationing of everything from ice cream to nylon stockings. How did rationing nylon affect women who wanted to wear their culture? Who would have thought of painting legs instead of wearing nylons?  Yet, that is exactly what wearing culture turned out to be, as you can see.

The different women highlighted in this cultural post show great creativity in wearing their culture.  Wherever we live, whatever our environment, no matter the traditions we celebrate, it is all about culture; and more often than not it includes the creative endeavor of wearing culture. Follow the Google link.

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