Sunday, April 5, 2009

On costumes, culture and perception of style

Saturday night, was another installment of the Heller School’s cultural dinner series. Every month, give or take, a geographic region hosts a dinner and show, that highlights foods and cultural presentations. Last night was Latin America and the Caribbean - CARNIVAL!!!. If you know me well (nuff) I was very involved in the staging.

The event went well. But what struck me most were a few comments on my choice of outfit. I wore a green Lactose polo style T- shirt, a black linen skirt, floral espadrilles with gold accents and a pair of vintage yellow and gold earrings. The colors of independent Jamaica.

Where is your traditional outfit? I thought you would dress up? Where’s your National costume? The expectation was that I would wear some  ‘costume’. I intentionally chose not to wear Jamaica’s so called national fabric, a red, blue and white madras. Not only because it became our national fabric after mistakenly being shipped to the West Indies instead of India, (A friend recently confirmed that the fabric is used  as saris in Madras, India), but it is the color of our former colonial master Britain. Most importantly, fashion in Jamaica is very cosmopolitan. Think New York, Milan with Caribbean edge on sturdy bodies. The wide skirts and frilled tops that are associated with the madras have not been popular in Jamaica since the dropping of the Union Jack (read: British flag).
My annoyance however, is that the folks who asked had a romantic notion of the developing world- ‘costume like outfits” or that the outfits worn are indeed costumes. I hope that made sense. For me, tradition and modern style should co-exist and both have defined my taste. As a child I performed in annual festival in madras and dreamed of being  National Festival Queen. I value the story of my country's relationship with the madras plaid and its place in my history.

Ranting done.

Here a few of my favorite picks from the cultural dinner series. The outfits are not costumes. They are just that. Calling them costumes suggest a narrow minded opinion of style.

be good. do better. look your best.


Lita said...

i hate the word 'robes' too. really gets my goat. you all look gorgeous. i don't think you should dismiss the other cultural influences that make up Jamaica's traditional clothes though. All countries are hybrids of cultures, fashions and traditions, no more than the islands of the Caribbean. If West Africans (I'm Nigerian) had done that, our clothes would look a LOT different (the neck lines are found all over the muslim world, 'dutch' wax is the most popular etc.)

Tammyanka said...

Thanks Lita. By no means I'll dismiss the other influences.....hybrid is the very essence of the Caribbean culture. Cheers.

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