When I first went to Iran and was obliged by law to cover my head with a scarf and my butt with a long shirt, I was slightly pissed off.
Who wouldn’t be? Making a woman cover her better parts (and by that I mean face of course) smells like the rules of the chauvinist, man-dominated society where these very men are not able to keep their hands out of their pants if they see some extra bit of female body. To do them justice, of course, I need to mention that men also have a certain dress-code: never wear knee-length shorts or sleeveless t-shirts, and better cover your handsome face with a massive moustache (not obligatory but desirable). The most miserable thing I’ve ever seen was on a ‘beach’ in Bandar-e Abbas: +45*C in the shade, hellish humidity, boiling waters of the Persian Gulf, people playing beach volley on the shore… fully dressed, with jeans, long shirts, some women even with burcas. Nenad and I went for a quick swim, dressed quite indecently… It didn’t even count as a swim anyway because the sea didn’t get deeper than 1 meter for a very long while.
A month later, I was in Pakistan and decided to get myself a cheap local outfit for my extended journey on the Karakorum Highway. Although the more you move to the North, the more you come across Ismaili villages – where Islam is less strict and women do not cover their head, but still wear fantastically comfortable shelvar-kameez with wide trousers and a scarf around the neck.
This year, I was eager to arrive to Zanzibar and be in the Muslim society again. Covering my head feels like something natural and indeed priceless when I want to blend in. Sure enough, everyone can still see my scarily white skin and weird locks of ginger hair, but in the mass of other Western visitors of this touristy island I feel like I get much less attention from the local scammers trying to sell shit to muzungus and yell “Hello baby!” at me.
I visited some remote villages on Zanzibar, wearing the same orange and green shelvar-kameez that I bought in Pakistan half a year ago, and a pink scarf, Iranian present from Kourosh. I cannot speak for the locals, but I surely felt more comfortable being around locals. Not to mention that all these clothes protect from getting sunburnt like a fried rabbit.
I hear tourists complain here and there that, for instance, in Peninsular Malaysia, even in KL, you are expected to dress up properly, that in Zanzibar local boys whistle at you if you walk around wearing shorts and sleeveless dresses… And that as a free woman from the free society of equal rights you want to wear whatever you want and not to be assaulted by local perverts… That as a free woman you will not bend under the social and/or religious laws in a foreign country, and rather try to make your point by putting on as much clothing as you want.
Well, guys from Lanyu island in Taiwan wear as much as seashell underwear. I think they expect you to follow the dresscode if you visit their patch of land.
Traditional muslim woman wears a black burca that makes it impossible for any passer-by to see her fantastic jewellery, dresses and shoes. But as soon as she enters the door of her home the guests know who rules over the house.
Western society insists that immigrants from Muslim countries must conform with the European dresscode and stop covering their faces. Hovewer, Western society obviously has nothing against colourful sari’s, robes of Buddhist monks and japanese kimonos. It’s just burcas that get on their nerves.
Traditional clothing in different countries is certainly an interesting topic to write about. But I am so not into it that this entry does not contain too many extraordinary photographs for fashion magazines. The only time in my life when I really felt the urge to buy a traditional outfit here and now, was in Lhasa. On my very first day in Tibet, I kept staring at men and women as much as they were staring at me. ‘Those long dresses that the ladies wear here’, I thought, ‘will make me look taller and compensate for he short legs.’ (I love my short legs, especially on long-distance buses). The women at a clothing store in Tibet were so excited to have me there that we spent around half an hour trying on different colours and learning how to wrap this stuff around me. I shouldn’t mention, of course, that I never wore that dress since, because – well, I can’t think of an occasion to wear a traditional Tibetan dress outside of Tibet – except a demonstration in front of a Chinese Embassy.
Indian and Nepali sari’s that captivate the minds of many ladies, unfortunately, look like peacock feathers on me, as well as any kind of dress.
In Burma, as well as in Sri Lanka, East Africa and some other places, wrap-around skirts are worn by both men and women. In Burma they are called ‘longyi’ and at first were causing contractions of laughter when I looked at them. Most of the expats who spend considerable time in the country, however, start wearing them and admit that in the insanity of a 40-degree heat wearing a knee-length skirt is what every man can dream about. I got myself one, too, and tried to be cool and wear it with elegance like many local ladies. Maybe something is wrong with the shape of my hips, but even with pins and clips the damn thing kept sliding off me, quite embarrassingly.
Anyway, what was the point of all this discussion? No point, really. I think I might wear a veil and head scarf some day in Moscow and see what reaction I get.