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Women and traditional dress.

(159 Posts)
LostInTheWoods Mon 15-Aug-11 20:02:25

This is something I've noticed over the years.

In many cultures it appears to be more likely that women wear traditional dress than men. I'm thinking about sarees, salwar kameez, kimonos, african-style dresses and head-dresses and probably others I haven't seen. You are much less likely to see men wearing their equivalent traditional outfits.

Why is this?

jennyvstheworld Mon 15-Aug-11 20:08:46

Nearly all your examples have male equivilents. The only scenario I can think of is where you see a husband in 'normal' trousers and shirt whilst his wife wears a veil. I'm not even going to start on developing world misogyny... but it does seem your hypothesis isn't all that accurate. Sorry.

AliceTwirled Mon 15-Aug-11 20:15:49

Are you meaning in the West LITW?

I have read something somewhere once to do with women as the people who are expected to preserve culture. There was more to it than that, and it was interesting, but sadly has dropped out of my mind...

fluffles Mon 15-Aug-11 20:18:45

doesn't apply to scottish traditional dress.

and although the class of people from india and pakistan who live over here or travel a lot tend to have men wearing western clothes, actually in those countries traditional dress is far more common than western. lungi's etc.

KRIKRI Mon 15-Aug-11 20:19:18

I'm not sure that's universally the case, Lostinthewoods.

Here in Scotland, you see lots of men wearing traditional Scottish dress in the form of a kilt. Not all wear the full ensemble, but you see men in kilts at sporting events, weddings, in pubs, going to work, all over. The only time I have seen women wearing traditional Scottish dress is at specific cultural celebrations - like St Andrews Day or Burns night.

Sikh men often wear turbans. Hassidic Jewish men wear elaborate traditional dress and hairstyles while women only wear fairly conservative but contemporary women's clothing (e.g. skirts mid-calf, long sleeve blouses, sometimes hats, etc.) I think I've seen probably equal numbers of men and women in African dress.

I'm not from an Asian background, but more often than not, I wear salwar kameez on "dressy" occasions because they look chic and are as comfy as wearing pajamas!

Kallista Tue 16-Aug-11 00:28:54

In the part of England where I live the vast majority of men of foreign origins wear western clothes even if their wives / female relatives do wear traditional clothes.
Women who are strict muslims in this area often cover their entire hair & bodies to either by choice (to follow their religion) or because their families / husbands force them to (which is wrong IMO).
The cultural costumes such as saris & salwar kameez are very pretty, flattering & glamorous so it's not surprising that women who have been brought up with these clothes like to continue wearing them.
The local hassidic Jewish men wear traditional dress as do their wives. But all other men here wear western clothes. I suspect it's for several reasons: To compete with or show off to other local men (of all cultures) by wearing designer shirts, expensive suits or label sportswear; or (very likely) because like a lot of english men they are a tad bit lazy & it's much easier to pull on a tshirt & jeans. I think also that men like to follow the crowd & dress in a similar way to every other man.
Although there are lots of Africans in my town I never seen them in traditional dress. The Sikh men do wear turbans..but with western clothes.

GothAnneGeddes Tue 16-Aug-11 02:05:19

Bit worried by the assumption that traditional dress is 'bad' or not as good as western dress. Shalwar Khalmeez are ace. They can be as dressy or as casual as you want and hide a multitude of sins. You can get them made to measure comparatively cheaply - what's not to like? Ditto abayas. And surely you can't have a problem with traditional West African wraps?

I see a lot of men in traditional dress where I live. I think the reason why many men in the UK don't wear it is because it isn't deemed as acceptable in the workplace. I don't think they'd let you wear a thobe on the building site.

EricNorthmansMistressOfPotions Tue 16-Aug-11 12:19:30

If you go to another country where traditional dress is the norm you will see both men and women in traditional dress, and both men and women in western dress.

In the UK I think you are more likely to see, for eg, muslim women in traditional dress than men because men tend to be more active in the loacl community (working and just being out and visible on the streets) and find physical assimilation to be more convenient for whatever reason. Women are more likely to spend time at home, with other women and with their own culture, so more likely to stick to traditional dress.

I agree with Goth, traditional dress isn't oppressive by nature, so it's not right to extrapolate that women wearing it more visibly than men is a sign of oppression. My H wears traditional dress in the UK when he feels like it, and he has experienced abuse. Thankfully he doesn't give a fuck and can take care of himself, but I can see why some men would go for an easy life and suit up.

karmakameleon Tue 16-Aug-11 14:36:59

Whether traditional dress is oppressive or not depends very much on the type. Of the examples given, I would agree that a shalwar kameez is pretty practical, comfortable and suitable for the hot weather in most of the countries it is worn. A sari on the other hand is absolutely not. They are difficult to tie, uncomfortable to wear and often slip if not tied tight, which tends to hurt, and yet in India you see women doing all sorts of manual work whilst wearing them.

Men very rarely wear traditional dress compared to women. I'm currently working in the Indian office at the moment and I'd say 80% of the women here are wearing tradional dress and I haven't seen a single man wearing it today. I'd say that is similar to in the situation in the West. For example the only time my father has ever worn traditional dress is for his daughters' weddings. My mother has hundreds of saris and wears them frequently. I'd say that is the norm for most Indian families.

There is also cultural pressure to conform. My sister and I have always been under huge pressure to dress "appropriately" and that means a sari and a lot of heavy jewellry. (A shalwar kameez, even a dressy one, wouldn't be suitable for a wedding or most festivals.) My male cousins on the other hand are free to choose. So although some do tend wear Indian clothes for formal occassions, they would be free to wear a suit if they chose to.

As Alice says, it seems to be up to women to uphold cultural values. Of course, this doesn't just include dress but all the work that women put into celebrating and organising festivals, cooking traditional foods, teaching children about their background and their traditional languages
etc. For immigrant families, I'd say it was an important part of wifework.

colditz Tue 16-Aug-11 14:41:11

Karma, WRT the sari, you can say the same about a bra. Yet most women wear one, and your are often working maually while they do so.

Doesn't anyone remember how uncomfortable and 'weird' their first bra was?

karmakameleon Tue 16-Aug-11 14:55:20

colditz, I've worn both saris and bras and I don't think it's at all comparable.

Most of the Indian women I have spoken to find saris difficult to wear, uncomfortable and impractical. My grandmother's generation who have worn one every day since adulthood probably do think it's a case of just getting used to it, but I know my mother who wears one to most events that require dressing up would agree with me that they aren't great everyday wear.

Also I don't know a single Indian woman under forty who can tie one without help. I don't remember spending much time learning how to put on my bra (nowhere near as much time as I have spent trying to learn how to tie a sari with no success).

colditz Tue 16-Aug-11 14:57:32

Oh. Sorry for ignorance.

Claw3 Tue 16-Aug-11 15:03:17

I know what you are getting at OP, women cover up in order to be respected by men, and protected from them. Usually part of religious beliefs.

Ive just been reading "Society Becomes Corrupted When Women
Wear Masculine Clothes" the claims in this document are the biggest load of bollox ive ever read!

karmakameleon Tue 16-Aug-11 15:12:16

No worries colditz. I think a lot of people are a bit dazzled by how pretty saris look but the reality is they are a pain to wear. Because it's just a piece of material that is wrapped around you, you constantly worry that something or someone will pull on it and it will unravel. The only way around this is to tie it very tight (which hurts) or use pins (but then you're afraid it will tear if it is delicate material).

KRIKRI Tue 16-Aug-11 15:49:38

I think "traditional" forms of female dress in "mainstream" British culture can also be uncomfortable and constricting. There are many professions that require women to wear skirts or dresses, often with heels, even where such attire is not comfortable or practical for the role performed. There was also the recent case of the woman sacked for not wearing make for her role as a shop assistant.

Mind you, I can't imagine a tie is that comfortable, nor is a suit on a hot day.

GothAnneGeddes Tue 16-Aug-11 15:58:55

KRIKRI - True. Lots of people would still like to see nurses in dresses and tights even though nursing is a very physical job. Likewise, why do female cabin crew need to wear skirts?

MillyR Tue 16-Aug-11 18:00:57

I don't think the OP is saying that wearing traditional clothes is a bad thing. She is just noticing that it is more common for women not to wear westernised clothes.

In terms of clothes worn in UK hospitals, UK traditional work clothes worn by women were impractical and UK traditional work clothes worn by men and women were unhygienic. It was ridiculous that doctors (mainly men in the past) used to walk around speaking to patients while wearing lab coats or that nurses used to wear those pin on caps.

A lot of the reason that clothing in medical professions has changed is because of infection rates.

MBBF Tue 16-Aug-11 19:19:42

looking at this from a diffrent angle[hope no one minds]
women who dont adere to conform to traditional clothes.
a long time ago i used to wear saris all the time[i was a k devotee]
and as a british woman-this didt go down too well at times[actually a lot]with some-mostly some men.
they took it as me"crossing sides/letting the side down and i got called things like lover[sorry]/prostitute ect-i certainly wasnt seen in a good light.
believe it or not-even the fact that i had a pierced nose "proved"to them that i was a prostitute[it was a bit unusual for a white skinned woman to have a pierced nose let alone wear a sari]
roll forward a few years......i have noticed that some british women are seen as "letting the side down"if they convert to muslim[ive heard it said]
given also-that some men dont like women dressing/looking like a fella......
and we have lots of media ect stuff promoting womens clothes[eg "sexy"clothes]......
men still dictate what women can and cant wear and consider women as property[im on about some men]

MBBF Tue 16-Aug-11 19:25:53

im pleased to say-"ive been letting down the side"ever since.

Currysecret Tue 16-Aug-11 19:29:19

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

LostInTheWoods Tue 16-Aug-11 20:55:14

I'm not saying that traditional dress is at all bad. Who am I to judge what another person wears? I work with women who wear traditional dress and I certainly do not see them in any kind of negative light because of it. I believe very strongly in personal freedom in this regard.

I got the idea for this thread purely from my observations of the people where I live. I was just wondering if anybody had any thoughts on it?

The point about scottish kilts is interesting though.

fluffles Wed 17-Aug-11 22:20:15

we went through an exercise at work looking at traditional dress around the world for a children's activity. we wanted a balance of male and female and choose them based on how 'interesting' the outfits were. we ended up with:

a SE asian female
an african female
a scottish man
a south american man
a middle eastern man

we could have easily found an interesting south american female costume and an interesting male african costume, but there's no real scottish equivalent and among the middle eastern cultures the women generally wear much more standard clothing and the men much more diverse by ethnic group.

ThePosieParker Thu 18-Aug-11 07:22:39

Men have far more to gain from fitting in with Western counterparts and far more to gain when 'their' women don't.

Ivortheengine8 Thu 18-Aug-11 07:32:16

KIKRI - I absolutely agree with your comment above. Often traditional dress (such as African dress) is very lightweight and cool to wear in the hot weather. Here, (I'm English btw but OH is of African descent) You see women struggling to walk in ridiculous heels,tiny skirts and boob tubes etc...not to mention seeing girls walking out in the snow on a saturday night with nothing on!!
That is far more constricting and demoralising than many traditional dresses from other countries.

TanteRose Thu 18-Aug-11 07:34:28

OP, this definitely applies in Japan.

of course, hardly anyone wears kimono as everyday wear anymore (except the geisha and maiko in Kyoto etc.)

but for special occasions (coming of age, weddings, funerals, New Years day, summer festivals....) it is mostly women who will wear a traditional kimono/yukata, and hardly any of the men.

The Coming-of-Age ceremony at 20 years does see an increasing number of young men in hakama

My DH became interested in kimono a few years ago and bought one or two to wear - he wore them at New Year etc. going to the shrine, and people kept stopping him to ask if they were filming a samurai drama somewhere and was he an actor? grin

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