The language of traditional dress
A recent project about traditional dress in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) got us thinking about good old Roland Barthes. He famously interpreted fashion as a language, which, like all languages, is full of myths, codes and paradoxes; at once superficial and profound; fixed in some ways, evolving in others; always subject to personal interpretation, collective judgement and commercial exploitation. The subject is a fascinating one and Barthes published two books on it: The Fashion System (1967) and The Language of Fashion (2006).
While Barthes wrote about linguistic and industrial aspects of French fashion, we explored the unique nuances of clothing in this part of the world. As a team of non-Arab expat journalists, it was exciting to learn about the sartorial traditions in the Arab Gulf countries, with a special focus on the UAE.
As always, our Arab and Emirati colleagues supported the project with first-hand input and, in this case, even practical demonstrations:
Garments take on a heightened significance in traditional societies such as the UAE, where the majority of locals wear national dress every day, although this is a relatively recent custom. UAE national dress as we see it today only dates back to the 1970s, when the Islamic Revival, which brought a resurgence of Muslim religion and traditions, gained momentum. In the realm of fashion, this chiefly meant a return to modest, plain clothing coupled with a general rejection of Westernisation and commercialisation. At the time, many people in the UAE wore Western clothes or a mixture of Arab and Western attire, so the Islamic Revival created a new fashion mainstream, which not only manifested the country’s religious and cultural values, but also clearly distinguished nationals from expatriates. In a country where more than 80 per cent of the population consists of expatriates, Emiratis have come to use national dress as a way to differentiate themselves from the majority of ‘others’ and to express pride in their native culture.
Compared to traditional clothing worn in other parts of the world, it is striking how demure and uniform the sartorial cultures of the Gulf countries are. As shown in the infographic, Khaleeji (Gulf Arab) national dress commonly consists of a loose-fitting black cloak (Abaya) worn with a black headscarf for women…
… and a white ankle-length garment (Kandura) worn with a white or red-and-white headscarf for men.Whether in Kuwait City, Doha or Dubai, the colours worn in public are mostly monochrome, punctuated by the occasional, usually male, wearer of brown, grey or patterned materials.
- See more at: http://luischumpitaz.com/blog/the-language-of-traditional-dress/#sthash.KnCpOVO7.dpuf