Between the Bollywood themed birthday party last weekend and the young American men wearing thobes in Qatar, I have learned a healthy amount of respect for cultures where people wear a national dress (notice I did not use the word costume). Costumes you play in. National dress marks you as a member of a certain society, with all the rights and obligations therein.
Both the slippery saris at our house and the wrinkled thobes in the classroom are examples of how complicated it is to wear something that one is not used to – and yet you don’t notice this until you try it on. The discipline comes from starting at an early age: most saris, thobes, and abayas are worn from teenage years onward. That’s when you learn how to keep your shyla (head scarf) from slipping off the crown of your head. That’s when you begin wraping the edge of your sari pallu (the part over your shoulder) around your waist to anchor it.
There are moments when we must shock those whose national dress we are wearing: for example when I looked across the room and saw a that a friend’s sari had slipped, revealing the entire right side of her blouse, something akin to exposing yourself in your bra in public.
Or when a non-Qatari male wears a thobe right out of the Carrefour package, folds and all, in contrast to all the perfectly starched and ironed men coming into a resturant.
But mostly there is just enjoyment and appreciation that someone is trying to understand your culture and now appreciates a small portion of what makes you unique. After all, now you know we make it look easy, because at one point it was hard for us too.
Ever worn something that wasn’t the usual for you? Did you get positive or negative reactions? Would you do it again?