Pre-Post Week 8 What to Wear: The Act of Dressing, Undressing & Re-dressing

“There are a number of different criteria by which a persons clothes may be judged and the clothes appropriate to one set of classifications may not be to another set…When deciding what to wear one must consider their audiences…but often there are many different audiences with varying expectations…There is always a chance you will offend someone who does not agree…based on what you choose to wear a given day”  (Tarlo 16).

This quote really sets the tone for this week’s discussion. During the 19th century, European influence started having a profound impact on the fashion choices of India’s inhabitants. With Britian’s presence in India came a new criteria for civilization and new set of clothes to accompany it. The educated Indian man could not ignore this fact nor could he simply choose to integrate this new dress without backlash from his countrymen. Thus began the juggling of sartorial identities. Indians who found themselves either employed by the British or in constant close proximity to them, tended to adopt their clothing practices; if not wholly, a combination of the two cultures. “By the late 19th century, educated Hindu families found a preference for stitched clothing and viewed it as superior to the scanty dhoti. It also was seen as proof of educational advancement and sophistication” (Tarlo 29). Still many saw the adoption of Western dress as a violation of caste similar to eating foreign food or traveling abroad.

The elite Indian man had to define certain contexts within his life, deeming which attire was appropriate and in which setting. Many men would dress in a European style upon leaving their homes and then upon returning to their familial compounds undress and then re-redress into more traditional Indian garments. “Changing one’s clothes to suit the occasion allowed an Indian man to maintain, if necessary, two distinct sartorial identities, and Indian one and a European one” (Tarlo 52).

As Tarlo mentions, this practice of dressing and re-dressing is not uncommon today. The first thing that came to mind was the difference in dress between workplace and home. Most jobs have some sort of dress-code if not a required uniform. In the morning when we are leaving our houses to go to work we dress up in workplace appropriate clothes. This allows us to be accepted by our coworkers and to avoid any negative consequences that deviating from the norm might bring about. Upon arriving home at the end of the day we change out of our work clothes and into more comfortable clothes. The same is true when college students attend career fairs or go in for interviews. We dress the part so that we may be accepted as intelligent, together, and respectable. If we were to come in with our street clothes on, we would not be taken seriously. The same was the case for Indian men who wanted to be accepted by their British counterparts as equals.

However, what it means to be respectable depends on who is defining it. In the workplace it is our bosses, our coworkers, and the job market. At home it may be our parents, siblings, or friends. In the 19th century is was the Europeans. Referring back to the opening quote, it is these varying audiences that play an active role in the clothing choices we make. Each of these audiences has varying expectations of what is acceptable and it is easy to offend someone who does not agree on any given day. As Tarlo comments in her book, the Indian men were seen an effeminate in their long flowing linen robes. Child-like was also used when describing the clothes of the Indian elite, which were elaborate with many color combinations. These designations allowed the dominant group (British) to define the Indian male as powerless and subordinate is his own country (34). These terms also denigrated Indian men to the unenviable status of their own women deemed largely irrelevant to serious political concerns (34). This idea continues with what we have been discussing in class this semester about the roles clothes play in our lives and how they can be used to define us, whether positively or negatively. While clothes are often one way for a person to express themselves or something about their identity and beliefs, there is no guarantee that their message will be understood in the way they intend.

Discussion questions:

Indian men were ridiculed for the clothing they wore because it was seen as effeminate, pretty, and child-like by the Europeans. Ironically however, the garments of the European fashion were not the most suitable clothes to wear in the climate and often got in the way of certain Indian behaviors. Still, many Indians opted to adopt some parts of the European dress in order to conform to respectable standards. After the Indian men began integrating European fashion, the British started to worry that they were sinking in importance. They liked that the Indian elite were adapting their views of respectability and civilization but feared their rise. Is this dilemma present in today’s society? Is their a dominating culture that is pushed on new coming immigrants to the U.S.? How are those who dress differently than us judged and what implications does this have?

What to wear is a question we are faced with every day. We actively participate in our wardrobe through the process of dressing, undressing and re-dressing. In what ways do you see this in your own life? (workplace, places of worship, teams, clubs)

Our clothing choices allow strangers to interpret and/or write a story about us. For example, someone who is seen on campus dressed in business attire is often assumed to be attending a career fair or having an interview. However, we are not always in control of the stories written about us. When we make conscious choices in wardrobe we know what we are trying to express but others may not interpret it in quite the same way. Interpretation also depends on who is doing the interpreting. Our peers will no doubt infer something different then perhaps a parent will. How has others’ interpretations influenced the way you dress? Have you ever had a negative reaction to your wardrobe that was due to a differing view on acceptability?

Deb

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3 thoughts on “Pre-Post Week 8 What to Wear: The Act of Dressing, Undressing & Re-dressing

  1. In everyday life, we constantly change our clothes to fit the public sphere we are attending. Personally, for class I will wear jeans, a knee length skirt, or a cardigan combination. Would I wear this to go out on a Friday night? No. I always change my clothes to fit the situation. I wear something different when I visit home, than when I am grabbing lunch with some friends. The act of changing clothes is a commentary on society’s standards of dress. There is a certain culture within each situation that requires members of this culture to dress a certain way. The church culture would not approve of low-cut embellished shirts, and a floor length skirt and long sleeve shirt might earn a few questionable looks at Cly’s. Our society changes clothes in a manner that the Indian men changed clothes in India- to fit in and be accepted by our peers.
    The Indian men sported European/British clothing when around the colonizers. Adopting their clothing earned them entry into a new hierarchical and respect level. However, these men often changed before arriving back home because they were afraid of what their family and friends might think. The Indian men here did what we do today: change our clothing to send a message out to society about who we are and what we believe in.
    Personally, I love suits. If I could wear one every day- I would. Before blazers and suit jackets with jeans became a common trend, I wore the look more than I would like to admit today. I wore a suit jacket and jeans to class, to a bar, to see my family, etc. Whenever I would go to class, people would always ask me why I was so dressed up. When I would wear the look to a bar, my friends would ask me why I was so “classic” to go to Firehaus. I never thought of the message I was sending out to society when I dressed in that manner. My current wardrobe consists of more cardigans than one girl should own, denim jeans, t-shirts, a countless amount of blouses, and a few dresses. Most of my clothes look like they came out of a J. Crew or Limited catalog. I never gave much thought to the message they sent out until this class. I look back, and sometimes my outfits send off a snobbish attitude. Recently, I acquired a leather jacket. I used to be conscious when I wore this because I was afraid of being perceived too “hard”. Clothing definitely affects the way people view someone- whether they know them or not.

  2. The clothing that we wear does make people judge us based on the clothes we are wearing. Like you said, we are going to dress differently if we are just going to class and if we have an important meeting or an interview with a future employer. There are places where we are expected to dress a certain way and if we aren’t people look at us weird or might think of us differently. For example, ever since I was young my parents would always say that we are supposed dress nicely for church. If someone were to go to church with jeans that had holes in them and a tube top that showed your stomach area, people would immediately judge you and not agree with what you are wearing. I think those clothes would be expected and accepted at a bar or club environment. I agree that different people will have different interpretations of what clothes we wear. I remember that when I was younger, there were times where I didn’t want to dress up for church and I would wear just like shorts or jeans and a shirt. My mom would comment on what I was wearing. Sometimes she would ask “Are you going to the beach or a party?” because I wasn’t dressing how you were “expected” to dress. I don’t think I was dressing bad but in her opinion I wasn’t dressing well for a special event. So I definitely agree that different ages and people will interpret what you were differently.
    Roxy Hernandez

  3. I thought your post was really interesting. I remembered back to this discussion in class and evaluating my opinion before, and after class I have come to the conclusion that no matter how our society tries to portray a nonjudgemental attitude based on haves and have nots, the way we dress does in fact matter. To answer your question I feel daily I participate in this attitude assessing what to wear, and what not to wear. If I am dressing for a day that will be faced with heavy interactions with professors or my peers I may choose to wear a different wardrobe than a day that will consist of errands and studying. However, there are some complexities within those restrictions. How I choose to wear my hair is in questioning as well. Since my hair is super curly I may choose to wear it straight if I am participating in an environment that is more business oriented. As stated in your post Indian men were often judge by Eurpeans based on their clothing. This is the same for the way I choose to present myself. I feel in European culture it is more acceptable to conform to the “American girl” look. With my look being very ethnocentric I have to consciously work on portraying this look.

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