The Traditional Garb Of My People


Having noticed the recent critical complaints being flung out over cultural appropriation, and remembering my own shameful episode in the 1990’s when I draped myself in someone else’s colours, I decided to look carefully at my situation and correct any errors. I refuse to be politically correct, but I can be personally correct.

The primary thought was to refrain from aping any other cultures, religions, or people. This is a negative thing, but at least one can be specific whilst doing it. No longer will I appear in public as a Catholic monk, or a Scotsman. I shall not appear in a Jackie Howe, or a Hello Kitty kimono. Even the Halloween scarecrow costume will go, though I must say that I am not unhappy to lose it – it itched.

But the tougher part is to actually identify what I can wear in the future if I am to stay within cultural lines. And the first question to address is: What exactly is my culture – where am I now and from whence did I come? To answer this, I need to consider the consideration I raised a couple of posts ago…the business of the ” old country “.

I have decided to leave the European and middle eastern countries to themselves…I suppose they are ancestral but I have no contact with those ancestors save chromosomes. So I need not look there for the garb of my people.

It becomes a little more apposite when I consider the clothing worn by my parents and myself when I was younger. Personal memory of what a person of a certain age should be dressed like is still strong, and can be remarkably persuasive. When I was young, the men of my tribe wore khaki work pants and shirts when on outside job sites. In an office they wore suits or sports coats. At home there might be a sports coat but frequently it was exchanged for a sweater or pullover. Pants were broadcloth or wool and cut generously – little denim was worn as this was the additional garb of a different tribe – the farmers.

Likewise, the people of our tribe were not bowlers – so loud polyester shirts would have been seen as an aberration. No-one past high school or college would wear a blazer or sweater with numbers or letters. Blazers with piping and crests on pockets were only seen in illustrations or motion pictures and no-one took them seriously. Sandals were reserved for the beach or back yard.

Shirts in the summer might be referred to as short sleeve sports shirts, but they never betrayed the name of a sports team or the manufacturer. Stripes, perhaps, or a check pattern. Wool plaid shirts for colder times were standard, as were tee shirts worn as underwear. Tee shirts with logos were reserved for a child’s souvenir of Disneyland or a television hero – no grown man would imagine himself in one.

Ex-military garb was unknown except as camouflage in duck season and even there I doubt it fooled the ducks.

Men wore hats. These had style in most cases and practicality was always present – the ludicrous small straw brim pork pie hat was an affectation for Miami – Westerners knew that you either had sun, rain, or cold to deal with. An adult could only wear a cowboy hat if they were actually herding cattle or if it was Calgary Stampede time.

Shoes were leather, brown or black as the outfit required, and Oxford style. No ludicrous Italian toes. No Spanish heels. Work boots stayed at work until they were destroyed, and hunting boots actually kept your feet from freezing. The only rubber sole canvas shoes were on the feet of basketball players and little kids.

So….where does this leave an adult in 2016? It means that he need not and probably cannot shop at Big W or Target or Jeans West or any other cheap store. He needs must go to a better shop for formal wear – a suit or sports coat and trousers – or to a workplace outfitter for khaki shirts and pants. In any case a surplus store or workplace outfitter will be his preferred shoe shop, but there is still a core of decent leather in the Florsheim store. R.M Williams and specialty hatters still can cover his head decently.

The real problem is to find tee shirts and regular shirts that suit an adult. No logos, no signage, no odd shapes or cut. Sometimes one can trail through an entire shopping centre and come up with nothing. In many cases the Op Shop starts to look good.

In my case, the wardrobe – the back reaches – is going to be the preferred prospecting ground. My people do have traditional garb and I’ve got a lot of it. – I just need to realise that it is as valid a costume as anything that the foreign market might suggest.




Culturally Inappropriate Wrongness In Being Guilty Of Bad

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A few years ago a friend gave me a book that was outraged at westerner’s treatment of easterners. Apparently anyone who isn’t one of them is one of us or one of those and we don’t get to notice it. Or we have to notice it. Or something like that. I think it was complaining about the way North Americans and Europeans portray people who form certain portions of the middle east. Either we were not recognising their cultural differences and we should, or we were recognising their cultural differences and we shouldn’t – in any case it boiled down to the western readers were wrong and the eastern writer was right. Oddly attractive premise, that…if you are an eastern writer. The really interesting thing was the idea of East. East of what? I live at once both east and west of the writer…we all do.

Well, I’ve been wrong on both an amateur and professional basis for 40 years so I feel perfectly at home with the business. I am wrong culturally, ethnically, scientifically, and artistically. I have two coats of hard-baked wrong over an undercoat – my wrongness is durable. I’ve got wrongness going back three generations…

And yet I still survive. Isn’t it terrible? I wear plaid garments that indicate Scottish culture when none of my family has ever been Scottish. I take pictures of belly dancers who have been no closer to Cairo, Ankara, or Mecca than Fremantle and am not ashamed of it. I eat Chinese food from the Bull Creek Chinese restaurant and the closest to that we have ever got is Singapore…

At the same time I am so weak and degenerate that I allow other people to appropriate my culture. Every day they use electricity, antibiotics, and automobiles with no respect for the deeply religious nature of the rituals involved. They even use my language…horrors…( To be fair, they don’t use ALL of my language. A lot of the syllables and participles and some of the adjectives are untouched…)

I don’t know where to start. The business of barring people from the country seems to be in the hands of others, and their choices are somewhat arbitrary. Barring foreigners’ strange ideas is equally difficult, given that we have so many odd ones of our own. I think we have pretty well put our foot down against cannibalism and barn-burning, but ritual slaughter of inconvenient relatives still seems to be on the books, and the death of anyone who opposes the historical leader or the current leadership is perfectly okay. I do not know what the ruling about ice cream is.

To safeguard my reputation and moral integrity I have decided to adopt the three following principles:

  1. To eat no animals that have been killed at the actual dinner table.
  2. To never take the name an prophet, deity, current religious leader, or committee of religious correction in vain.
  3. To refrain from doing the dance of the Wapiti.

In addition, I shall exercise some discretion and respect when in the presence of real estate agents, button merchants, and sequin sellers conducting their trade. Some things are sacred.