Western students come from a number of regions and cultures; and though each cultural group possesses its own traditions and values, the importance of clothing transcends geographic barriers.
Body adornment, whether for celebratory purposes or for everyday wear, can serve a variety of purposes. In some cultures, clothing allows for self-expression and creativity, whereas other societies use clothes to create a sense of unity and conformity.
In Eastern cultures, religion tends to heavily influence fashion. Particularly in Islamic countries, such as Iran or Afghanistan, modesty is very important, junior Meysam Adibzadeh said.
Adibzadeh considers himself to be ‘bicultural,’ having immigrated to the United States as a teenager. Spending his formative years in Iran, he recalled the way Iranian culture and clothing have evolved.
“If you look before the Iranian Revolution, people were dressed a lot more like people in Europe or here, even,” Adibzadeh said. “But after the revolution, the hijab started to be worn.”
The hijab is a layer of cloth wrapped around a woman’s head, covering her hair, shoulders and chest. Worn underneath the hijab is a long cloak to cover the rest of a woman’s body, called the chador. An undercoat known as a manto may also be worn for additional coverage, Adibzadeh said.
“The role of the hijab in Persian culture is to cover the showing of a woman’s skin, besides the face, to men who are not related to the woman,” Adibzadeh said. “However, not everyone likes all of the parts of the hijab. Sometimes there are mantos that may be shorter or tighter, and show skin. There is no chador involved.”
Although there is some flexibility regarding hijab styles, clothing is still strictly enforced in Iran. For women, covering one’s hair and body is mandatory by law; choosing to forgo a hijab in public is a punishable offense, Adibzadeh said.
“A lot of [women] will get arrested, fined or imprisoned for not covering themselves,” Adibzadeh said. “Although many things have been modernized these days, women still have it very hard in Iran when it comes to clothes.”
Though many cultures have evolved and adapted to reflect modern times, countries like China continue to celebrate history and ancient traditions through clothing, freshman Anthie Poon said.
“Not many people wear traditional clothing in China for everyday use,” Poon said. “However, for special occasions and celebrations, like birthdays or weddings, people will wear the color red for good luck.”
Though everyday fashion in China is fairly Westernized, Chinese entertainment still incorporates more traditional garb, Poon said.
“In traditional Chinese opera, outfits are very ornate and detailed,” Poon said. “Outfits have to be pretty easy to move in, since they incorporate acrobatics, martial arts and dance. They are usually very colorful, and the designs on the outfits represent different things. For example, a dragon for luck, and other pieces of nature would represent other things.”
In Cambodian (Khmer) culture, clothing is significant in a number of different ways, junior Danny Duok, dance coordinator and president of the WWU Khmer Student Association, said.
“One significant clothing item to us is called the kroma, which is a checkered Cambodian scarf that has been used for centuries amongst different generations,” Duok said. “The reason that it is important to us is because we use it universally for almost everything. We not only use it as a scarf around our neck, but also we can turn it into a miniature hammock for children. My uncle had a flat tire on his bike and he even used [the kroma] to stuff the tire somehow.”
“Clothing in the Philippines reflects the different influences that our culture has. Due to colonization as well as migration, we have a lot of Asian, Muslim, Christian and Spanish influences.”
Hannah Pasqual, dance coordinator for the Filipino American Student Association
Articles of clothing like the kroma can also be used in traditional Cambodian dance. “I teach dances from classical to folk,” Duok said. “This year, I taught a dance involving the kroma. It was a dance explaining how Cambodian culture uses it universally. When you’re dressed in the kroma, you’re representing the middle class and farmers.”
For Cambodian classical dance, more elaborate clothing is worn. Dancers will often be adorned in intricate gold jewelry and skirts, Duok said.
“Female’s skirts will usually be around 3 to 4 yards long, intricately folded and wrapped with a gold belt or a sash,” Duok said. “Everything that is gold embroidered is handmade [for weddings].”
Weddings are some of the most formal events in Cambodian culture, Duok said. There are a number of traditions surrounding weddings, many of which involve clothing.
“In Cambodian weddings, there are seven different ceremonies, each with a significant outfit,” Duok said. “For example, there is one ceremony where the bride and groom will walk around an altar seven times, which shows that a bond between a husband and wife is stronger when they are together. For that ceremony, both the man and woman will wear a folded skirt.”
Junior Hannah Pasqual, dance coordinator for the Filipino American Student Association at Western, considers Filipino culture to be one of the most diverse, as it incorporates traditions and styles from many other cultural groups.
“Clothing in the Philippines reflects the different influences that our culture has,” Pasqual said. “Due to colonization as well as migration, we have a lot of Asian, Muslim, Christian and Spanish influences.”
Pasqual said traditional dance clothes also reflect the many cultural influences within the Philippines.
“In the traditional [sayaw] dance, or special occasions, women will wear a skirt with a sash around the waist and butterfly sleeves. This is a very traditional look,” Pasqual said.
Though men tend to wear more understated clothing, Pasqual said their attire is also deeply rooted in tradition.
“For the males, they will often wear plain, white work-shirts and scrub-type pants. For very formal occasions, we have something called the barong that will go over a T-shirt and is made of pineapple fibers,” Pasqual said.
Though cultures across the globe differ in many ways, the importance of clothing and fashion seem to be universal.