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July 8, 2014

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Local Dress

July 8, 2014

We've mentioned my (Kacie's) long sleeves, but me wearing long sleeves isn't really for the cold, it's more to try to fit into local standards of modest dress. It's a little bit of a trick to figure out what is appropriate! I have lived here before, but imagine moving to the US and assuming that the dress standards were the same as the last time you lived there in the late 80's?? Hello shoulder pads! It's also easy to closely observe one part of society and not realize that they are considered inappropriate in another sector. If a 31 year old mother of two moved to the US, made friends with a bunch of college kids, and dressed like them, she might be considered pretty innapropriate in her own demographic.

 

I knew that coming to a Muslim culture, I would need more modest clothing. When I was here as a child nearly all the women wore skirts, and I knew that was changing but wasn't sure what was currently acceptable. In truth, just about all the women wear fitted skinny pants or leggings. Ironic, considering the transition from boot cut to skinnies is still happening in my generation in the USA. I had thought my skinny jeans would be unacceptable here, but it seems to be acceptable for all ages.

 

I am confounded in other ways. It seems like local Muslim women wear shirts with sleeves to the wrist and pants to the ankle, as well as a simple head covering. I was internally cringing when I started noting this, because I really want to be respectful of local standards of modesty but the thought of wearing sweaters in this heat – whew! Since then I've realized that non-Muslims wear capris and leggings and skirts to below the knee, and shirts to the elbow. That is an easier example to follow, but I find that nearly all the shirts I brought from the US have sleeves that only come to about mid-bicep, and are shorter than all the ladies around me.

 

I also want to have a serious conversation with a Muslim friend at some point about those variations in dress. Is it viewed as though one is a Muslim style and the shorter styles are for people of other religions? Is it seen as simply a cultural/religious difference that is not expected for those that don't subscribe to their religion? Or is it that Muslims look at the other styles and see it as immodest? If a non-Muslim pointedly wore ankle and wrist-length clothing, would they be seen as respectful and modest, or as weird for dressing as a Muslim when they are not one?

 

I think I may also be doing it all wrong with Elly. For one thing, we need to get her ears pierced. All little girls here have their ears pierced, so they're never sure if Elly is a girl or a boy. I have been dressing her in little sun dresses because it's so hot and she's always pink-cheeked and sweating. Underneath she is in little bloomers or just a diaper. I walked past a little kid the other day who burst out laughing at Elly and said in Indonesian, “That baby isn't wearing any pants!!” Whoops! I guess I need to put her in pants or leggings, even in the heat. Judah loves to be barefoot, but actually none of the neighbor kids go barefoot, so I feel like a neglectful mother! We are learning...

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