Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Afghan Fashion: what do we wear and why?

The media has painted an image of Afghan woman worldwide. The repressed and depressed woman in the blue burqa with only a small net across her face to view the world. This is the picture people may see when anyone mentions Afghan women. Yes, some women still do wear the burqa while out in public for many reasons and sometimes out of necessity. There is also another type of Afghan woman that the media has not shown, although they know they exist. However, it's the burqa clad illiterate women of Afghanistan that attracts attention worldwide,  not the educated and beautiful women of a country that remains undefeated.These women have a life, they have a voice, they have families, they have professions, they have strength to live everyday life in their struggle and still maintain a jovial outlook and most importantly, these women have hopes and dreams, wants and needs and did I mention beauty?!

Afghan women are some of the most beautiful creatures I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Our looks are diverse ranging from having blond and blue eyes to olive skin and dark hair with almond eyes. I am sure everyone remembers the National Geographic magazine cover with the Afghan girl on the front page with the piercing green eyes? Now picture her with her hair done, some nice makeup and a beautiful Afghan dress, she would and is more beautiful to me than any supermodel in Hollywood.

 When Afghan women get together it is like a fashion show! In Afghanistan, and like most cultures, women dress for each other. In public, yes we are covered, maybe with a shawl, a jacket, even a burqa! The fashion party starts when the women sit together and let their jewels sparkle,  let their shiny and voluminous hair down and let the dresses do the talking, although most are on the conservative side! This is the same both in Afghanistan and in the United States. Muslim women in general, whether in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. dress quite conservatively in public where strange men may  gawk at them and as a way to deter any unwanted attention from males. However, we love to dress up for our family and friends at their homes or ours and at any celebratory events. In everyday life, fashion is quite similar to western styles for Afghan women.
 For an example, When I was teaching at Kabul University a few years ago, coming from the United States, I was confused on how to pick my wardrobe for the profession as well as for casual outings. Should I be wearing traditional Afghan clothes to work while in Afghanistan? Or would it be better to  wear a nice black suit? I was very naive about our country and the current fashion trends that I thought maybe just maybe I might have to wear a buqra!I thought about all the ways, I could have my potential burqa tailored to 'fit' me if possible. So I thought, if I am going to be wearing a burqra, I better be quite picky on my show selection since that would be the only accessory that would show! To my surprise, upon arrival on campus at KU, I saw the students dressed casually in jeans or fitting slacks with longer tops, say a mini dress. They looked beautiful in their matching scarfs and purses. In class, I was intrigued by the level of professionalism by the female and male students towards me and each other and their willingness to work hard both in school and outside their academic life.
 The only difference with daily fashion trends for Afghan women in Afghanistan and for those in the US, is the conservative factor. Women in Afghanistan do dress in western clothes (just look at current television news channels taped in Afghanistan) however, they show very little skin. They may wear jeans but with a blouse that is loose and mid thigh or longer. They may wear a western style dress, but will make sure it has sleeves and covers the legs. The main difference between the two locations for Afghan women styles is that in Afghanistan every women wears a scarf outside whereas in the United States, we don't. The women who usually do wear a scarf, usually wear a 'hijab' in the presence of non-familial males. Of course, daily wear for Afghan women in Afghanistan changes as you approach the different provinces or states. There are 34 provinces and as an old British friend said once while he was working in Afghanistan in agriculture, "you see, the afghans in the each province are so different from each other that each province should be it's own country!"
Women fashion in the provinces is more of a traditional dress, with longer colorful dresses and matching pants and scarves, which is heavily influenced by the climate.  The school uniforms for girls is that of black dress (to the knees) and white pants and scarf with black sandals. This uniform was what my mother wore to her school at the age of 7 and still exists today. Around the house women wear the aforementioned and for special occasions, such as an engagement party of wedding, women will break out their gold jewelry that every bride receives upon her wedding day and wear an 'Afghani' or Kuchi dress. The 'Afghani' dress is the main dress of Afghanistan and made of velvet (remember Afghanistan has mountains and snow so therefore the attire is influenced by this) and made with pure silver ornament's, that jingle when one moves in the dress. This dress is what I wore for the Afghan part of our wedding ceremony as most brides do in the United States. in Afghanistan, a bride may only wear the "Afghani' or may later change into it after wearing the white wedding gown.

  Because of Afghanistan's location between Pakistan and India, there is an influence of wearing Sari's (traditional clothes of Pakistan and India) that consists of a skirt and top) or beaded churidar suits and shawel kameez.
 In the United States, Afghan women have adapted the western dress as their main attire both for daily wear and special occasions. This is primarily based on supply and convenience. It's much easier to go to Macy's and pick out a few blouses and pants or an evening gown for an event, then to make your own! In Afghanistan, women go to the market and pick out their fabric and give it to a tailor to make them the outfits they desire. Tailors are a common commodity and are available in each shop at a very decent price. Our generation  in the US will wear 'Afghan clothes' for special occasions such as Eid or when we do the 'attan' the national dance of Afghanistan at a wedding! Then there are a few who still do wear the Afghan clothes of shawel kameez at home for comfort.
Afghan Fashion is diverse as its people. You have the new and you have the traditional. The main aspect of our fashion world is that of being modest and respecting your body and self.