Ajar Thread: Something You Won’t Wear

Cinderella's Stepsister Trying on Shoes
Dramatic re-enactment of me trying on mojari. I definitely felt like an ugly stepsister.

Sometimes, we stop wearing things, or refrain from wearing them in the first place.

Once upon a time, I was rather into things that visually referenced the Subcontinent. I loved the rich embroidery, vibrant colors, shimmering fabrics, paisley prints, and so on. It was a way to connect to the culture that, during my upbringing, was all too often ignored or even denigrated in favor of religion. I got excited when my local Kohl’s started carrying mojari-style flats since the ones made in the Subcontinent and sold in Little India never fit my 9.5W feet.

In high school, I embraced the peasant/”boho” blouses and skirts of my high school decade, despite the protests of my mother, who claimed that they were poorly-stitched and would come apart at the seams (she was right, but would fix them for me anyway).  Later, as a college freshman, I started wearing kurtis and jeans almost exclusively as they were cool, breathable, cute, and long enough to keep my family off my back.

After I left Islam, I slowly phased out of wearing anything that even slightly referenced my heritage’s aesthetic. This was partly due to my desire to divorce myself from the clothing style I was pressured into due to my religious beliefs. It was also due to my desire to avoid all forms of othering in my new life. When I wore hijab, there was no way I could avoid being ethnically pigeonholed in some way or other. Wearing the headscarf with my Subcontinental-style duds (and, later, my tiny diamond nose stud) was a way to signal to people that I was Desi, not Arab. Wearing that same sort of apparel sans headscarf made me look like I was fresh off the boat and people’s treatment reflected that, so I stopped. Without the kurtis, I read as ethnically ambivalent (I think I’ve been mistaken for a member almost every ethnicity under the sun at this point).

I’m not proud of what I did, but damned if it didn’t get people to treat me closer to how I’d prefer to be treated.

Race isn’t the only *ism-type thing that leads to people to conclude that they ought to stop wearing certain types of clothing. Age plays a role for many people. Ingrid, Greta Christina‘s lovely wife, once told me that, a while back, she realized that she didn’t convey what she wanted via a certain look she used to favor. She peered at her black-lace-swaddled reflection in the mirror and thought that she had started to look like someone’s grandmother going to a funeral rather than edgy or goth-y. I don’t think anyone’s too old for goth, let alone black lace, but it’s not as if my personal views dictate how society works.

Is there anything you won’t wear or have stopped wearing due to fear of judgment or stereotypes?

Image by Tara Grasser, used with permission.

Ajar Thread: Something You Won’t Wear

17 thoughts on “Ajar Thread: Something You Won’t Wear

  1. 1

    I’ve only recently started wearing navy-colored pants. Growing up, my fat self was told to dress in dark colors. I couldn’t wear black, because my mother associated it with funerals. She favored navy. I wore navy pants, white shirts, navy vests, navy dresses, navy jackets. My school uniform (U.S., Catholic school) was red and navy. Periodically I was permitted to wear avocado green, just because my mother liked it so much. (To this day I can barely tolerate the color on avocados, never mind clothing.)

    I have a pair of navy pants in my wardrobe now. They get worn with a red shirt and a will-be-noticed red beaded necklace I just made a few days ago. I’m still fat. I won’t wear dark clothes to hide in, but I will wear them as good background for colors. Life’s too short not to wear colors. But navy and khaki and brown and yes, reliable black all have their places. Just not avocado green.

  2. 2

    Yes, that’s exactly the sort of thing I was talking about in my comment on the last post. In the end, with me it’s a little more complicated. I’ve moved around a lot, and I have a tendency to adapt approximately to people’s expectations from culture to culture. I think I would like to try and explain this as more than just a form of oppression, On the one hand my clothes could be about my comfort, or identity. On the other hand, they’re about how people see people. I do have clothing preferences and I don’t think much of jeans and tee-shirts as a style, but dressing as neutrally as possible increases the chance people will see the things I choose to draw to their attention to. You just can’t get round the business of other people’s gaze.

    Here’s a thought I had a while ago which you might like to comment on, Heina. I know this is no longer about cultural appropriation or assimilation but about cultural transposition which is another thing. Let’s take it that traditional dress for Muslim women is intended to be ‘modest’ and to retain women in the private versus the public sphere. Okay… Transpose that to a culture where this style of clothing is not only unusual, but associated with a minority religion, and it simply can’t retain the same meaning. Female Muslim dress draws the gaze of non-Muslims. It becomes a lightning rod for attention and forces Muslim women into being the public face of Islam for better or for worse*. In that sense, it becomes the opposite of modest and private. It defeats its own original purposes… but this may also be why some Muslim women appear to embrace it. Wearing it in a western context is a very public act of cultural assertiveness, maybe of cultural militancy. (This is not to say that some women aren’t coerced into this style of dress by their menfolk who don’t understand or care how it has shifted meaning in its new context.)

    * in my local context, the many Muslim men who wear western clothing aren’t really identifiable unless they’re with Muslim women.

    1. 2.1

      Let’s take it that traditional dress for Muslim women is intended to be ‘modest’ and to retain women in the private versus the public sphere.

      I don’t necessarily agree with that premise. It’s to stop non-related adult men from being able to see girls’ and women’s bodies. Otherwise, hijab would be required of women in women’s-only public spaces, which is hardly the case.

  3. 3

    I won’t wear things with buttons, snaps, or zippers. If I have to deal with zippers, I add a zipper pull of some sort to make it easier to (un)zip.

    My general preference is for comfort and practicality over style, because a lot of the “stylish” clothes just weren’t made with people with disabilities in mind.

  4. 4

    Can’t wear my hair long since mid 20s because it’d be a “skullet.” ;_; <White man tears. Worth more than yours by weight on cable news. Meanwhile, I'm shameless enuf I'd totally patch in a few extra inches of waist on my old vinyl pants and rock those. Maybe even the velvet ones. If I could just remember what box I put them in…

  5. 5

    I used to live in Houston, quite close to the area of town where there are a huge, huge number of Indian and Pakistani immigrants (every time I talk to immigrants from those areas where I live now, they ask me, “Oh, Houston, do you know [Ashok Kumar]?”. I have traveled to the UAE in the company of other IT professionals from India. I have long admired the beautiful, cool fabrics and easy, flattering design of the salwar kameez outfits with their accompanying lavish scarves, and one or two professional colleagues have suggested I wear them since I mostly wear trousers/tunic/scarf ensembles anyway.

    Back In Houston, sweltering in the immense heat and humidity, I went to local tailors catering to the Indian community. I was met with shocked looks all round and comments of “oh you wouldn’t look good in that”. I sew, so I ordered some fabric and attempted to make it myself. It looked ridiculous because I didn’t have the experience to make it look right. The last straw was when I took a public bus to a job interview in the UK. Some street punks attempted to give me hell because I am a dark-haired, overweight, half-Hungarian who looks vaguely Turkish, and I was wearing a tunic and trousers with a fancy scarf. “F— you, go home, Paki”, they said. I turned around and gave them an earful of Texas. But I try not to look quite so Eastern now.

  6. 6

    Heina, my comment is in moderation, probably because I see I made a couple of embarrassing typos. Could you please have mercy on me and correct those since I don’t have an edit function? 🙂

  7. 7

    I never touch raglan sleeves. They make my torso look a really odd shape. I also don’t wear long ties, because I’m 5’4″, and my torso isn’t really long enough for them to not look ridiculous on me.

    I also never used to wear shorts, from age 13 to my present age, and that was because I have a history of self harm, and I had to cover up the scars. I am over a decade older, and I stopped a few years ago, but there’s a couple of large, prominent scars, which I figured aren’t going to fade, after a few years, so I started wearing shorts anyway. I don’t think everyone would be able to guess what they’re from, but it’s hard to get over the shame.

    1. 7.1

      I don’t have scars from self-harm, but my skin is definitely marked. I have hyperpigmented scars all over my limbs (from shaving and from being clumsy), keloids scattered on and around my right knee from three surgeries, a strawberry birthmark right where my right upper arm meets my shoulder, acne scars and keratosis pilaris all over my shoulders and upper arms, and stretch marks in some places. I get a lot of people giving me scar advice but I honestly have stopped caring. I laughed heartily when people warned me that my tattoo would be permanent because at least that permanent mark is pretty and artistic.

      1. I know that feeling. I don’t have any tattoos right now, but I probably will in the near future. I’m trans, and after planning irreversible hormones and major surgery, the idea of ink under my skin does not seem like very much of a deal. As well, there is something to be said about having something that you, yourself chose, being part of your body.

  8. 8

    There’s a couple things I won’t wear. I refuse to wear anything yellow. That’s mostly because of my mother. She often wore yellow sweat pants and sweatshirt. It wasn’t flattering, to say the least. Plus I have fears of turning into my mother. So I refuse to wear yellow.

    Also, for a long time, I refused to wear anything “feminine.” No pink, lace, or ruffles. For a while, I even shopped for shoes in the men’s section (sometimes I still do for things like loafers, since they tend to fit better). As I realized that I was avoiding such things because they’re coded feminine (and feminine things are “bad”), I started letting myself consider wearing feminine things again. I still don’t wear much pink, but I no longer have a problem with lace, ruffles, or other feminine clothing.

  9. 9

    I spent some time in India and was required to wear saris all the time. I had hated to wear dresses and skirts previously but through the saris began to learn to love the bright colours and more femme clothes. I kept my saris but don’t dare wear them in Canada because I am white. I wear them around the house sometimes, but not outside.

      1. I’m not entirely sure. I think part of it is that beautiful colourful saris stand out while I feel invisible in jeans and slouchy t-shirts, and I don’t feel the right to command attention. Maybe it is because I’ve seen the looks of anger directed towards white blue-eyed women when they wear hijabs while darker-skinned women appear (to me) to be more likely to be looked through. Is that Islamophobia or something else?
        My internal monologue:
        – I feel like wearing my turquoise sari with the gold and silver today! Its a glorious day!
        – But, why?
        – It is beautiful and I feel beautiful when I wear it!
        – But people will stare at you. You don’t have the right hair. Its not your culture. How can you celebrate something that is not your culture? When white people wear non-Western clothes, people think they are New Age hippies appropriating another culture for their own romanticized and ignorant worldview.
        – ok. I guess I’ll just wear a henna design where no one can see it and remember when I did henna with the other women at our school in Andhra Pradesh. Or what if I died my hair black? Would I be able to wear the sari without being drawing confused stares? Or is that trying to impersonate someone?

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