It was Shakespear who said, “clothes makes a man.” I really don’t get half of what Shakespear says probably because he lived in the 17th Century so I will try and quote what my Social Studies High School teacher Fr. Toppo told me: You are what you wear!
So much has happened in the clothes department in the last couple of weeks, and the long and short of it is, how long or short should it be? While no one has the right to strip another human being naked, we seriously need to talk about how and when we got here. Truth be told, some things we see on the streets leave little to imagination and no, they are not a pretty sight. I call them things because ‘clothes’ seems too generous.
The ideology that what I wear affects no one and that there is nothing that should influence my dressing except me and my preferences is not only wrong, but also untrue. We live in a society of different cultures and much as we cannot please everyone, there are some basic dressing rules depending on when and where.
I once did a short term missions cause in Malkamanza, Garissa among the Munyoyaya tribe. Much as I love my trousers, that was one place we had to adhere to the dressing rules there. We all wore some loose fitting dresses that looked like parachutes and covered our heads. Waving my #mydressmychoice placard there would have meant a total failure to our mission and we would have been branded immoral and indecent.
But that was there. What about when we come home. Back to the place where we know has seen some ray of the civilization light, what should dictate what I wear when? There should be a few things that advice our dressing and to assume we are not accountable to anyone and so we can dress as we please is wrong. And especially if ‘dressing as we please’ means exposing parts of our body that are regarded as private in the society you live in.
A friend of ours told us of an experience she had while living in India. She had a white friend who had totally blended in with the Indian culture — she wore their clothes and ate their food and spoke their language. One time, as she boarded a bus, she raised her sari above her ankles to reach the steps better! Everyone in the bus screamed! She had exposed her nakedness –her ankles! In that part of the world, showing your ankles is taboo! Never mind that the whole of her midriff was exposed and no one thought that was inappropriate! As I said, Culture!
So, what happens in a place like Kenya where we really do not have an established code of dressing? Is it a licence for us to dress indecently? You may argue that ‘decent’ is relative but I tell you it really isn’t. A friend, John Gathuku once told us that if you dress in such a way that people first see any other part of your body except your face, then you are most likely indecently dressed! Some people are perverted and they will ogle even if you wear a kanzu, but I can’t find a better description of decency.
I add: When you wear what you wear, look at who complements you. If the only people who think you look good are people who are dressed like you or they are the young and the clueless, consider a wardrobe change. Get the counsel of an older, wiser person. I always used to ask my mom if I should step out in a certain outfit if I felt like it could be thought indecent. If she approves, i’m confident! Now, my SI Unit is my husband. I know he would not like his wife to walk about indecently so if he approves of what i’m wearing — I’m game!
That said, develop a conscience too and judge for yourself if people need to see ‘all that’ as you walk around. Leave some things to imagination and dress for the occasion. We once went to the beach and there was this boy who was swimming fully dressed, complete with a sweater! Believe me, I felt like stripping him of that sweater and the T-shirt and the vest he was wearing beneath. But I didn’t. His dress, his choice, right? 😉
Let us all put some sanity on as we dress up and by all means, if you don’t like what someone is wearing, look away and walk away! Stripping them doesn’t help and it makes you more guilty than they are. If the motive is to instill a sense of decency, shaming someone doesn’t help. It only makes the rest of us even more rebellious. And we will dress in those things you hate just to prove we can!
Just a thought, if God showed up today, or if he invited you for dinner, what would you wear?