Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Not to Wear

One of my guilty pleasures is the show “What Not to Wear.” Watching people transformed simply because of a change in the clothes they wear is fascinating. Sometimes I wonder if a show about outward appearances is okay with me. And I have to say that, much to my surprise, it is. I do object to the budget given for buying clothing- $5000 seems like a lot of money to spend only on clothing. I’ve never had to purchase my entire wardrobe all at once, and couldn’t tell you how much I paid for all the clothing I own, but I’d guess I’ve spent less than $5000; maybe I’m just a bad guesser... That aside, the show, though it seems to be about the exterior, is about the inward transformation that results from the outward transformation.

Truly the way we dress is an extension of how we feel and want to present ourselves. When I am feeling down, I do one of two things: if I want to wallow in my unhappiness, I dress is my grubbiest clothes; alternately, if I want to change my mood, I put on clothes that make me look good and, thereby, feel good. My sister, who lived in Guatemala for 13 years, often wears huipils, traditional hand-woven Mayan blouses. This is one way she honors her time there and expresses solidarity with the people she met. After the SCNs (Sisters of Charity of Nazareth) began their work in India, they had discussions about how they should dress- would they wear the traditional clothing of their order, wearing habits, or would they dress in a way that would honor the culture in which they worked, wearing saris? They spent years discussing what to wear. When I think of women religious, I don’t generally imagine them having long discussions about clothes, but clothing was an important enough topic that the sisters’ conversation lasted years. I’ll let you do your own digging to see what they decided.

Today, I bought a few shirts for my time in Palestine (the second major leg of my journey). I was told in my Project Hope interview that I’ll be expected to dress modestly. In Palestine that means that my shirts must be loose, long, and have sleeves that go at least to my elbows. No low necklines. I’ll have to wear pants or long skirts… As I think about travelling, one of my big logistical questions is how to pack for so many months during which I’ll be in several different climates and cultures. Something culturally appropriate in India may fall soundly into the “What Not to Wear” category in Palestine. Hopefully, I’ll pack the right stuff so that I will be dressed respectfully wherever I go. Hopefully, through my clothing I will project my openness to immersion into a different life. Hopefully, no one will have to tell me that something I am wearing actually belongs on “What Not to Wear” for their culture.

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