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Dress- More than Meets the Eye

By: Simon Weldemichael

I would buy fashionable clothes every visit

But I, being jealous, I would not

Without it, you are beautiful and bright

Don’t shock me by denims too tight

Avoid the torn and patched pants

As the sea breaks against the rock

I crash, to see you adorned with frock

Every society has its own culture and style of clothing. Making the best possible impression is one of the paramount functions of clothing. A dress has an aesthetic and symbolic value. It shapes the projection of self, social values, and material culture altogether. Religious beliefs and ethnic identities are embedded in and communicated through clothing.

Women from the nine ethnic groups of Eritrea usually wear a modest and impressive dress that covers the whole body without obstructing the view. They dress appropriately and wear beautiful clothes. Traditionally, the woman’s dress perfectly protects the body. Women dressed humbly in a way that did not display their body structure hideously. The use of excessive accessories, strong perfume, and make-up is not common. Traditional Eritrean women dress modestly in order to prevent undesirable things from happening and to preserve and maintain the mores and morals of society. Eritreans adorn themselves with a rich repertoire of jewelry, hairdressing, and clothing.

Dress as expressed by Arthur, “provides a window through which we might look into a culture because it visually attests to the salient ideas, concepts, and categories fundamental to that culture”. Dress is not only a piece of cloth used to cover the body. It is a cultural representation of society. The dress has the power to characterize and reflect the existing conditions of a society.

Your dress says a lot about you. Appearance sends a lot of signals with different meanings. Professional appearance is, for example, a critical part of one’s professional image. Like it or not, what we wear is a direct reflection of who we are personally, socially, culturally, and historically. We should not underestimate the power of clothing. We are oftentimes judged by appearances. Today, the dress revolution is going on in both genders but, more particularly, in women. The course of design and fashion changes more rapidly than the culture as a whole. Modesty went completely out of the window for many women.

Almost every woman is going after fashion. Although it is not bad to go after fashion, we should remember that fashion does not make us perfect. It only makes us beautiful. Tight-fitting little dresses and clothes with holes are becoming common to the majority of young girls. When they show off their body, what they are really doing is advertising to the whole world: “Look at me!” If people turn around to look at you on the street, the message could also be that you are not properly dressed.

Culture is dynamic and cultural change is inevitable. However, it is important to analyze change to be able to fit with the social and cultural realities of society. The days are gone when girls used to wear like their mothers and boys used to dress like their fathers. Adorning yourself with modest dressing has lost its popularity. Graceful beauty and modest appearance are replaced by arrogant and exaggerated appearances. Cloths began to reflect anti-social behaviors that opposed or are contrary to normal social practices. Young people tend to enjoy an inflated and grandiose self-concept. But the dress of the majority of the modern youth doesn’t give confidence and elegance. Rather it puts the youth in distress. Wearing clothes with holes, stains, and tears that contradict the social mores and standards of our society has become the preferred casual dress by young men and women. Instead of being dressed for success, many are being dressed for depression. Humility is forgotten by young men and women as the best dress to wear.

The usefulness of some of the fashionable clothes is dubious. Modern fashion is no longer driven by beauty and glamour. The youth are currently attracted to wear clothes that have no aesthetic value. Some women wear a miniskirt to reveal their thighs; some wear a full dress to conceal their bodies. There is a maxim that says “You cannot choose your face but you can choose your dress.” There are a lot of things in life where we can have a choice. What we do, how we dress, what we believe, how we decorate ourselves etc. Clothes are second to the skin so they should be as important as our skin.

The fashion of clothes changes fast. We should not let fashion destroy our style. Our style should endure in face of changing fashions. It is good to be elegant and fashionable but people have to keep their own style. Style is all about knowing who you are. We have to work hard to maintain and develop our own Eritrean style which is unique and yet identifiable for others. As far as fashion is concerned, fashion is not only about clothes. It’s about all kinds of change including attitudes. Fashion should not destroy moral values but it should rebuild the moral values of society. Our dress must reflect and reinforce the Eritrean character, culture, and style. That is the only way we can make beauty. There is no sufficient reason to dress like everyone else. We have to dress like an Eritrean and think like an Eritrean. We have to stand on our cultural ground and be proud.

Clothing brings the individual to the community and it is through dress that we signal our understanding of the most common social codes that help define a society. Our dress should reveal, instead of concealing, the rich cultural and historical legacy of Eritrean society. Fashion designers must focus on beautifying the Eritrean body than disfiguring it. Tailors and fashion designers have to find ways through which the Eritrean social, historical and cultural system is realized through dress. Cautious efforts are needed to preserve and improve the aesthetic and symbolic value of Eritrean costumes. Dress is a second skin presented by culture to identify our identity and culture within the larger international community. The dress we wear should promote aspects of Eritrea’s cultural heritage that are cherished by its people.

What you wear is a reflection of you and sets the tone for how you will be perceived by others. Research tells us that much of another person’s perception of you is based on how you look. We need to understand the element of truth found in the maxim “First impression is always a lasting impression.” Our dress influences our posture and our posture, in turn, can have a great deal of influence on our personal presentation and image.

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