Two weeks (oops, almost!) of wearing this Masai cloth and its challenges has revealed one truth: even though change is constant and we are always advised to embrace it, it’s human nature to resist it because it demolishes our comfort zones and doesn’t guarantee whether we will sink or swim once it’s taken its course.
I have worn ‘urban wear’ all my life and so have most of the people i have interacted with and as Goffman says in ‘Addressing the Body’, …”Dressing requires one to attend unconsciously or consciously these norms and expectations when preparing the body for presentation in any particular social setting…”
The fear of being laughed at by my friends were I to appear in that Masai dress is too great to be ignored. It’s bad enough they always harass me why I keep long hair and a beard, but this attire would be too much for me to justify. As Quentin Bell says in the same chapter, ”our clothes are too much a part of us for most of us to be entirely indifferent to their condition: it is as though the fabric were indeed a natural extension of the body, or even of the soul.”
If i were to appear before a Catholic priest, I would confess to the misdemeanour of being a life member of ‘most of us.
The image below captures what a part of ‘Addressing the body’ says: “…the public arena almost always requires that a body be dressed appropriately…”
Tonight, I went to buy some groceries at the Obs Spa, in my Masai cloth. The spa was sparsely ‘populated’ by shoppers.
They went about their own business and even when i was queueing to pay, no one enquired about my attire/ no security guard asked me to step aside to be searched for possible ‘shoplifting’, etc.
I wonder whether if we were a number of us in the spa in the same dress whether we would have been allowed in, or followed closely by security guards.
As Paul Edwards says in ‘Citizenship Inc: Negotiating Civic Spaces in Post-Urban America’, in last sem’s critical studies reader on space, site and interaction, “… Malls are within their rights prevent all types of activity that they feel intereferes with the business of shopping. This includes excluding undesirables, banning photography…” The last is the reason why I couldn’t take photos inside the spa, but i will upload the receipt as proof!
Edward also tackles the subject of dressing up in malls when he narrates a 2003 incident concerning Stephen Downs and Roger, his son, who were arrested in a New York mall for ‘tresspassing’ after refusing to remove their T-shirts denouncing the USA invasion of Iraq in 2003. “Although shopping malls are places of public gathering, federal and state courts have ruled, with limited exceptions,that shopping centres have a legal right to remove people disrupting their business…”
So it seems as long as i behaved like other shoppers, ie, select and pay, i would be given the benefit of the doubt.
As i walked home along Disa Ave i met a Woodstock police car on patrol. The driver was driving slowly and i knew i was going to be stopped, but it passed. Perhaps because i was carrying my groceries and my receipt acted as my insurance policy, and also because i wasn’t staggering!
Ok, since Saturday I lost the motivation for wearing the Masai outfit. I feel that after a week of wearing it from home to school and back, the ‘shock’ factor is gone. In ‘addressing the body’ chapter in the crit con reader about Polhemus’s contribution to the ‘dress, embodiment and habitus’, subsection, says, ”The mixing of youth culture ‘tribes’ in recent years has meant less clearly differentiated boundaries between groups… young people are now free to choose from a range of styles as if they were displayed on supermarket shelves.”
Perhaps Capetonians tolerate this theory at least on the streets. But I’m not sure Polhemus’s theory would apply say if I were to attend a job interview, try to enter a club, etc in that cloth!
Masai and tourists: image courtesy:robinhoodcamp.com/images/app/content/team_masai.jpg
Today, I experienced a relapse. I didn’t want to wrap that cloth again over my body. I still feel ‘naked’ without my usual jeans and t-shirt combination.
I reckon as an urban resident most of my life, I’m a victim of media images where anything traditional is downgraded and what is supposedly ‘modern’ is uplifted. Masai attire is primitive, conservative, dress to be admired by tourists as the Masai men jump up and down for them at holiday spots such as the Masai Mara game reserve.
Jeans, suits, skirts, etc are expected. That’s why when Masai people visit Nairobi their presence is noticed immediately because their dress clashes with the suits, jeans, etc that city residents are wearing. As page 121 of the reader notes, “…Gere’s beauty is expressed through his clothes, which are, significantly, professional clothes…” …”Men who are are purely domestic are not considered ‘real men’.
Got a few stares in my ‘dress’ walking from school to Sea Point library in the afternoon.
These reactions are covered on pg 53 of the reader: “The plasticity of the body allows this material exercise of power through the inscription on the body of the standards, norms and disciplinary judgements of society.”
But there were also people who didn’t care or just didn’t see the need to make their reactions obvious, or because I was in Green Point where your dress code is not a hotly contested issue. I’m aware the reaction would be different in a rural setting.
Hi Franci. For me to upload music/video files, i have 2 buy a ‘space upgrade’ from wordpress! That means the audio comments by Samba and Conrad in addition to the video Mavan took won’t be available.
True, free is expensive.
This morning was wet and I didn’t want to risk getting my cloth wet, so i ‘protected’ it until i reached college.
When I wore it, reactions ranged from ‘You looking good festus (or something close)’ by Carla, head of campus, to ‘That’s definitely out of my comfort zone,’ by Adderley of first year, to ‘You look sexy’ by Conrad of third year.
Mavan of third year took shot some video images when i was in the lib after crit con. I hvave to hustle him to share the images with me so that I can upload them here. I definitely recorded Conrad’s comments and will upload it once i discover why wordpress won’t recognise ‘WAV’ files!