You receive an invite to a prestigious ceremony, it may be your graduation, the opening of parliament or your cousin’s white wedding. Whether the dress code is specified or not. In most cases we subconsciously make the decision to wear westernized clothing. We have been normalized to the idea that western clothing is the default attire that is fit for sure ceremonies. Although, this thought may seem trivial. There are some deeper implications embedded in this way of thinking. It is time to start unthinking and unlearning these so-called norms.
Sometimes it feel as though we need permission to embrace our blackness. Not everything black is political. However, we cannot be oblivious to the fact that there is an existence outside of western norms. This happens when we begin to challenge the prescribed defaults ideas without it being perceived as such a disturbance. The politics of what constitutes appropriate dress code is a minefield. Even in a post-colonial era, western attire enjoys privileged position. However, it’s time to advocate for cultural diversity and readdressing appropriateness. Remaining in the mold of eurocentric dress code we simply upholding eurocentric beauty standards. It is necessary to rethink this “default” and find a new normal.
“… it’s time to advocate for cultural diversity and readdressing appropriateness.”
Western dress is being touted as the visible manifestation of the “civilized” state. This sentiment echoes cultural superiority. Paralleling the way a person dresses with the development of Western civilization is misleading. Furthermore, it is detrimental to our understanding of diversity and; cultural and aesthetic pluralism.
Each year at the State of the Nation Address, Mandla Mandela and his Wife Mbali, demythologize the idea that western dress is the only appropriate attire for the parliamentary opening ceremony. The couple comes beautifully dressed in traditional Xhosa attire. Sometimes barefoot too. Fashion is, in itself, a political statement. Coming dressed in traditional attire is solidifying the need for African aspects to be included in structures that are part of our colonial legacy – and we cannot divorce ourselves from.
During the graduation ceremony at the University currently known as Rhodes, Tholakele Silo, was dressed in a beautiful Xhosa attire and performed a Xhosa ritual dance after her name was announced. In order to break into a broader space – eurocentric spaces – we have to begin by permeating into these spaces with our authentic identities. This happens through the inclusion of our narratives in these spaces. Silo used her graduation as an opportunity to dispel that such ceremonies are strictly western. Putting forward the idea that traditional attires equally constitute as formal wear.
Breaking into eurocentric spaces is not anti-eurocentric or even anti-white. It is a way of appreciating our cultures, affirming value to it and dispelling the myths that traditional attire are not appropriate in places that are traditionally western.