USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘clothing’
Customs

Direction of knots on clothing

Context: The informant is the kendo teacher in a kendo club that the collector joins. Kendo is a traditional Japanese martial art and sport. Players use bamboo swords and protective armors. The informant and the collector were at a club party. The collector asked the informant about folk beliefs in Kendo. The informant is Japanese American. He has practiced kendo for thirty years.

 

Main piece:

In kendo, clothing is in traditional Japanese style. There are no buttons. All parts are tied around the body. When players are fastening their clothing, they should keep the knots (結び, In Roman: Musubi ) horizontal. The knots must not be vertical, because that is only for clothing of deceased people on their funerals, according to Japanese culture.

 

Collector’s thought:

It is probably common in customs that something about dead people is treated opposite from how it is supposed to be for living people. This may be an attempt to make a clear division between living people and the dead. An example of similar practices: in East Asian culture, for clothing that has two parts of collars, the collar on the left side should always be on the top for living people. Right collar on the top is only for dead people.

Contagious
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Venezuelan Yellow Underwear Superstition on New Year’s Eve

Context: The informant, a 20-year-old college student who was born in Venezuela and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, described various rituals and superstitions that relate to both her passion for theatre and her Venezuelan nationality. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, in which the informant recalls a Venezuelan superstition that people take part in during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Text:

Informant: On Venezuelan New Year’s, we have a tradition that… it’s kind of weird… we have a tradition that you’re supposed to wear yellow underwear on New Year’s Eve. It’s supposed to be good luck, but I don’t really know. My mom always told me it was thing, but she and my dad never did it. Then I was like, “Well, I want good luck!” So, I started doing it. Maybe it’s like yellow and like gold and gold having to do with riches or something… maybe it’s something like that. But we always would talk about it and do it. I purposefully bought a piece of underwear the other day, so that I know I would have it for this year, because my other pair is too old. So yeah, I definitely intentionally do it and it’s another integral part of my New Year’s Eve experience every year.

Informant’s relationship to the item: Though the informant’s parents do not take part in the New Year’s Eve tradition, the informant has taken it upon herself to buy multiple pairs of yellow underwear in order to take part in the Venezuelan tradition. This demonstrates her belief that the practice holds some form of validity, in spite of the fact that no one in her immediate family practices it. Additionally, she expressed some embarrassment while she was describing the superstition to me, due to the nature of the tradition. Yet, she still reaffirmed her belief in the folk ritual.

Interpretation: The Venezuelan New Year’s Eve tradition of wearing yellow underwear is a good example  of a superstition that involves a color that holds symbolic significance to a group of people. Throughout the world, colors are culturally-encoded; sometimes a color’s symbolic meaning is more universal and other times it varies throughout communities. In this case, the yellow underwear seems to represent good luck and good fortune because yellow and gold are often associated with money, wealth, and riches. In more recent years, which has seen Venezuela living through one of the worst economic collapses in the world right now, the New Year’s Eve superstition likely is even more significant to Venezuelans than before. The tradition could also serve as a very tragic reminder of current misfortunes.

Festival
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Capes and Kilts–Folk Clothing

Context:

Will Lord is my brother. I visited him at his University recently. He attends the University of the South, also known as Sewanee. Given its regal name, one would assume that the school is rich in tradition and folklore. One would be correct. The school was established in 1857. Given its small student body, many feel compelled to join fraternities and societies which each have their own collection of folklore. The school itself is full of legends. While walking around campus, I recorded him talking about famous locations, legends, etc. Walking around campus, I noticed men in capes and kilts.

Transcript:

Owen: What’s up with that?

Will: There’s a lot of societies I can’t tell you about. But the big ones, everyone knows, are Capes and Kilts. On Spring Weekend they wear the capes or kilts and march through campus.

Interpretation:

I was visiting during a festival–Spring party weekend. This weekend is a time to show off school pride, so those that are members of the Order of Capes or Kilts don their traditional apparel for this particular weekend. This is a great example of things that are commonplace during a liminal time, a festival–but would surely look strange at another time (any class week) or to a stranger (me).

Customs
general
Material

Appropriate Apparel for Ballroom Dance Competitions

“When we go to competitions, everybody dresses different ways. There’s this expectation that all the girls are going to be in dresses, and boys are going to be in suit jackets and/or, like, pants and other things (He gestures toward his torso, then his legs, as he names the items of clothing). This is a trend that we’re not happy about because people should be able to wear what they want when doing things, but ballroom is such a stereotyped endeavor that you tend to conform to these norms, and it is expected that you conform to particular gender norms. One of the gender norms that we have to go for is that the men all have their hair slicked back (He makes a hand motion above his head, miming slicking back his hair). There is, like, one hairstyle for men. If you have very nice hair that you already know how to style, like a part, and it’s a little bit high on top anyway, then you can leave it exactly how it is. Otherwise, you gel your hair directly backwards. I have seen some people recently try to do a part, but I’m not wild about that. It should be as directly back as you go, and this is stuff that I got from the University of Minnesota ballroom dance team as well. Everybody’s got the same hair. Some teams take this a step further, and all the men are wearing the exact same outfit. The BYU team, the Bringham team, all of their leads look exactly the same. They are cookie cutter copies of each other. They are all wearing the same black tie, black best, white shirt, black pants, black shoes, same haircut, same everything. They’re very uniform, and it’s terrifying because when they dance the same, it looks very scary. While the boys are expected to be cookie-cutter versions of themselves, the girls, from my perspective, are expected to wear different things to be flashy and show off. The standard is for the boys to look as boring as possible and the girls to look as exciting as possible: a dress that flows (he stretched out the work, gets louder, and starts making big gestures with his hands), and does a thing (he flutters his hand, mimicking the way skirts twirl when dancers turn), that is colored. It’s nice when boys’ outfits can match their ladies’ dresses, but it is usually done by maybe a matching a shirt. It’s becoming more common these days, often by matching a tie or sometimes socks, but never the pants. Never does the whole outfit really compliment her. It goes with the idea in the ballroom world that it’s more about showing off your partner as a lead than about doing the things yourself. That isn’t always true when you become a professional dancer, but mostly it’s about ‘Look at my partner! Isn’t she great? Isn’t she sexy?’”

Background Information and Context:

The traditional dress and gender roles that the informant shares here are based on his attendance at collegiate dancesport competitions as well as some observations of professional dancesport, which collegiate dancesport mimics in many ways. What he described is how almost all members of the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team dress at competitions. The informant has been a competitive ballroom dancer in the collegiate circuit for about six years and has taken on a sort of mentor role on the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team, frequently giving new members advice on what judges expect of them at competitions. He began talking about the gendered differences in dancesport apparel when prompted to talk about competition costumes, which look unlike what most people would see in regular fashion.

Collector’s Notes:

Gender norms exist in every culture and aspect of society, but the strange world of dancesport (competitive ballroom dancing) often seems backwards, and not just because the dances in which we compete are very old. Even though it is appropriate for women to wear pants in everyday settings in America, even in more formal situations like business meetings or award shows, the sight of a woman in pants on a competitive dancefloor would be strange, even unwanted. The gendered nature of dancesport seems to be ingrained in the concept of a male lead and a female follow, mirroring (somewhat declining) societal expectations of male authority and female subservience. I found it interesting that this inequality is approached a slightly different way by informant, who seems to regret the absence of clothing choices for males and the nature of attention-grabbing turns and tricks, which mostly place the female at the center of attention. Still, the nature of this attention is questionable, as one could argue that it is not beneficial that the roles require the “sexy” partner to be shown off by her male partner.

Customs
general

Styles of Sari

My informant AM is an international student from Singapore, and her family is originally from Bengal, India. She goes back to Bengal every year, and spend most of the time in the capital city Kolkata.

 

Main piece:

AM: “For me, I only wear Sari in certain time, like in the festival ‘Durga Puja’. We have this Indian festival in Singapore and we celebrate it every year. I got my own Sari at the age of 17 or 18, and then, I learned how to wear it, since there’re certain ways and so many ways to wear it…

“There are women who wear it everyday, like my grandma and people at her age. They have home Sari, Sari for sleeping, and Sari for going out. And my mom’s generation is more modern. They have Sari, and also a more modern style of clothing.

Sari is consisted of one drape, you wrap it around the waist and shoulder. And normally, you wear a blouse and a petticoat underneath the Sari drape. While the more popular modern style is you wear a Kurta, the long top, and below is pants like Patiala, or just like straight – Kameez, or skinny pants like Churidar. Most of the time, when we’re at home, my mom would just wear normal clothes, top and panyts, but if we go out to visit someone, she will wear those. And if it’s a really special occasion, she’ll wear Sari.

As for me, I never wear Sari since I come to the State. [laugh]”

 

Context of the performance:

This is a section from a conversation with my informant AM about how Indian culture and traditions are practiced in Singapore.

 

My thoughts about the piece:

I find Indian as the culture that remains its traditional clothing the longest among many old civilizations. Two weeks ago when I went to Regal LA Live to watch movie, I saw many Indian-looking people wearing Sari (for women) or Achkan (for men) having some kind of open ceremony for a film. Wearing traditional clothing in this modern time is really new to me, especially because China has so many traditional clothing styles but people don’t wear them and don’t know how to wear them.

At the same time, modernization is again reflected in this piece, that according to AM, the younger the generation is, the less people wear Sari in less occasion. This also reflects on globalization, that people in different culture all over the world wear similar cloth, T-shirt and pants. It seems that all these traditions are dying out.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Proper Attire for a Muslim Wedding

The informant is a 58-year old woman from Trinidad, who has lived in the United States for 45 years. She was raised by her parents in Trinidad and lived in a house with her parents, grandparents, and nine siblings. She attended primary school, and then began working as a housekeeper and nanny. She loves cooking, mainly without recipes or set amounts of any ingredients, having learned her recipes “from my mom and aunts and from trial and error.” The following is what she said when I asked about her step daughter’s wedding a few years ago, of which I was in attendance.

 

Informant: “Abby’s wedding was a big one. Oh gosh, it feels so long ago now!”

Interviewer: “It was beautiful!”

Informant: “It was…”

Interviewer: “Do you remember going dress shopping with mom and me before? Can you tell me about it?”

Informant: “Yes, yes. Well for a Muslim wedding you need to have the proper dress. It is not like American weddings where anything you wear is fine. Because if you come to the Muslim wedding and you are dressed improperly, you may be asked to leave. And more than that, it is important to the bride and groom that you wear the proper clothes.”

Interviewer: “What would be improper to wear?”

Informant: “Something short, anything that shows a woman’s legs would be improper. Respect—modesty—is very very important in Muslim religion and culture.

Interviewer: “I understand. Can you tell me more about where we went to get the outfits for Abby’s wedding?”

Informant: “We went to Devon Avenue, a whole street of Indian stores, and we went into the best one to buy a saree. You tried on so many! They all looked so cute on you. We picked a colorful one, I can’t remember if it was purple or blue…

Interviewer: “It was purple!”

Informant: “Yes, it was. And then for your mom we got a green and maroon one.”

Interviewer: “Does anyone wear black sarees? Or white ones?”

Informant: “No. Everyone, at weddings is supposed to wear colored sarees. That is what’s done at weddings. The varna—that means color—means something always! Red is for the bride. Abby wore red. Colorful sarees make for a happier, more festive wedding.

 

Thoughts:

It doesn’t say anywhere in the Quraan that guests at a Muslim wedding are required to wear colorful sarees, or sarees at all for that matter. But it is a custom—a rule, almost—that guests do so. This reflects the modesty of the culture that is expected and has continued to be important to the Muslim people, especially in rituals. While all Muslims do not dress modestly all the time, it is expected that they do so when weddings and other religious rituals take place.

The colorfulness of the sarees at the wedding ceremony, aside from making photos beautiful and bright, makes the ceremony a very festive event. Interestingly, my informant told me that red is often the color of the bride in Muslim weddings, versus the Christian and Jewish white-dress custom. Red is bright and bold; it symbolizes fertility. It is fitting that this would be the color a bride wears on her wedding day, if what she wears is to symbolize the step she is embarking on in her life.

Material

Ponchos- Ecuadorian

Angie spent the summer of 2011 in Ecuador in to visit family, do “touristy things” and study the language. She already knew some things about the language because she had studied for four years with a professor who had lived in Ecuador. She visited cities and towns near the Andes, like the city Ambato and surrounding areas. She lived in Ambato, traveled to the Amazon twice, to the beach once and to the capital, Quito, once.

Traditional garb in Ecuador consists of ponchos and pants for the men and wraps and skirts for the women. One can tell what community a person belonged to based on the color and style of their clothing. Many different tribes live in the Amazon and many in the Andes, each with their own color and style.

Women make ponchos for their sons as a coming-of-age gift. Angie would see women carrying large containers of sheep’s wool around with them throughout the day, meticulously constructing thread. Sheep’s thread is much more expensive than alpaca thread, so while tourist ponchos are generally made of alpaca thread and cost around $20, women make their sons sheep thread ponchos at a value of about $100. In addition, women go to great lengths to dye and treat the wool so that it is waterproof. This is a coming-of-age gift because the boys begin to represent their culture by wearing the poncho. Because so much time and effort goes into making these ponchos, they generally last the boys a very long time.

Angie noted some other interesting things regarding clothing in Ecuador. Although she doesn’t remember the exact styles, single and married women would wear their wraps differently, as a sign of modesty. Also, she saw a group of children in a playground- some were wearing ponchos and some were wearing very Americanized clothing.

These Ecuadorian tribes that Angie met put a lot of their identity into their traditional clothing. Based on colors and style, one can observe an individual’s community or marital status. This is a very outward, very public display of one’s identity.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

She’s got her shoes on backwards. – Korean Expression

“She’s got her shoes on backwards.”

 

My informant first heard this saying in her hometown, the urban city of Pusan, Korea.  It is duty in Korea for males to devote two years of their lives to army training.  The training is not optional but mandatory.  As soon as they were called, the boys would have to leave everything they were doing to move into a military base for two years.  “She’s got her shoes on backwards” is a common saying when a young man returns from his army training.  The saying means that his girlfriend before the army training would have married someone else by the time he returns.  She would did not faithfully wait for him.  Gwi heard this saying when she was in high school and her two older brothers were leaving for army training, and their mother warned them that by the time they return they should not expect their girlfriends to be patiently waiting because they would most likely “have their shoes on backwards.”

Apparently it happened quite frequently in Korea that a girl would not wait for her man to return from training, especially if she were faced with proposals from other men.  I can see how the saying originated.  When you have your shoes on backwards, your shoes point to a different direction.  Instead of walking to her man, she would walk the other direction to a different man.  If she has her shoes on backwards, she would walk away from her man.

Customs
Material

Style of Dress – American

Some American men wear very baggy pants and let them sag to show their boxers. The informant learned the following folk explanation as to the origin of the style “maybe right around high school, or, um, when [she] was just past high school and [her] little brother was doing it when he was in high school. She doesn’t remember from whom she first heard the explanation, but she recalls first seeing the style in high school: “Um, it seemed to be something that, uh, a lot of the African-American guys would do in high school. Uh, but now I see a lot of people do it and it’s just . . . it’s not good [laughter].”

The informant heard that the style originated in prison, where the low man on the sexual totem pole would wear saggy pants: “Basically, uh, young boys and even grown men tend to wear baggy pants or pants that they sag down past their boxer shorts, showing almost all of their boxer shorts, wearing pants that are, you know, a good ten sizes too bit for them. What they don’t realize is the true meaning of the sagging jeans, sagging pants. Uh, it actually stems from prison. Uh, the man who would wear the saggy pants, um, that were sagging past his butt actually indicated that he was the man that men would go to, uh, for, uh, for intercourse. And it showed that he was basically the bitch of the cellblock. So, uh, basically indicated that he was the one who would, uh, take it in the rear, for lack of better terms.”

The informant regards the style itself with a mixture of rue and amusement: “This nugget of knowledge is something that I wish more younger men would understand . . . Um . . . but I don’t think most men get that today who sag their pants. They think it looks cool but they don’t really see that is indicated that they are the, the prison bitch. So I think that that’s interesting. Um, if they do know this they don’t seem to care. Uh, but I think it’s just something that most people who sag their pants aren’t familiar with. So they are, um, unassumingly, uh, displaying their wares, as it were.

The informant shared the explanation with her nephew, “who actually seemed to have gotten the hint once it was explained to him.” She says that she would share it with anyone she felt comfortable with and wanted to have more respect for him- or herself: “If I was comfortable with approaching the individual, egh, like if it was my nephew. Or my brother, or somebody who, um, who is younger than me who I would be an authority—kind of an authority figure to, who would respect my, uh, input. I’m not just going to stop a random guy on the street and say, ‘Hey, you know that means you’re a prison bitch?’ ’cause that’s just not cool. But I think I would if it was somebody that I cared about, like a relative or a workmate or somebody that I, y’know, had a little bit more respect for and wanted them to respect themselves more, I would share that information with them.”

The folk explanation could be true, although it does seem like a story that might be dispensed by parents and other adults to discourage children from wearing a style their relatives find distasteful, as the informant used it on her nephew. It would be effective for that purpose because prison inmates are looked down upon and anal sex is still somewhat taboo, so impressionable boys might not wish to associate themselves with the former or symbolically invite the latter. Saggy pants could be considered an American folk costume, since the style has not been much endorsed by authorities—the folk group being, if this story is true, prison inmates and their imitators.

[geolocation]