Identify cultures & traditions you resonate with (even if you don't 'belong') [Style Series #1.4]
Updated: Sep 6, 2021
In this series of articles we are thoughtfully exploring ideas to help curate your own signature style.
There are five parts in this series, and I've written mini, less-than-5-minute articles within each one for you to explore bit by bit.
This article belongs to reconnecting.
Enjoy this series~
Style Series #1.4
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."
― Ralph Waldo Emerson.
"So, which cricket team are you supporting today then?" Four pairs of my Pashtun uncles’ sharp eyes and quizzical eyebrows await a response to their question. I laugh nervously. The context of the question might not seem like serious business: but for me, it was. You see, England and Pakistan were playing a cricket match. Talk about an inter-cultural dilemma.
“Well? Pakistan or England?” The question again. Wearing a shalwar kameez, sitting among a group of Pashtuns cheering on team Pakistan, it would probably have been wise indeed to say Pakistan, despite the location being the UK and half my family being English.
I deferred for a moment. Finding something to fill the silence, I quickly replied;
"I only like playing cricket, not watching it!"
Can't I support both countries, I wondered?
Nowadays, I think I can.
While culture, tradition and spirituality is often left out of the discussion when it comes to mainstream advice on creating your style, I believe you should identify and embrace it precisely on your terms, no matter whether it's adopted or inherited.
There is a reason why there are museums just displaying clothes of past times and significant ensembles people have worn in the past.
Clothes are a nod to heritage, culture, and even politics. Sometimes even cricket. :)
They are also, in many parts of the world, a nod to your sense of spiritual obligations.
There are many ways you can connect your clothing with your identity, but which one is you, if any?
Often we can be confronted by the clothes in our wardrobe themselves:
'So, who do you support today?' they seem to ask. Though it doesn't cause such contention anymore, I grappled with clothing for many years and it was often a source of stress and anxiety for me.
Whether hailing from a mixed heritage background, or living in a culture that differs to the one you perhaps grew up with, identity can often perplex.
But culture, identity and tradition can also bring joy.
It is a beautiful thing to appreciate cultures and traditions. And clothing has an incredible way of being able to honour cultures or traditions that mean a lot to you.
Each day, I love that when I consider my clothes and accessories, it might be a pair of earrings I got from Uganda. Or Pakistani style embroidered leggings. Or minimalist clothes with Japanese silhouettes. Or Indian style tunics. Or levant style dresses and kaftans. Or Uyghur style material on my jacket.
So many of my clothes remind me of travels, people and places that resonate strongly with me, and this brings me joy.
Second to identifying your core values, I think identifying the cultures and traditions, if any, that you might want to feature in your wardrobe is a valuable thing to consider at this point in the journey.
To help filter out the cultures or traditions that resonate most strongly with you, here are some questions you can think about.
They are ones I have asked myself over the years. Your answers may help you reconnect with identities, cultures, and traditions that resonate strongly with you. You may even find you want to let some parts go, which is also a part of the journey.
Where are you from?
A foundational question of identity, nationality, citizenship, ethnic heritage, birthplace, and much more. Answering this question, and considering how your answer makes you feel gives you clues to the kinds of cultures or styles you want to weave into your wardrobe. Which parts of 'where are you from' mean the most to you? Do you want those to be visually given a spotlight as a part of your clothing in some way?
Where have you been or seen?
Remember the places and peoples you've connected with - which ones are springing to mind as most memorable or meaningful? These also give clues to little things you might like to weave into your wardrobe. It could even be as simple as colours - I know someone who loves plants, nature and wildlife, and weaves many green and flower prints into her wardrobe. It needn't be a culture or tradition. Places can also influence your style.
Which countries, cultures or traditions resonate with you?
You may not hail from them but you can still embrace them. I love Africa, and Central Asia too, and while I have no direct ties to either, weaving in parts of the culture of these regions to my wardrobe brings me joy. Note the places you've visited or even learned about that are coming to mind as you read this... which ones would you love to weave in visually to your clothes?
Do you have any cultures that are a part of your life by your relationships?
Acknowledging these, especially if you have a multi-cultural marriage or friends of other cultures, and choosing what resonates most with you is also helpful when considering your wardrobe. Equally, acknowledging what you aren't very comfortable with in such cases is just as important. It sometimes can feel as though you are pushed or pulled to dress in a certain way just because the culture demands it. Which parts could you choose to embrace and which to go less on?
Which styles have you always felt you're drawn to?
If you browse Pinterest or any kind of visual scroller, check out your saved items, especially ones involving clothing. It could also be images of places. Which ones appear often? Are there any trends? If you can think of clothes or people you admire, this is another way to connect the dots with cultures and identities that resonate strongly with you.
Are there any new role models you can find?
If thinking of existing role models was tricky, can you search for any other places or styles that spring to mind? For me, finding examples of other women who hailed from similar backgrounds to me helped me reconnect with what I did and did not want to have in my wardrobe or on my skin.
Who can you talk to about this?
I discussed matters of clothing often with some of the most special friends in my life, especially when it came to matters of spiritual clothing. If a part of your wardrobe is stressing you out, does it come back to a root to do with culture, tradition or spirituality? If it does, discussing it with your trusted people helps so much rather than analysing it alone.
How much do you need clothes of a certain culture or tradition to feature in your wardrobe?
At some point, I had so many fancy dresses and shalwar kameez that just weren't being worn, but that I felt obliged to keep for attending certain events. But in time, I learned about ratios: for example, do the number of clothes of a certain type support the lifestyle you lead? In my case, those kind of weddings and events were a tiny part of my time, whereas daily work activities were, well, daily! In this way, I realigned the ratio, and began to make space for pieces that fused some of the shalwar kameez vibe but also could be worn for daily work wear.
Ponder the question: who are you?
Finally, a very profound question. During a time when I grappled with various parts of spiritual clothing, a precious and dear friend asked: ‘Who are you?’ . She asked it with no judgment, and even playfully, quizzically. When I pondered it, and answered it honestly, things became clearer. It's a profound question, but in our increasingly global world, it's important to ask. Who are you?
Second to learning the language of another country or people, dressing in a way that sends a nod of respect to the culture and heritage of a place you are a part of or visiting is one of the most respectful, honourable things you can do.
In my search for peace when it came to my wardrobe, I found it most when I began to curate a wardrobe where the clothes I wear speak to many of the cultures, traditions and people that have shaped me and resonate with who I am. Considering which ones resonate with you can be a great guiding compass when it comes to the practical parts of curating your signature style. When you open your wardrobe, there can be no question of which team your clothes support. Team you!