|Jeans: very representative of the US but not very traditional|
I stare at Sonho’s black and white photographs of various ethnic costumes and feel a revitalization of my anthropological background. There’s a kimono, a Korean chima chogori, what looks like a Dutch dress, something possibly Chinese and another unidentifiable dress. (Don’t mistake my ignorance for disinterest, on the contrary…)
Hailing from the U.S. of A.—my mottled ancestry tracing back to five European countries—I wonder what I would wear to such an event. When I try to think of traditional American clothing, the only thing that comes to mind is jeans, a t-shirt and a baseball hat. Other than that, I feel like I wouldn’t be representing America as a collective whole. American jeans have only become popular in the last 60 years…and mostly every country in the world knows and wears jeans. So can jeans be considered traditionally American? Probably not. Moreover, they are plain, not festive, and don’t represent anything but current casual or working styles in America.
A lot of American’s wear basketball shoes, too, but does that represent America? The same goes for Ugg’s, Northface, Gap, Aeropostale and anything from Walmart or anything NASCAR. I bet a lot of Americans sport the Snuggie (blanket/shirt infomercial extraordinaire) in the safety of their own homes as well. But I’m not sure any of those represent “America”.
Another problem, which I’m sure you’ve picked up on, is that none of these popular clothing items sound “traditional”. Granted, America is a snot-nosed toddler compared to the historical giants of the world. China has written documents tracing back at least three thousand years; that just blows us out of the water. Although the U.S. has been scrapping with our global parents, relatives and neighbors for 400 years we still haven’t pieced together any semblance of “traditional clothing”. Oh, we have old clothes. What we don’t have is a nation proud of those moth-eaten relics.
|Look at this chump...he was dead serious.|
So, old war clothes are out of the question. We also have some European vestiges like knickerbockers, Puritan attire and such, but they’re not “American”; they only temporarily represented our fashion sense. Hmm…America was once ruled by tribes of Native Americans and their traditional clothing is beautiful! But we can’t use moccasins and beaded deerskins to represent America, especially considering the shameful things we did to these early inhabitants. So, where does this leave us?
As a nation, the U.S. tends to compartmentalize each fashion to its respective era. Anything old is out of style and thus, embarrassing to wear. (Granted, fashion designers love to recycle.) When the 1960s ended, we threw away our Austin Powers clothes. When the 70s ended, we threw out our Saturday Night Fever get-ups. When the 80s ended, we stopped wearing neon fitness wear, Thriller jackets and stopped emulating Madonna. When the 90s ended, we realized The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Zack Morris didn’t represent us anymore. If we conjure up an MC Hammer costume in this day and age, it’s pretty obvious we’re attending either a Halloween party or an 80’s party.
|Chief Little Crow, very festive, but not very representative of America|
A surprising amount of culture has been preserved and remains respectable in Japan. This pride in culture and ethnicity is prevalent in many other cultures as well. As for the U.S., we have a very young country—also a country that is very fast to drop any sort of burdensome cultural ties. Our pride lies within the here and now. The past is something only to be recalled for nostalgia, history lessons or funny parties. It is a presence that generally slows us down and, with each passing year, needs to be shed like a fox’s winter coat. I’m not ashamed that we don’t have a homogeneous culture like Japan. I’m not upset that we don’t have traditional American attire to wear to the International Festival. But, it leaves a little to be desired, doesn’t it?