Saturday, April 30, 2011


How people dress here
Here is a picture of a gardening group who had a celebration of the success of their onion preservation project (in the building behind them). It shows people in many of the kinds of clothing I will describe below.

Clothing for women
As I have mentioned before, the standard clothing for women is a top and matching wrap around skirt that is called a pagne. A pagne is defined as a loin cloth in the French-English dictionary, but here it means a piece of 45 inch material about 2 yards long that you simply wrap around your waist. A good example is the lady in the front row, on the right, with the long sleeved striped t-shirt. I have not got the hang of it and the picture in an earlier blog of me in a pagne is a “cheater” that has strings on each end of the cloth that you can tie to keep it up. Often women keep coins wrapped up in the end they tuck into the waist. When they make change or buy something they essentially start to take off their skirts. Usually they have a couple of pagnes on so it is not a big embarrassment. Tops are either very close fitting, with a zipper up the back, or very loose, to serve as a maternity and nursing top. These are worn by women of all ages and often slip off one shoulder, as in the picture below:

The fabrics are very colorful, with big designs on them. Sometimes the pattern in the cloth is ignored and heavy embroidery designs are sewed around the neck and down the front, as well as on the sleeves and bottom of the pagne. Another kind of decoration is done with bias tape, as on the one I am wearing in the picture. There is another example in the back row, left side, of the first picture.

Check out the feet of the women in the photo. The standard foot wear is plain plastic flip-flops. Some are made of leather and have a decoration on the part that goes between the toes, and may have a slight wedgie type heel. Occasionally people go bare footed, but there have been big campaigns to teach people the dangers of hook worms and other parasites you can pick up walking around without shoes when there is animal dung all over the ground, as there is here.

Women’s head wear
Women almost all wear pieces of cloth tied around their heads, as you see in the photos. Often this is a scarf or a piece of the same material the rest of the outfit is made of. The Muslim women may wear another style of scarf that wraps under the chin and covers all the head and shoulders. That is not a sure sign of one’s religion, however, because I have seen Catholic women wear them, too (none in the picture, however).

Clothing for men
There are examples of most of the following in the top photo as well. Men, especially those who are not simply farmers, often wear European style pants, shirts and shoes. Neck ties are not often seen in a village like mine, although you might see them in a big city. My language tutor stopped by the other day with two neck ties and asked me to show him how to tie them. The choir director had decided he wanted the men to be wearing ties for a special occasion and he (and I expect his friends) did not know how to knot them. More traditional clothing for men looks a bit like pajamas—at top and pants made out of the same kind of material as women’s clothes. The tops are somewhat like a caftan, but not so long. There are several men in the back row dressed in these outfits but it is a bit hard to tell because you can’t see their legs. Most men wear flip-flops, even if they have on European style shirts and pants, but some wear European style shoes, too.

Head covering for men
Muslim men wear some kind of head cover, too. Some look a bit like a big Jewish yamaca, but most are more like a pillbox hat. Check out the guy on the extreme right side of the photo. They are sometimes quite fancy, crocheted or covered with embroidery. Men may also wear base ball caps or traditional woven hats that are kind of cone shaped, to keep the sun off in the hot weather. Here is a picture of one, on the head of my language tutor.

School clothes
In primary school the kids wear whatever they have. Some look like they are ready to go to church or a party and others look like they are dressed in rags they picked up off the side of the road. Foot wear is almost always flip-flops.

In the secondary schools, students are supposed to wear uniforms, which may be different for different schools in the big cities. Here they are all kaki so that, if you go to college (middle school) in one of the private schools, your uniforms will still be good when you go to the Lycée (last three years of high school). The shirts for boys and girls are about the same, short sleeved European style shirts. Boys wear pants, and the girls usually wear long, straight skirts, but a few wear pants, like the boys. Here is a picture of some of the girls in my girls’ club. The two on the right are in uniform. The extreme right one is wearing the school t-shirt and typical skirt, and the other is wearing the shirt and pants style uniform. The other two girls have on more European style clothes. Again the overwhelming majority of students wear flip-flops for their foot wear.

Making clothes
By the way, the term pagne can also refer to a measure of cloth. When you go to the marché, you buy on one, two, or three pagne piece of material. Then you take that to your tailor and explain the kind of outfit you want. You may point to a picture on the wall that is similar to what you have in mind, or you can draw a picture. The tailor takes your measurements and, without a pattern, just cuts it out and sews it up. I have found that I sometimes have to go back a couple of times for them to get things right. For example, women do not generally ask for pockets in things and I insist on pockets in skirts and dresses. I also have had to make them change the location of darts in dresses but, in general, they do an amazing job cutting things out “free hand” and sewing them up. It reminds me of the costume makers in the theater whom I have seen do the same thing. Tailors tend to have big seam allowances so it is easy to let things out if they are too tight. Better to make things too big and take them in than to lack material if they are too small.

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