International style

Columns Opinion

Culture in every article

By Jackie Charniga
Editor in Chief

I can generally tell what country someone is from by their clothes. I’m not claiming to be Sherlock Holmes, or that I possess any sort heightened sensorial ability or exceptional intelligence, but from being observant and tirelessly pouring over fashion magazines.  I have a devout interest in the subject.

I spent a large part of my childhood traveling the world with my father, who sells weightlifting equipment internationally. I have attended competitions and other convention-like events with my family since I was small enough to fit under the foldaway table that held the portable DVD player on which my father sold his wares. When I wasn’t amusing myself in that fashion (pun intended), I would watch the locals and notice their mannerisms, their clothes and the way they moved inside them (I obviously wasn’t watching the weightlifting–they pick the barbell up, they put the barbell down–rinse and repeat until insanity).

I began to recognize that what was considered fashionable in each city reflected what was of cultural significance in that society.  You could start to see through the clothing itself clues that revealed how much money a family had, what their religious beliefs were, a societies attitudes about women, the current political climate, what was culturally acceptable, and what inspired the city as a whole.

My dad is different, he uses his ears,  if he picks up even the faintest of accents, he can place a man to his country. When this happens, he usually pulls my headphone out of my ear in order to point this person out to me. He generally does this in public, loudly, and usually within earshot of said individual—which isn’t embarrassing, or anything.  My technique is more subtle—I use my eyes, taking in the material and visible brand names—and deciding, right then and there, from whence they hailed. I am usually right (even more often than he is).

I am fascinated by clothes because of what they have the power to say about a person. I can usually discern, just by what they are wearing, whether they are:  practical, conscientious, culturally driven, proud, shy, or accident-prone. It tells a lot about what they care about.

This becomes especially easy during the summer or winter months when clothing options are narrowed down significantly. Clothes reflect and reveal whether one is accustomed to extreme heat or cold, or from lands in the familiar temperate climate regions.

If I see a young man in casual jeans and a plaid shirt looking uncomfortable in a heavy coat, I envision someone from a temperate climate with heavy Western influences: The cowboy, used to warmer weather and not-used-to-being-off-my-horse type.

When I see a woman in monochrome colors with matching boots, coat, and gloves, along with a well-cared for umbrella tucked under her arm, I can almost hear her heels clicking down gray rain-soaked pavement on their way to work: the professional, reserved, successful, city-slicker type.

World travel has enriched my perspective and broadened my stylistic horizons. Being exposed to this range of cultural influences, has taught me that fashion can say more about a person’s heritage than they might expect. Despite all of the other ways that we learn about how different cultures can be perceived—magazines, television, food, etc.—I prefer to rely on the clothes.  Not only do I start to understand how different we are and why, but that way I also have the opportunity to purchase something from a store for my own, and to take a slice of the culture back with me. Today, I am able to open the doors to my closet and see the poncho I purchased in Peru, the silk dress my father brought back from China, the t-shirt I bought in London, the turtleneck picked-up in France, and the blue jeans I got in Italy. These articles of clothing can take me on a mental journey back to the places I’ve been and help me conjure up images of the locals who wore them with dignity and grace.