State of Undress: Casey McGarvey

This documentary was very insightful to the culture of dress in Pakistan. It was very moving and as well an eye opener to what exactly fashion means to different cultures. Every culture is different and our freedom of expression through dress in America blinds us from the role of dress and controversies involved in fashion in other cultures. In other cultures dress is taken more strictly as it serves a reflection of religious believes or political attitudes. I found myself making harsh judgments on aspects of Pakistani culture but then had to remind myself that they are in a different “world” then me and it is important to consider the documentary through alternative perspectives.

Various aspects of this documentary can be related to our course material. For instance Niessen constantly discusses the point of “west vs. the rest.” The journalist in the film even said that Pakistan knows dress because they have been in the West for X number of years. Fashion is often associated with western culture. However, Niessen also discusses fashion as a political statement. This is highly relevant to this documentary in that Fashion week is more than just a series of fashion shows but rather a political act about defending a choice or not having a choice. This can be seen through the conflicting ideas of modest, traditional and conservative collections vs. the more risky, revealing collections. Ideas from this documentary can also link with Simmel’s idea that “fashion on the one hand signifies union with those in the same class, the uniformity of a circle characterized by it, and  the exclusion of all other groups” Abdul Ghazi talks to Haily about how there must be uniformity throughout the culture and this is done through women’s dress. Women must cover themselves as a means of representing equality among the culture. All other groups or individuals who do not practice the act of covering present a danger to society.  Also, Geertz presents the idea that in a culture, the “world as lived” and the “world as idealized” conceptions of identity come together expressed through dress and related behavior. This is seen throughout the documentary through the conflicts of it religion is separate from state. Women are punished for not dressing according to their religious views because in the Pakistani culture, dress is not only a form of personal identity, but also a cultural identity. Thus women must respect their culture even when trying to express themselves.

I found various aspects of this documentary extremely important and interesting. I found it interesting that alcohol is forbidden in the Pakistani culture as it has been for about 40 years. They must use bootleggers for alcohol secretly kind of as you would buy weed or other drugs in the U.S. If you are caught with alcohol there is the potential for severe punishment. It was also interesting to here that this fashion shift began during a major political change when the democratic president was overthrown and the new dictator now favored the Sunnis over the Shi’ite’s. This fear kept people in their homes so leaving the home with intentions of expressing fashion is seen as an act of bravery. I also found it very interesting to learn about the popularity of the Salwar Kameez, a long tunic worn over lose trousers, is. It was also interesting to learn how competitive women are with their Salwar Kameez because of the important it is for them to dress fashionably in a traditional manner.

Their were also many things I found disturbing or confusing within this documentary. I was astonished to learn why the power kept going out throughout the film. Pakistan had been experiencing extreme shortages of gas and electricity . This energy crisis was to to a population increase with limited resources due to government funds having to go to security and terrorism before power. I was completely and utterly disturbed by to learn that men perform an acid attack on their wives for disobedience such as wearing the latest fashion which is somewhat revealing. Husbands are embarrassed  and thus perform these attacks on the women’s face and private areas. Thus these women are shunned because they are no longer “useful” in society. It was also disturbing to learn that a fiance’s family would also perform these attacks on the future bride if her family did not offer a suffice amount of money for the wedding. Of all these things what upset and confused me the most is that when Pakistani’s would see a victim of an acid attack they wouldn’t think what did someone do to her, they would think, what did she do, as if she must have deserved such domestic violence. It was also strange to me how the recycled fashion works. The man who was working at the market explained how the denim he sells must ship to the U.S and then get recycled back before he can wear it.

This documentary presented a lot of interesting and significant information. I thought one main point to take away from this film is that we must take fashion as a freedom for granted because in other cultures it is more than just clothing but a political act defending freedom of choice. Style in the Pakistani culture is an act of bravery. Another main point to take away from this documentary is that fashion week in Pakistan reflects conflicting ideas. This is a result of the majority of modest, traditional and conservative dress, vs. those fighting for women empowerment and have a backlash against the government by producing a risky collection such as a bondage collection. It was also interesting to see how different cultures interpret different concepts. In America, bondage represents sex culture but in Pakistan it is a symbol of being strong and hopeful to escape the prison of the strict culture. One last main point to take away from this is that you can have every culture lives in a different “world” with different values, beliefs and attitudes and it is important to try to understand one another and see the world through alternative lenses.

I would want a TMD student who has yet to take 424 to have this documentary be a huge eye opener to different cultures. Every culture has different dominating beliefs, attitudes and values that shape the Zeitgeist. It is important for a younger TMD student to know that fashion is not just clothing and serves a different purpose or holds different means varying among cultures. I would want them to know how important it is to not take our freedom of expression for granted but also try to understand other cultures before making quick judgment.


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