States of Undress- Elizabeth Beasley

Sandra Niessen had stated, “that there is persistent momentum in the perception of fashion as a Western phenomenon, however, is equally indisputable.” While watching this documentary I had to keep in mind what “world” I was viewing and through who’s eyes I was viewing it through. It’s very easy to get caught up in assumptions of Pakistan culture when watching it from a Western perspective, however; it is this viewpoint that made it easier to see what Niessen’s critique of the “West vs. Rest” was really all about.

One connection to Niessen’s writing had to do with fashion as a political statement. For most Pakistanis, the way in which they present themselves in public is a way for them to show their beliefs. “Who has, and who does not have fashion is politically determined, a function of power of relations.” This quote from Niessen could correlate to the two distinct styles seen at Pakistan fashion week– the conservative collections and the bold collections. Some may believe that the bolder, more daring looks are more fashionable than the more conservative looks; others may think the opposite. The connection to Western dress versus traditional dress of others was something else that was apparent in the documentary. There are some people that have the viewpoint, as Niessen discussed, that traditional dress is “fixed” and static. Pakistan Fashion Week featured designers who had entire collections of traditional dress. None of these collections looked “fixed” or like they were of another time. One fashion goer at the event even said, “being traditional is something everyone likes here.”

There were many interesting things in this documentary. The bondage collection was something that I did not expect, but was glad to see. It was interesting when Hailey asked the design duo who created the collection what it meant to them. Western perception of bondage is usually a purely sexual idea, however, these designers did not view it in such a way. The “Unzip” collection was about what is inside the person and unzipping the clothing to reveal these things, which I thought was a really fresh take on bondage. Another interesting thing was the balance of traditional and non-traditional clothing seen. Going into the documentary, I expected to see a  lot of traditional clothing. It was a pleasant surprise to see this platform where both viewpoints could be expressed. It was also an interesting juxtaposition of having this fashion week, or pocket of liberalism as some referred to it as, inside a guarded bunker that had many securities one had to get through before being allowed in the hotel. The most interesting thing for me was when Hailey spoke to the fashion journalist, Mohsin, and he said that it’s not religious clothing–it’s cultural clothing….you don’t go out and buy a Christian dress. That statement really put how they view clothing and fashion into perspective for me. It was also interesting to me that even though Pakistan is in an energy crisis, they are still producing denim for other parts of the world. It was also interesting that while denim is made there locally, it would travel to America, be used/worn, then shipped back to Pakistan where locals could finally wear it.

A weird moment for me in the documentary was when they went to talk to Abdul Aziz Ghazi. It just felt odd that they would go to him to get his take on women’s dress and his thoughts on it. The weirdest moment of it was when he was showing Hailey the Planet Earth videos that he had narrated himself. It was very strange and kind of felt like he was making a mockery of her and Western culture. Or that’s how it came across to me…it was just really off. I think maybe that was supposed to be a big interview to really pull together the documentary by showing his ideals (and the ideals of others) and how extremists view women and fashion, but it really just felt forced and uncomfortable.

I believe the three main points for this documentary are that people in Pakistan like being traditional and it’s not a bad thing, clothing is cultural not religious, and there is diversity in fashion in Pakistan. There are ramifications for opposing ideas such as these points, like the women who were victims of acid attacks. While fashion can be a fun way to express one’s viewpoint or beliefs, others may not see it this way and lash out. So I think that it is important to also note that the women and men in Pakistan that do express themselves through fashion may face these terrible forms of punishment. I would use these points to explain to a TMD student who hasn’t taken this course to drive home what this documentary was about (and also have them read “Veiling Resistance”–great article I read for Ethnic Dress last semester that delves into women’s Islamic dress and its historical context).

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4 thoughts on “States of Undress- Elizabeth Beasley

  1. Elizabeth I though your whole reflection was very thorough and shows that you have a very good understanding of the documentary. I really liked your three main points.I agree that we take our expression through dress for granted and that we must understand some cultures have more strict expectations for dress or may suffer sever punishments as a result.

  2. I definitely agree with how uncomfortable the interview with Abdul Aziz Ghazi was. It was unnerving to hear the opinions of extremists straight out of their mouths. But it was fascinating at the same time. We’re so used to seeing extremists and Islam depicted from our Western media, it was interesting to see their personal responses and how, weirdly, they are people with beliefs who are doing what they think is right, even though what they think is right, we think is so wrong.

  3. Casey- thanks! I know that I am guilty of romanticizing other cultures and parts of the world. It’s very easy to take how we dress here in the U.S. for granted when we have the freedom to dress as we please without any ramifications for it.

    Andrea- I definitely think the media’s portrayal of Islam has really affected the way we look at people in the Middle East. They have continued to project this eurocentric point of view with westerners being superior to others and that continues to add fuel to the fire.

  4. It was actually very interesting to see bondage collection and what the idea actually was behind it. The dress being cultural and not religious was a interesting observation too which I missed to note.

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