Thursday, April 18, 2013

What Are You Wearing?

Women and men spend years experimenting with many fashion styles (e.g. preppy, sporty, goth, emu, classy, classy-chic, hipster, etc) and many even spend years wishing they could erase certain trends from their memory. I, for instance, like to imagine I never wore bell-bottoms or neon colors. Neon with pale skin never seems to work for me.

In New York City, I found a style that suited me: classy-chic. I felt comfortable in the clothes I wore. I felt beautiful, sophisticated and confident. Then two years later, I moved to West Africa.

Pre-Peace Corps
Undoubtedly with Peace Corps set in stone, the classy-chic clothes I loved so much were metaphorically tossed out of the window. But really, even if they were dated upon my return, there’s no way I’d throw some clothes out. And no doubt my big sister, Kathrine, still profits from a few items. But what did it leave me? The clothes I bought for the Peace Corps remind me of young adults going to camp. Have I been in camp for almost two years?! No, but how there is no way to know for sure until the very moment comes when the plane has landed. Needless to say, pre-volunteers pack their African safari-like clothes in their suitcases and wear them throughout pre-service training until they arrive at post. And from that moment…there are no rules. And for many...western clothes are history.

Most volunteers wear what locals want/like us to wear: pagne. Pagne is fabric with innumerable patterns, bright colors and different qualities. Only the experienced know good versus bad quality pagne. After volunteers buy pagne, they then take it to a tailor or a seamstress for the next work of art.

There really are no rules. Former northern volunteers attend a farewell party for a COSing volunteer.
Me as a counselor for Camp Eco-Action 2012.
Me again in Datcha for Camp Eco-Action.
Along with bagels and cream cheese, fresh mozzarella pizza and pre-made smoothies, I miss clothing stores. You know, those remarkable stores you can enter, browse latest trends, try clothes on, buy, and're done. There are perhaps two stores in Dapaong that have ready-to-wear clothes, but no dressing rooms. Thus trying on clothes in a community where it is respectful for females to have their knees covered makes it difficult to de-dress and test clothes.

In regards to pagne, I’ve had several items made in Dapaong. Some designs are great accomplishments, but most are disasters. Togolese do know how to sew…they just don’t understand what we [Westerners] want.

One benefit to pagne is the pagne wrap. This pagne style is comfortable and people often wear it as a skirt, as a bathroom towel, and/or as a harness for babies. I love to use it as a bathroom towel and will continue once stateside. I am addicted. It is lighter than a towel, yet more fashionable. At least in West Africa, it is perfectly acceptable to answer the door wearing this pagne wrap—that is of course if the pagne has a hem. If not, shame on her.

Me wearing a pagne-wrap skirt at Club Espoir in Dapaong.
Although I look forward to having more 15 outfits from which to choose over the course of a year, I am quite concerned that I have lost my classy-chic style and it will take a bit of time to get it back again. Shamefully there are fabrics I never thought were beautiful at the beginning of my service, which now I find to be the most beautiful in all of Togo. Have I completely lost it?! Perhaps this is the re-culture shock people often warn me about. Oh my dear siblings and friends in NYC, be kind to me. It may take me a while to veer back into the fashionable lane.

Until next time…J


  1. Sam, You are amazing! I am so jealous of your experiences! I can't wait for your return. Stay safe and I'm gonna continue to follow your blog, so keep it up.

    1. Laura!! I love you. Sent the letter, by the way. Be on the look out!