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The Introduction Of Cultural Anthropology Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3031 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Traditional dressing has been a topic of much concern when it comes to the world of fashion. Many fashions in today’s world have slowly developed from the traditional garments that have been in existence for a long time. During ancient times, the ancestors just dressed scantily with animal skin but with the development of fabrics, this has changed tremendously. Each culture has its own unique way of doing things. Culture has been diverse and different in all regions and continents of the world. Indeed, in every region people have the values and virtues that they value most and the doctrines that they follow which contributes to a unique culture. Starting with the behavior, arts, music, believes, cuisine, and literature different cultures portray different models of everything.

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The dressing is also unique and it is easy to identify people with how they dress. The Asian and African cultures are two cultures that have held on to their customs and cultures, to date people still value and practice their traditions irrespective of the westernization. Although civilization has threatened culture with extinction, people need to be rooted in it to avoid the good values and virtues from disappearing. This paper examines the similarities and differences in styles of dress in Asian culture and African culture.

What individuals put on is dependent on a number of factors. When people dress, those around them know their intention since the style is identifiable in many ways and functions. Dressing, according to many, is for warmth, protection and/or comfort; this, fact coupled with others makes dressing important. In areas of the Middle East there are different colors applied for women and men such that while women wear black the men wear white. Traditionally, women wore black in the wedding ceremonies since it was associated with fertility and status but this has changed with many preferring the westernized white gowns. The use of cloth relates the past, present and ensures a future through different experience and social relations. Winter (2002) in his article ‘Fashion Statements’ quotes “We wear clothes not only to be comfortable in the environment, but it’s one of the easiest ways of saying something about our identities, our histories, our aspirations, of where we want to be in the world,”

Social status or class is another reason people wear differently. Kings, queens, chiefs and other authorities’ dignitaries will wear differently from the commoners or subjects being ruled e.g. Chiefs will tend to wear uniforms (Derber, 2000, p.63). Their dressing maybe modified to indicate their power, rank, status and authority. Wear for the authorities may be got from animal’s skin and are always rare to obtain to the ordinary person. This makes it easier to identify people from lower castes. Color is also used to identify social status and one color used for the authorities for easy identification. Luxurious garments are also worn by the rich and famous to indicate wealth (Winter, 2002).

Gender is also another factor to consider when dressing. Men and Women in culture have been seen as unequal and will wear differently each time they dress. Their outfits are also different with women traditionally wearing clothes that are covering their body in totality. The garments come differentiated in color, styles and fabric. The traditional culture dressing stressed on modesty, secrecy, and dignity. These dressings are regulated by laws of the traditions which dictate what men and women ought and ought not to wear.

People also dressed differently for different occasions, for example, during weddings people will want to be radiant and very attractive but for funerals they will look gloomy and this will be shown in the dress codes. For war and circumcisions occasions all will dress differently. For sports and different activities that are involving the dress code will change to suit the event.

Religion is also important when dressing. This may be seen as occupational clothing since most will stick to it for as long as they are in the religion. Different religions wear differently and most recommend decent dressing. Muslims, for example, will wear very conservatively such that women must cover their head with the hijab and long Kangas while men wear a white robe with a cap, and the Jews will wear robes and turbans as they worship.


The Asian culture and African culture are multi ethnic and the dressings involved are diverse. However, the religions practiced like Islam may be similar hence make the dressing look alike. This means different styles, fabrics, designs are found in these cultures for both men and women.

Asian culture and African culture

Asian cultures vary and the continent is rich in culture. These include the Shinto, Mahayana Buddhists Confucian of Japan Shamanistic and Marxists of South Korea, Taoists, the Hindu, and the Spiritist of Thailand. As many as there are the cultures so there are the differences. These differences are religion, language, beliefs, clothing, and ethics (Good, 2001).

The Asian culture is more critical when it comes to religion. They have more reference to a supreme being no matter where they are in the continent and this is common to all traditions and ethnic entities. The dressing in the Asian culture is more linked to occasions which all have meaning (Good, 2001). The colors of the cloths they wear signifies and symbolizes different things e.g. red signifies wealth and good luck in Chinese, while white is used for funerals. The food is also prepared ceremoniously based on the calendar and events. There are also special meals that are prepared for the wealthy, rich and rulers.

Education and labor are more emphasized since they are seen as means to wealth and success. This is passed on from generation to generation with its virtues. The family is one organization that the Asians respect. Many siblings live together in harmony and respect with shared responsibilities and duties that keep cordial relations. Common decisions are made and all favor the family values and virtues (Moore, 1998, p.147).

Africa is renowned for its rich culture that attracts many tourists to the region. The numerous ethnic tribes and groups make the region enriched with true traditions that are hard to change. Africa can be broadly divided into Afro-Asiatic, Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, and Khoisan. Art, music, and religion characterize culture in Africa (Le Blanc, & Van Lowe, 2000).

Many Africans believe in traditional religion though most have transformed to Muslims and Christians due to civilization but many have believed in superstitions and black magic. They believe in team work and family values and respect for the elders and a society that is male dominated (Miller, 2007, p.124). They have rich traditional foods prepared during ceremonies and for the wealthy, rich and authorities. The emphasis mainly on respect of elders especially male elders and take them as gods. Apart from some few differences the Asian and African culture may some time be view as alike.

Asian Dressing

Many have long misinterpreted the clothing of Asia as unfashionable and obsolete. With the Japanese donning a kimono or other long robes with wide sleeves and the Chinese having the Mao suits that were of dull colors, then one would conclude that Asia is no place for fashion. However, traditions have been kept and civilization has not been allowed to change them (Winter, 2002). Ancient Chinese dressing included simply a tunic or jacket then known as a san with a pair of wobbly trousers known as the ku. This outfit was modified with age to include the mandrian collar to suit as fashion. For customary occasions, the higher class and wealthy, e.g. the emperor and court of nobles, wore robes, long sleeved loose fitting garment that was tied at the front and were made from silk. Other garments included the dragon robe worn by the ruling class.

The clothing of the emperor who commanded a lot of respect had unique outstanding colors such as yellow to show dignity but never had numerous decorations. Modern day China has become a bit westernized but with a Chinese taste. For women, the cheongsam dress is very trendy, but the Mao suit was imposed and is the common daily wear for many Chinese. Japanese systems were the same as China with them preferring robes and tunics. The poor women wore loose skirts and men wore loose linen shirts. The loose shirt was the kosode and the long trousers were the hakama. The Japanese robe was tied with an obi or sash around the waist. The Japanese have several traditional dress wears including the; ho, kinu, haori, and katiginu. Beauty and design are much emphasized in the dresses. The major style of dress in the south Asian culture is the sari, while the East and Southeast Asia there is the sarong of Indonesia, the qipao of China, ao dai of Vietnam and the kimono of Japan.

African Dressing

African clothing is mainly based on weaving, tie and dye, batiks, and industrial prints. The dress of Africa has been influenced mainly by the religion the region follows. This has made multifaceted interactions between the Muslims and Christians. According to Hansen, 2004 in the article “The world in dress: Anthropological perspectives on clothing, fashion, and culture” explains that Africa ha two wide dressing cultures (Le Blanc, & Van Lowe, 2000). These are based on decorations of clothes at the west, central and several regions of East Africa and the other is tailored western look alike attires found in the Southern Africa and the remaining part of East Africa (Hendrickson, 1999). Loose gowns for the men and women known as the boubou cloth wrappers and head tie are the common dressing. The Buna in the Yoruba land is more specific especially in Nigeria, but women and men wear different colors and patterns. During marriage the women wear black while for hunters they mix the colors of white and black which are stripped. The chiefs have reservations for the red impersonate clothing which is decorated with beautiful patterns. As for color, white signifies spiritual occasions. The clothes made by weaving include bogolanfini, aso, ake, kuba, raffia, and kente. These are made with black, white and brown motifs.

Comparison and Contrast

The clothing styles will always be different in the size, how, where, and when worn in the two regions. The veil and head wrapping in Egypt and Kuwait is the head cover for rich women makes them look wealthy, rich, famous, and honored but for those in lower status never cover their head. For those in Egypt covering the head is for those in the lower status and not the rich and wealthy. This brings the difference in opinions; to those in Kuwait, it preserves the wealthy status, while the Egyptians think of it as being a good and committed Muslims who preserves the status of a woman (Hendrickson, 1999).

The Japan’s kimono gives the clear difference between gender and life cycle stages and the status. For the high status people their kimono sleeves are shorter as compared to those in the lower status. For the men the sleeves are equally short but for the women especially the unmarried their kimono sleeves are very long and for the married they are short like those of men (Hardin, 1997). For instance, the furisode kimono is made of fine silk of intricate colors and designs worn by a girl in her mid ages when not married signifying marital availability. Those in the African culture do not consider whether one is married or not but the gender.

In wedding occasions in the South Korean side, traditional gowns are worn to retain the cultural tastes; this is common to the East and Southeast Asia where a white gown is used like the western culture but in India white clothing indicate widowhood. In Africa, the Moroccans wear a Berber costume, a long robe, accompanied by silver jewelry that is common in the pastoralists from the rural mountains. In the south, South Africans wear animal skin as traditional wear during the marriage ceremony.

The long loose clothing is common in African and Asian cultures worn by both men and women. An explanation is that they cover their body not to expose their body structure. This preserves the traditional value of secrecy of the human body. The Nigerian women have also taken to wearing the tunic from the South Asia (Hardin, 1997).

Dressing in Africa does not emphasize the class like the Asian culture where class matters. For example, in India the caste system dictates different dress codes to the members of the different castes. However, in both regions, status is considered.

Religion makes the people in both regions wear the same. For Muslims they are dictated to wear robes and head covers in all regions. The veil which is the common religious wear has been named different names in the two cultures, some call it the hijab, others chador, burqah, or bui-bui. This is mostly worn by Muslims women not only in the region but throughout the world. “Because of its visibility, the veil is the emblem of Muslim identity and the difference in Orientalizing approaches both in scholarship and popular media, serving as the symbol par excellence of women’s subordination” (Hansen, 2004). The African culture has more preference to cotton fabrics while the Asian cultures silk garments are preferred. Most of the garments in the South Asian culture are silky while the tie and dye, weave, and batiks of African culture are made from cotton (Le Blanc & Van Lowe, 2000). Some of the garments in the East Asia are made of weaving like the sarong.

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Much of the Asian clothing often looks like uniforms while in African dressing the clothing is diverse and range in color design and style. “Reacting to wearing uniforms, young Japanese buy “cute” things and fashion conscious youth use ‘cuteness’ as a dress and adornment strategy to counter the norms of uniformity” (Hansen, 2004). African culture of dressing does not come in uniforms and emphasis is laid on dressing for the occasions.

Both cultures have distinct dressing for different occasion which can be said to be common throughout the world, and this is accompanied by covering of the head by women which is more emphasized in the Asian culture. This ensures that the woman remains concealed and dignified according to the culture.


Dressing in today’s world has been revolutionized and people have moved from traditional wear to western fashion. As a result, the traditions have been eroded and traditional wear forgotten. People converge at beauty pageants to showcase the latest designs and styles of dressing that have been modified to suit different needs. Those who are strong in their traditions have continued to keep and uphold its virtues and values. Culture and dressing has been complicated in the recent past as cultures, traditions have merged, and the only concept that exists is the national dresses. Past traditions and cultures in terms of dressing also proved to be gender biased since they were strict on women but now women have resisted them and transformed, but one thing is for sure traditional African and Asian cultures were rich and valued.


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