Arts and Entertainment

Fashion trends evoke political and historical messages

By Julia Sklar
Published: December 2008

In the halls, in the classrooms, in the library, there are South students following the latest fashion trends without knowing what their clothes represent. It’s probably fair to say that nobody ever informed them of the implications of their clothing, so they kept wearing what was “in, but then again, the internet is zooming past us all at warp speed 24/7, so how hard could it be to find out?

Not very hard, I’ll tell you. After all, I, who seldom use the internet for anything outside of Facebook, stumbled across the interesting origins of keffiyeh scarves and low pants all on my own.

Keffiyeh scarves are undeniably the “it scarf right now. Go poke your head into the hall right now, and I guarantee you’ll see someone wearing one. For those of you scratching you heads in confusion right now, a keffiyeh is a large, square-shaped piece of fabric with knotted fringes around the perimeter and a pattern reminiscent of checkers or plaid running throughout the cloth; they usually come in white/black and red/black. Wearers of the scarf tend to fold the cloth into a triangle and tie it bandana-like with the “triangle in front.

This pattern on the cloth is derived from the headdresses that Bedouin tribesmen would wear when passing through the desert in order to shield their face, eyes, and hair from the hot sand.

In the 1930s, however, this traditionally Middle Eastern accessory was no longer used for functionality, but was instead adapted as a sign of Palestinian nationalism and the idea that Israel should not exist. In the 1960s, it was popularized as more than traditional garb by Palestinian National Authority president, Yasser Arafat.

Arafat was rarely seen without one covering his head, and as he had a major influence on the Palestinian people, the trend took off from there.

Eventually the scarves made their way west to America where they have become so ubiquitous that stores like Urban Outfitters and Delia’s picked them up, and bands such as Vampire Weekend mentioned them in their lyrics.

Both stores, along with many others, began to sell them in colors other than simple black, white, and red, relabeling them as “Peace Scarves or “Anti-War Scarves blatantly trying to mask their origins to promote sales.

Nonetheless, there was a huge public outcry as many people discovered their true identity and what they symbolized in the modern world, and both Urban Outfitters and Delia’s pulled their lines.

Another public outcry occurred regarding this seemingly simple accessory when Food Network star Rachael Ray  filmed a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial while sporting one. As with Urban Outfitters and Delia’s, Dunkin’ Donuts pulled the commercial.

By all means keep wearing them because you think they’re pretty, because all your friends are wearing them, or because they sell them at your favorite store, but just be aware of the message you evoke when you wear one.

On a lighter, less controversial note are the origins of wearing one’s pants down below the waist. It is a little surprising to find out that this isn’t just some random fad, but that it actually stems from fairly recent historical events.

During the late 1970s and 1980s, in many cities across the country, but particularly in Boston, there were frequent race riots that unfairly targeted African Americans. There were particular neighborhoods that were hurt by these riots more than others, and the result was that men in particular were incarcerated for unjustified reasons.

As the families would come to visit their fathers, brothers, sons, etc. in jail they had to relinquish their belts to the prison guards for the duration of the visit so that they could not be passed on to the prisoners for use as nooses or weapons, but it was also to humiliate the visitors as well; as a result of not wearing a belt their pants would drop down to below their waists.

In the neighborhoods with particularly high concentrations of jailed members many individuals from the community began to wear their pants low without a belt as a way to show their solidarity and support for the families with temporarily missing members. It was also to serve as a “screw you to the institution that was jailing their loved ones.

Now many high schoolers across the country, including many kids at South, wear their pants like this. It is no longer a symbol of solidarity so much as a popular expression of fashion. As with many things, as generations progress, the younger members no longer have any connection to the original cause of a certain fashion.

Both of these trends, the keffiyeh scarves and low-riding pants, have very interesting origins that are primarily unknown to the audiences they target. Now that you know, maybe you’ll have something to think about before picking out your clothes in the morning.

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