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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Cultural Inaccuracies

I have frequently admitted to knowingly using the wrong fabrics for a given time and place because I can't afford the right ones. And I will acknowledge that the quality of my research varies based on a lot of factors, including how much the client cares. Sometimes my inaccuracies are more conscious. When I copied a Madeleine Vionnet gown, I added cap sleeves to the design because it was for my own personal use, and I don't wear sleeveless things. I stand by those choices, no matter what anyone thinks, but I am more conflicted about a recent design.

As you may know, I was recently in a production of "Savior of the World." I made some of the costumes, but for most of them, I was following the instructions of the costume designer for the show (who did an impressive job with a tiny budget). However, I did get to design my own costume for the "Many Saints Shall Appear" scene.

In that scene, I represented one of the dead who rose from the grave shortly after the Savior's resurrection. We had no lines, and we didn't really dance. We simply pantomimed the joy of coming back to life. We represented different cultures that existed before and during the time of Christ, and I chose ancient India. (Greece and Egypt were also clearly represented. The other costumes were less specific.) I admit to assuming that the clothing was similar to current traditional Indian clothing. I know they have worn saris since before the time of Christ, but I admit to not knowing exactly when they began to wear salwar kameez, which is what I chose to wear.

As usual for me, I used the fabrics and trim available to me (in this case, from the costume designer, not my own stash), so it's not entirely accurate, but I've done worse. "Salwar" technically refers to a specific type of very loose pants that are cut on the bias, but "salwar kameez" is often used more generally to refer to the type of Indian outfit with a dress over pants. I chose to make the narrower type of pants known, I believe, as "churidar." I made the kameez or dress with an almost circular skirt portion because I wanted it to twirl well. (Don't judge. Skirts that twirl well are extremely satisfying to me.) I made a veil out of the same fabric as the kameez.

The design choice that causes me some mental conflict was the fact that it is white. That choice was not mine, but I do agree with it. Something about our costumes needed to set us apart as resurrected beings, and the audience was, after all, western. But in Indian culture, white is the color of death. So that makes me less likely to wear the salwar kameez very freely because it could be perceived as mourning clothes. (I also struggle with what is and is not cultural appropriation, so although I love clothing from a lot of other cultures, I don't often wear them without a specific reason.)

I used a crepe fabric for the churidar because it would drape nicely on my legs and not be too terribly hot. The kameez was made of a layer of heavy cotton twill (for opacity) and a layer of sheer crinkly fabric over the top. The sleeves were sheer. The trim I used had a silver floral design down the center and borders of diagonal silver lines, so I used just the center to trim the neckline, the whole trim at waist and skirt hem, and the narrow border at the hems of the churidar and the veil. I liked the slight variation that gave me. It also allowed the amount of trim I had to stretch further.

I was in a big hurry making this, and I didn't take enough time to get this trim to lay perfectly flat.

I was very pleased with how the pattern matched up at the ends of the trim that went around my waist.

I was also able to line it up very well around both ankles.

I was not so lucky with the trim at the edge of the skirt.


  1. You can always dye it or paint or block print it if it will get you more wear now that the reason you made it in white is over.

    1. That's a good idea. The sheer layer isn't likely to take dye well, and the pants won't either, but the base layer of the dress will take it nicely, and it should look nice with white and whatever color I choose.

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