Tuesday 31 January 2012

Colour, clothes and culture

It's not just our personal identities that are reflected in our clothes - our clothes can also give an insight into our background or culture. Wolfendale and Kennett* state that “Fashion is not just how we self-identify, but also how we identify ourselves in our community…”  

Last week reminded me just how closely we associate a country or culture with our clothes and in some cases a colour, in much the same way we do it with food.  After all if I said ‘sari’ you’d almost immediately and quite righty associate it with India, and with colour we often associate the colour Green with Ireland (in the UK at least).

There are alot of writers who’ve done a better job of writing about this in details, so in this blog I’m just going to comment on the two specific events of last week that made me think about this - Chinese New Year and Burns Night. These two events provide perfect evidence about the link between culture and colour (Chinese New Year) and associating countries with clothes (Burns Night).

Chinese New Year:   
Colour associations with China include the colours red, white and gold. At Chinese New Year, it is tradition that new clothes are worn, often in red. As well as clothes, money envelopes, decorations such as lanterns, and food is served on red platters.  You may know (HSBC ad’s anyone?!) that for the Chinese the colour red signifies happiness and good fortune, but did you know that it is also believed that on Chinese New Year a demon comes to earth to eat people. It was then discovered that the demon did not like red, so they hung up red things and wore red on Chinese new year!

Burns night is...         

...Celebrated in Scotland, a country that is associated with the kilt/tartan. Given that kilts are also worn in Ireland and evidence suggests tartan may have originated in China or Austria isn’t it interesting that these items are now so wholly associated with Scotland? In the 1970’s tartan also became associated with another group – punks, who used tartan as a symbol of anti-establishment. And did you know, Canada, America and Australasia have celebrated ‘Tartan Day’?

Lorraine Kelly at the NTA's

Unfortunately it's not usually appropriate or practical to dress in the clothes most associated with my background... Skimpy Carnival wear in the (often) chilly UK - no thanks *wink*!!!

So… what’s your countries associated colour and fashion heritage?

*Quoted in Psychologies magazine, February 2012.

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