A Flexible Sense of Modesty

An interesting thing about travel and living in another culture, it makes us reflect on values, customs, and rules that we ordinarily take for granted. For Alex and I, living in Ukraine makes America seem like a strict, rule-based culture. While in Texas, we didn’t think much of it, but here the outlook on driving, construction, paperwork, and more (which seems to our American perspective to be haphazard) makes the US appear positively Puritan by comparison!

This weekend, the differences in cultural norms of dress were thrown into stark relief when we traveled to Dubai. Dubai is incredibly diverse both ethnically and culturally–about 80% of the fulltime residents are expats. However, since it is still primarily an Islamic area, there are strict dress codes in most areas: even at the touristy malls, the dress code requires covering your shoulders and your knees. It was wild to go in a single plane trip from seeing Ukrainian girls in their springtime attire of tank tops, miniskirts so “mini” they’re nearly belts, and six-inch heels, to seeing more than half of the Dubai women in hijab (headscarves), many in full-length black robes, and quite a few in face-covering burkas. In another interesting twist, even women in burkas were often wearing high-end designer shoes! I think it’s great that a love of gorgeous footwear is global.

So my own sense of appropriate dress is becoming more flexible. I might wear a v-neck shirt with a tank top underneath to the office in the US, but feel comfortable wearing the same shirt without an undershirt in Ukraine. While in Dubai, I wore jeans and a below-the-knee skirt instead of shorts, despite the heat (109 F!). Although I make a conscious effort to emulate the dress of those around me, I feel less self-conscious about my appearance in general, because I’m blending in. (Well, as much as a short pale red-head can ever blend in!) Really, I feel confident about how I present myself because I’m making an effort to respect whatever culture I’m in at the moment.

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2 thoughts on “A Flexible Sense of Modesty

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      I agree. It’s neat to be able to see individuals going about their everyday life, and realize that in other cultures, dressing a particular way doesn’t necessarily indicate that you are repressed, immodest, etc.–it’s just the way things are. It helps me break stereotypes in my own mind, as well as feel more comfortable wearing whatever I choose.

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