Colourful clothing/ Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

The importance of celebrating culture through clothing

Having lived in India for most of my life, I admit I didn’t think too deeply about clothing as a medium to embrace my culture until I came to the UK.  

 Looking back, the clothing I saw daily was an embodiment of my culture: whether it was my school uniform, which was a modernised version of a shalwar kameez, my mother wearing a sari, or strangers wearing traditional clothing on the street. Of course, India is too big and diverse for me to sum up the experiences of 1.5 billion people as a projection of my own. Even the clothing varies from one state to another, making it an interesting lens to view society through. 

 After coming to Warwick, I don’t wear a quintessential Indian outfit every day. But the bright colours, bold patterns, and funky accessories have seeped into my style. Traditional clothing has become a source of comfort for me, especially when celebrating festivals like Diwali away from home for the first time. The University of Warwick is a diverse community, with students from 147 countries, and everybody has a unique way of celebrating culture through fashion. I interviewed students to understand how fashion allows them to weave together a rich tapestry of their traditions, heritage, beliefs, and values.  

 “I was born in an immigrant family in Russia. I try to incorporate Armenian ornaments into everyday dressing. I enjoy representing my culture, especially at Warwick. Like other Middle Eastern countries, we don’t wear a lot of bright makeup because it doesn’t suit our features. Our clothing is modest because of traditional beliefs. Dark red is an extremely prominent colour in our culture.” – Ella Aleksanyan, President of the Warwick Armenian Society 

 “I enjoy wearing ethnic clothing, I think it accentuates my features. The whole process of choosing the outfit, dressing up and accessorising is gratifying for me. I wore Indian clothing during events organised by the Warwick Indian Society, such as Nagada and Diwali, which was quite fun.” – Amisha Agarwal, first year Economics student  

 “I have realised I am embracing my culture a lot more at university. It is a more inclusive environment where I feel more comfortable wearing traditional Sri Lankan clothing than before university.”- Aarathy Thusyanthan, second year Economics student 

 “I love wearing half-saris, even though draping the sari is such a hassle and time-consuming. Wearing a sari marks a special occasion and makes the ordinary extraordinary. The Indian sari also represents the power of Indian goddesses. My parents always compliment me when I wear a sari: when they see me in a sari, they acknowledge me as an adult rather than a kid.  

 In my opinion, jewellery is essential with ethnic clothing. A bindi is unique to my culture. There’s a scientific reason behind wearing bindis too. I feel like it frames my face wonderfully. I also braid my hair as a matter of habit because unkempt hair is inauspicious in Hindu culture.”  – Anonymous  

 “We think that we (Sri Lankans) dress quite colourfully. I like the fusion of traditional Sri Lankan style sarongs (a skirt-like garment) with crop tops. Sri Lankan clothing is quite heavy, so we mostly wear it for cultural events. The draping of the sari, especially the osari (which has a lot of pleats), is quite complicated.” – Anugi Silva and Nadiya Jasinghe, Warwick Sri Lankan Society  

 “I don’t wear traditional Burmese clothing daily. However, my nightwear is always Burmese because the fabric of the traditional clothing is quite soft, airy, and comfortable.” – Htet Myat Noe Oo, Warwick Myanmar Society  

 “The áo dài is a staple of Vietnamese clothing. The more traditional áo dài has longer sleeves, while modern versions have shorter sleeves. There’s an interesting distinction between the more conservative style of North Vietnam and the more open-minded style of South Vietnam, due to the different historical rule and colonial legacy. I wear traditional Vietnamese clothing on Lunar New Year. My daily clothes are mostly from Vietnam. British clothing is minimalist, so I prefer Vietnamese floral prints.”  – Kaitlyn, President, Warwick Vietnamese Society  

 “The clothing style of Hong Kong is very international but more conservative than Britain. I don’t wear traditional clothing often other than during the Lunar New Year. There is an influence of Chinese style with the cheongsam. The fisherman’s clothing is more of a stereotype.” – Kelli Wu, Warwick Cantonese Society 

 “I personally wear a lot of casual modern clothing because it is more comfortable to wear. Traditional clothing is more complicated to wear, so I don’t wear it daily.” – Christina, Warwick Chinese Society 

 “I occasionally wear lederhosen, which are traditional Austrian leather trousers.”- August Küenburg, Warwick German Speaking Society  

 “I quite like Indian fusion clothing, such as Indian prints on Western clothing.” – Disha Lilani, Economics  

 “I wear a lot more ethnic clothing back home. Women generally wear a jellabiya for events, but an abaya on a daily basis. Men often wear a kandura or thobe. They often wear an extra article of clothing on their head while going out – the colour of this depends on the season.” – Alia Wold Ghamail, President of the Warwick Dubai Society  

 “Dance is a medium to learn more about different clothing styles. The classical dance Take Kathak has different costumes, from an Anarkali to a ghagra. Dance provides an opportunity to wear traditional clothing outside of day-to-day Western wear. For example, we wear patiala salwars for Bharatnatyam, which offers a different sort of freedom of movement. Once you start wearing traditional clothing, you realise how comfortable it can be. A kurti is comfortable, especially in the summer.” – Payal and Dyuti Milir, Warwick Indian Classical Dance Society  

 “Through learning different languages, you can embrace the culture of different places and learn more about their clothing styles. In our language classes, we often develop an appreciation for the culture of different places because we have a diverse set of instructors. We also have movie screenings which provide a different perspective on fashion and culture.” – Saida Alimdjanova, Warwick Language Society 

 “I am really into fashion and enjoy watching a lot of fashion vloggers. Growing up, I experimented with a lot of African clothing: colourful textiles, head wraps, and dresses are the staple on the continent. I feel like Jamaican clothing is very contemporary, so I find more inspiration from African clothing. It is more about the fabric than the outfit itself. For example, I particularly like the Kente cloth (Ghanaian handwoven clothing). My dad wears boubou and my mom wears a lot of kaftans. As I have grown older, I prefer modest fashion because it is more chic.” – Inzinga Samms-Alcott, second year International Business with Spanish student 

 “I like incorporating ethnic jewellery, such as big earrings (jhumkas), with Western clothing. Being from Bangladesh and living in the UK, the juxtaposition of ethnic and Western seems like the best of both worlds.” – Modhurima Islam, first year Economics student 

 “I haven’t had opportunity to wear a lot of ethnic clothing since coming to university. I have seen people wear ethnic clothing for Friday prayers and festivals like Diwali. In the future, I would like to wear more ethnic clothing.” – Tauseef Parkar, first year Philosophy, Politics and Economics student 


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