Our wardrobes are proud exhibitions of identity and heritage
Cultural fashion is becoming increasingly important, especially in a city like Auckland, where cultural diversity has come to define us. Culturally diverse fashion in New Zealand speaks to a deeper need for cultural preservation amongst immigrant communities that struggle to balance their dual identities.
As a Middle Eastern immigrant, I have long searched for the ideal balance between my Eastern roots and the Western culture I live in. Up until recently, I did not give fashion the importance it deserved when it came to expressing my Middle Eastern background. Traditional cultural clothing, like the woman’s abaya, was a thing of the past for my family. Aside from a lack of availability, we also had nowhere to wear these exquisite pieces. Even back home, they were worn on special occasions that were often cultural or religious celebrations.
To me, there really wasn’t any other form of cultural fashion. It was all or nothing. Little did I know that for years I had unconsciously incorporated my culture into my look. It turns out there are different ways to express cultural belonging through fashion. These representations may not be full, traditional outfits. They were usually included in small doses—pieces of culture coming together to accurately express the mosaic of identities that I own. These were simple things, starting with my tendency to be what many people will call ‘a little extra’. My outfits sometimes have a level of extravagance that comes off as a little bold, or ‘too much’. My look was always complete with a piece of intentionally peculiar jewellery, and my eyes lined with black, the same way most of the women in my family used to do. I’ve come to see that in many ways, this is an expression of a culture that is similarly ‘a little extra’. I mean this in the best of ways of course. It was my way of representing an upbringing with a lot of colour; a community of people, that no matter where you put them on the planet, and no matter the nightmares they experience, have an unstoppable desire to dress up, get together, and loudly celebrate just about anything.
In addition to this, I always found myself getting a little excited, and maybe a little surprised, when I saw Middle Eastern cultural or religious symbols, and patterns in Western fashion. In jewellery shops I, often without realising it, had always tried to spot a piece with the evil eye, or Fatima’s hand, or maybe even the crescent moon, a common symbol of Islam. In many ways I did this to quench a thirst for a cultural belonging that I felt was slipping away. I also wanted to see if this foreign land I had moved to knew a little something of where I had come from, or if I would forever have to explain and describe even the most common aspect of my culture. Soon enough, I started collecting the symbols I had unknowingly hunted for. A ring with a prayer written around it, a bracelet with Fatima’s hand made of crystal, a necklace with a bold, blue evil eye… all of these were pieces I found myself wearing almost on a daily basis, as if the longer I spent away from my roots, the more I needed to be reminded of where I came from.
Although I have grown awfully accustomed and fond of the Kiwi culture, and consider myself a part of it, I’ve come to see that these reminders are necessary. Any member of our diverse community, which carries more than one cultural identity, needs a connection to their background, and fashion can play a bigger role than we think. It’s about more than clothes and jewellery. It’s a means of expressing chapters of our story that may otherwise go unnoticed… a way of putting together the pieces that make us form an artwork of an identity.