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Costume in the Middle East

  • Yedida K. Stillman (a1) and Nancy Micklewright (a2)

Extract

Clothing constitutes a cultural statement. It is a manifestation of culture, no less than art, architecture, literature, and music. Like all cultural phenomena, it communicates a great deal of information both on the physical and symbolic level about the society in which it is found. Fashions, or modes of dress, reflect not only the æsthetics of a particular society (what might be called the “adornment factor”), but also its social mores and values (the “modesty/immodesty factor,” or “reveal/conceal factor”). Furthermore, dress is often a clear economic indicator. The fabric, quality of cut, and ornamentation of a garment are commonly badges of socioeconomic status. More subtly and often symbolically, clothing reflects religious and political norms. In Islamic society, clothing has historically been intimately connected with notions of purity and impurity (tahāra and najas), ritual behavior (sunna), and the differentiation of the believer from the unbeliever (ghiyār), as well as the separation of the genders (hijāb). Thus, within Islamic society clothing constitutes a cultural complex, or what Roland Barthes has dubbed a “vestimentary system.” (Barthes 1957).

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  • Yedida K. Stillman (a1) and Nancy Micklewright (a2)

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