In my travels, I have witnessed fashion as an expression of culture + self. From pre-departure expectations to surprise upon arrival, fashion choices and the cultures that influence them have shaped my geographic perceptions.
My first time traveling to Europe was a flight to Estonia for a semester studying abroad. I packed my suitcase with simple, neutral-colored clothes, thinking that was what all Europeans wore. However, arriving at my university town, I was greeted with pink parkas and winter accessories scaling the color spectrum. Turns out, with dark and cold winters, Estonians prefer to dress happily and bright.
I’m now living in Cambodia, where thousands of tourists come clad in their favorite elephant-print pants. Meanwhile, the majority of local Cambodians, according to one boutique owner, “aren’t rich enough to have style.”
These experiences pique my curiosity about fashion around the world. How are fashion and beauty seen across cultures? I’ve enlisted some powerful women (and my dear friends) from around the globe to share their perspectives and insights on fashion, beauty, and the cultures breathing life into them.
a degree candidate for masters in social work, on how she feels about fashion.
"I have mixed feelings about fashion. On one hand, it is normal for any individuals to pursue popular style of clothing, hair, or cosmetics. But I feel that my generation has focused too much attention or energy on fashion on the superficial level, which is reinforced and justified by the consumer culture. The ramifications are the waste of natural and material resources, and increasing peer pressure to fit in with the majority. On the other hand, fashion is an interesting mirror of a society or a generation, and it allows us to reflect on why certain styles are more popular than the others based on the historical and cultural context."
a Peace Corps volunteer, talks about her personal style.
"Oh man, this can range from one extreme to another. I feel mad comfortable in men’s clothes. I think they flatter my body shape, and they make me feel SO confident. Sometimes it’s hard for people to understand my stylistics choice. Like my mom. She thinks that me wanting to shop in the men’s section means that I want to be a man. I think it’s just a cultural revolution that says, “hey, there’s nothing that says girls have to wear this or boys have to dress like this, wear what you feel!” When I get back to the states, I’m gonna invest in a wardrobe of sexy vintage professor suits."
a student at University of Minnesota, on what beauty looks like in the U.S.
"Beauty is becoming very diverse in America. There is now more than one voice leading the fashion conversation. I surround myself with beautiful things and beautiful people. Life is better when you’re surrounded by things that make you happy.
a musician, explains what beauty means to her.
"For me, beauty means you take care of your look to feel beautiful for yourself. I am not a big fashionista myself, but I like to dress like my mood. When I am happy, I wear more brighter colors and when I am not having a very good day, I wear darker colors."
an equestrian trainer, explains how she sees beauty in daily life and defines her personal style.
"I see beauty in nature and everything surrounding me, from the trees and paddocks to the sparkles on the ocean. I also see beauty in the changing of the seasons and in things others may not perceive as beautiful, like a big truck or a scar."
"My style depends on where I am, in the city and at school I try to go for classy casual comfortable. When I’m at home, comfort and conventionally are priority because I’m working with animals and that means I’ll get dirty. My one big rule is no white."
a law student, examines what beauty looks like in Brazil and her feelings about fashion.
"Here in Brazil, we think that for a girl to be pretty, she should have big boobs and booty, but I like to believe this is changing because we have lots of types of beauty here and every girl is pretty in her own way."
"As for fashion, I think this is a way to express yourself, so it’s the first impression you leave in the world. People could see what you’re wearing or the way you’re wearing your hair before you even have the chance to say anything, so it can be important."
Nana Adina Ofori Atta, a fashion designer, describes fashion in Ghana.
"I don’t think fashion is really appreciated or taken seriously in Ghana. But, I love fashion. I feel it is a lifestyle and also a way to express oneself anyway they want. Fashion is art, and I see beauty in the people and the development of the country."
Cynthia Nichols, a Ph.D. in mass communications, tells how she feels about fashion.
"I adore fashion. I think it’s a way for people to say who they are without actually stating it. It’s art that we can live and express. The beauty of fashion is that no matter the elements, we can tell our own story and present ourselves however we want.
Culture forms and informs us. Often, in terms of fashion, we are asked, “Who are you wearing?” Sometimes, the more important force shaping our style is not who you wear, but where you wear."