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Feature: Of Saris and Stories — Curated Global Fashion Tales


Of Saris and Stories

Of Saris and Stories




Of Saris and Stories


By: Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé

Ottawa, Canada



*We are lucky to receive a series of stories as told by one chic global traveller. Stay tuned for her adventures in far-off lands where she takes us on a journey of  discovery of new cultures and of self  as seen through the fabrics of the world. 



Walk in her shoes.  And you’ll understand.



But for much of the world’s women, shoes are a luxury.



No, shoes do not make the woman.



But there is something democratic about a dress, a necklace, a shawl, modest as they might be – these belong to all women.  And all have a story to tell.



A traveller, I am a curator of the stories of women, as told through their dresses.  But curiously, many of these dresses and pieces of jewellery were sold to me by men. To me, these dresses are not costumes or ethnic curiosities.  They are the colours, the textures and fragrances of Old Delhi’s rain-soaked streets, Mexico’s religious murals, Paris’ shimmering lights.  They are the embodiment of the lives of former child soldiers in northern Uganda, the spirits that protect Chile’s Mapuche women, the adornments of Senegal’s fashionistas.



My first international dress was a birthday gift from a Pakistani friend, a dupatta – a veil worn as a hijab or in Purdah, or across the neck to cover the chest – and a salwar kameez – a long sleeved, high-collared shirt – of light grey polyester, beaded in silver and opal.  A month later, I would be travelling to India, and this salwar kameez was intended as a start-up for a wardrobe that would be appropriate to both Indian culture and the monsoon’s sweltering heat and humidity. Yes – polyester, a cool fabric: “Cotton is cooler,” said a vendor at a local Ottawa India emporium, “but Indians wear polyester because it just falls better off the body in this heat.”



But my dupatta and salwar kameez weren’t my first encounters with international fashion.  As a young woman on the verge of world travel, I listened intently as a friend recounted the tale of travelling to Afghanistan, a little over a year after the fall of the Taliban.  She had asked Sitara, her local fixer, to help her find a burka.  “Why?” had asked Sitara, aghast.  “One day, I’ll return to Afghanistan, and I hope never to see the burka again,” my friend replied.  Sitara, emboldened by the idea of a future without a forced burka, climbed down from their armoured car in front of a women’s clothing shop, threw back her hijab in defiance, revealing long locks of hair.




Of Saris and Stories

Of Saris and Stories



Sitara’s rejection of her hijab in that moment fascinated me.  Some experts maintained that Afghan women had been reluctant to give up the burka after the fall of the Taliban, but poverty and violence had both been informal factors encouraging women to keep themselves veiled.  But I wanted to see the world as Satira had seen it while living under the thumb of the Taliban.  Thoren dug out the burka, and I pulled it over my head.  I couldn’t see very well, the world shadowed by a white criss-cross pattern, and I was distracted by the uncomfortable pressure it exerted against my temples.  But I also felt cocooned, anonymous, protected.  As I imagined an Afghan woman might need to feel to survive yet another war.




The world becomes a different place when it is experienced through the lattice of a burka; a precariously tied sari; in the long, tight skirt of an Acholi woman; in the cool, cotton lightness of a Senegalese boubou or Mexican huipil; the careless chic of a Parisian foulard.




Over the next few years, I would remember my world travels through a parade of clothes and jewellery.  Each thread, each bead, each elaborate carving holding memories.




Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé is an aspiring writer, budding world traveler, and explorer of the ateliers of fashion artisans around the world. She tweets @Isabelle_BT and blogs at isabellebourgeault-tasse.tumblr.com.



Photography by Fotolia.com 

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