The clothes don’t make the person – do they?

While walking to my car after work this afternoon, I saw a group of women standing at the corner of one of the streets downtown, waiting for the light to change:

(Sorry this is such a crummy picture… I am so *not* a photographer. {And a special apology to my photographer friends; I suspect this image might literally pain you…})

Initially it was the apparel of these five ladies that caught my immediate attention; I adored the vibrancy of their garments, the boldness and richness of the colors.  For a very long time my wardrobe consisted of black, navy, and dark brown suits.  Then I slowly branched out to black and navy dresses; that evolved into black skirts with a pastel-colored camisole covered with a black or brown sweater; and only recently (i.e., the past 2-3 years) have I gone all out with color.  I now wear fun clothes that really pop (bright pinks, and coral blues, and deep purples, and printed patterns, and on and on) – and I love it.  And I love seeing other women wearing bold, rich colors, too.

After admiring the various dresses and head scarves for a few moments, another facet of this group began to enter my awareness.  This second level of perception was more subtle, but also more meaningful to me: these women were having a lot of fun together.  They authentically appreciated each other’s presence and company, and were genuinely having a very good time with one another.

(Again, sorry for the photo quality; but can you see the ladies smiling and laughing?)

I sometimes feel sorry for women that I see wearing head-to-toe coverings (particularly on very sunny, warm summer days); I can’t imagine what it might be like to be told I have to hide my body beneath lengths and lengths of fabric.  And I then wonder about how the women are treated in other facets of their lives, too: do they receive any respect from their fathers/brothers/husbands/community? Are they allowed to make any choices for themselves? What might it feel like to live this way?  Having been born and raised a very independent Yankee girl who was allowed to speak her mind, question society, and pursue any activity that seemed interesting, I can’t imagine what not being able to do these things might be like.  And so, when I see people whom I suspect might not be receiving the freedoms that I usually don’t even think about, I begin to wonder… and I often feel sad for those individuals.

But today, I got to see that actually, these women are enjoying themselves.  They are delighting in the presence of fellow women (something I think many American women struggle with), and they re having fun.  They are experiencing joy.  They really are living life.

So what began for me as an admiration of cloth quickly developed into an appreciation of individual and collective character.  Talk about a power outfit.



About Stef

A "serious" gal who is trying to remember to lighten up and smile.
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14 Responses to The clothes don’t make the person – do they?

  1. Angie~Lah says:

    That is awesome! Who cares about the photo quality when you were able to capture such a powerful moment. Honestly. Normally when I see pictures of women in head-to-toe dress, they’re wearing a frown to go along with what we Western women initially perceive as oppressive apparel.


  2. Touch2Touch says:

    My gut response here —
    The same as the response in a favorite Zen story to any assertion: Perhaps.
    (But hey, that’s me.)


    • Stef says:

      Well, yes, I suppose everything can live in a middle-state of “maybe yes, maybe no, maybe it just is…”; but for me, the situation read “happy” – at least for this present moment. 🙂


  3. rutheh says:

    Excellent capture. No pain here!
    Way to go.


  4. barb19 says:

    The ladies clothing is very vibrant, which is a joy in itself – colours always make us feel happier! The fact that they were so obviously enjoying each others company so much would have made me look twice too – not a sight we see much of sadly.


  5. wonderful observation!


  6. Joss says:

    so glad you captured this. We have our own perceptions of this type of ‘dress’. I think though that, in N.A. we have so lost the togetherness of women. it’s something I am trying to recreate in my own life – a circle of women. Glorious.


    • Stef says:

      I agree; semi-regularly I see women in the city who are from other countries walking down the street arm-in-arm, or standing in a small group like the women in the photo were supporting one another, or sitting in a cluster having a beverage and speaking with only affirming, loving words and tone… and I don’t see these same exchanges very much with white North American women. Instead, I see more competition between women…. Now, I will say that as women age, this ‘compettition’ appears to diminish, and the more supportive/collaborative tone and tenor begins to emerge – but that’s with women who are in the their 70s and beyond. Do we really have to ‘wait’ to start living that way?


  7. Hanna says:

    Actually, we muslim girls proudly wear our hijab :). Not all muslim women choose to wear it, but I do, and I love it. We are free in a lot of sense, more free than nuns at least (nothing wrong about nuns, but nuns have to wear their veil all day long even though they are around all women, and they aren’t allowed to get married, have children, and grandchildren). I kind of wrote something about beauty here.
    It is sad when I see big mass media like ABC, NBC, (on Youtube of course 🙂 ) talk about women oppression, but they are doing it to justify war in other countries (mostly Arab)–where men, women, and children are killed.
    And Arabs are only around 12% of the whole muslim population. I’m from Indonesia where there are around 150 million muslims :). Did you know that most Arab countries are secular? And there are a big amount of Christian Arabs too? If you haven’t heard of that on tv, than it is okay, it’s not profitable for the big tv stations to news about that. is a good start to hear about Islam, but listen and watch it with an open heart.
    Read also my post about my seven favorite quotes ^_^.
    Peace :).
    Anyway, love your posts, Steff ^_^
    *PS: I hope I won’t get any bad hurtful comments after writing this.


  8. Stef says:

    Hanna, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. It’s really interesting for me to hear different points of view; and I especially value hearing from you as a Muslim woman who wears the hijab. So many people have so many different perspectives and opinions; and I value when people share them honestly, openly, and respectfully (as you did!). 🙂

    No, you won’t get any hurtful comments; I value your courage to publicly post your perspective. Thank you for that! 🙂


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