By Tendai Makaripe and Lorraine Mashandure
John Charles Galliano a Gibraltar-born British fashion designer once said, “Dressing up. People don’t just do it anymore. We have to change that.”
Apparel for both men and women has changed dramatically during the last fifty years. Much of what is worn today is meant to expose rather than conceal the human body.
Indecency in dress has become one of the rampant crimes committed against the African culture.
A Nigerian lecturer once referred to indecent dressing as “The attitude of someone, male or female that dresses to show off parts of the body such as the breasts, buttocks or even the underwear particularly those of the ladies that need to be covered.
Africans have fallen victim to the Westernised kind of dressing, which reveals rather than cover the essentials.
The African culture emphasizes modesty in dressing but it is now viewed as a thing of the past and a plethora of excuses have been tabled to defend indecency in dressing.
Some claim that there are no set rules or guidelines that govern the way one should dress in Africa so people should not judge others based on how they dress.
However Beulah Farawu, a fashion designer in Harare has a different view.
“Although, there are no universally acceptable way or ways of dressing, dresses are meant to serve some definable purposes, country or region notwithstanding. They are part of a peoples’ culture and they define their tribal or ethnic identity.
“Apart from dresses being a means for cultural identity, they are for ornamental or aesthetic purposes, for protection of the body against harsh weather conditions as well as for covering the intimate parts of the body,” she said.
In today’s world people seem to be ignorant of the primary purpose of dressing.
According to Miss Farawu any dress won must cover intimate parts of the body, must not expose the breast, stomach, navel and bare chest but on the contrary this is what our eyes are made to see on a daily basis.
Pastor David Zulu who is affiliated to the Christian Marching Church (CMC) in Marondera, seems to agree with Farawu that no matter where one comes from there is an expected and appreciated way of dressing and deviating from it will result in individuals being labeled. “Every culture has its dress code that may vary according to cultures. Despite this variation, one thing is certain and that is every culture has an acceptable dress code.
So every dress code that deviates from the one acceptable to the community especially as it affects the set moral standard or judgment of the community is termed indecent,” he said. Pope Pius once spoke against indecency in dressing in a paper he presented on the still valid principles of modesty in dress presented on November 8, 1957.
“Clothing fulfils three necessary requirements: hygiene, decency and adornment. These are so deeply rooted in nature that they cannot be disregarded or contradicted without provoking hostility and prejudice.”
Hygiene pertains mostly to “the climate, its variations, and other external factors” (e.g. discomfort, illness).
Decency involves the “proper consideration for the sensitivity of others to objects that are unsightly, or, above all, as a defense of moral honesty and a shield against disordered sensuality.”
Adornment is legitimate and “responds to the innate need, more greatly felt by woman, to enhance the beauty and dignity of the person with the same means that are suitable to satisfy the other two purposes.”
Today the mind is boggled by the way Africans have fled from the proper way of dressing that addresses the issues highlighted by the Pope in his paper.
Indecent appearance has come to characterize the dress pattern of many African youths. The way youths in the region are dressing particularly, the female ones, leaves little to imagination. What some girls call skirts are just “only an inch” longer than their pants.
When they put on such dresses, they struggle to sit down, find difficulty in climbing machines, cross gutters as well as pick anything from the ground.
Apart from the skimpy and tight fitting nature of these dresses, they are again transparent; revealing certain parts of the bodies that under normal dressing patterns ought to be hidden away from the glare of people.
A stroll around the major cities in Africa can show how the proper way of dressing has long evaded Africans.
Some of the clothes the ladies are wearing have become more revealing than anything.
Stakeholders in the cultural sector have identified indecent exposure of the body, especially amongst the ladies as one of the causes of the incessant cases of rape and sexual harassments across the country.
In the case of boys, their pattern of dress is different.
It makes some of the handsome young men out there to look so dirty and unattractive with unkempt hairs and dirty jeans having pockets of holes deliberately created around the knees and the lower part of the trousers allowed to flow on the ground because they go through their heals into their legs as socks.
The waist of their trousers are lowered and fastened tightly at the middle of the two bottom lobes to reveal their boxers (pants).
African youths need to be liberated from the inferiority complex they have towards their motherland and what it believes in. Youths are walking semi naked in the streets because they see their American role models doing that. Farawu highlighted that what one wears can be used as a true reflection of the inner person. One can be adjudged to be decent or indecent basing on the clothes he or she wears.
“The terms-decency and indecency-have so much to do with the morality of the individual person and as judged by others.
A dress is therefore, said to be indecent when it has provocative or stimulating influence on almost all those that happen to view it on the user,” she said.
The dress patterns of today are morally offensive and reveal the high rate of moral decadence in the society of our time. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has helped to revolutionize the community tremendously.
It has via the use of Internet, Communication satellites, mobile phones etc, helped to bring people together distance, culture or language notwithstanding.
Through the activities of media agents, values (faulty or correct), fashions (modern, modest and immodest) are traded across cultures and nations.
A communications expert in Harare who requested anonymity said ICT is good and beneficial to humanity but the associative evils need to be checked and resisted because the mass media is one strong agent of socialization.
“In as much as ICT is helpful, consequential to human, and societal developments, the rate of abuse and the un-regulatory ways they are used call for great concern.
Most of the youths and children that are exposed to some of their contents that most times are negative so quickly fall vulnerable,” he said.
Radio houses, televisions, newspapers and magazines should confront rather than support indecent dressing.
The display of some indecently dressed young girls for adverts and attraction should be discouraged.
Radios and television jingles that promote moral values and the sanctity of sex should always be aired and relayed. Programs that sample opinions of Africans on indecent dressing should be regularly put in place in addition to debates on the issue by both the youths and the elderly in institutions of learning as means of effective sensitization.