I must admit that fashion doesn’t immediately come to my mind when I think about ways to teach my children cultural appreciation. I’ve never been a very fashionable person and for me, clothes are for practical things like comfort, warmth and protection. That is until I had my first child. This girl came out kicking and screaming and I thought she’d be a tree-climbing tomboy. She turned out to be a tree-climbing, fast-running princess.
She is strong, loud and fearless and she just so happens to love pink frocks and pretty things in her hair.
One day we were at our favourite Nepalese restaurant when she noticed that the owner was wearing a beautiful, colourful tunic. Being the chatty, friendly girl that she is, she started a conversation about the dress. And soon we all started talking about the way people dress around the world and especially about traditional fashion. After we came back home with our absolutely delicious meal, I showed her tradition fashions from all over the world.
She loved the Indian saris (and she now wants to travel to India so she can see women in saris) and the colourful, Chinese dresses. And then she remembered that she got two Bavarian Dirndls from our neighbour and now she enjoys wearing them sometimes.
And then I told her the story of how I once wore a Dirndl, too. Yes, I am on the left-hand side, while she is on the right.
I now have big plans to get her traditional dresses from Poland, Germany and the Netherlands. Unfortunately they are very expensive and buying them for a child is rather not necessary but a parent can dream!
Here’s what you can do if you happen to have a multilingual, multicultural Princess who loves pretty dresses!
1. Check out dresses online
Talk about what they look like, and how they differ from the clothes your child sees every day. Are they everyday clothes or just for special occasions? Do the fashions differ regionally? How? What other clothes are worn in different regions in one country? What elements does your child like the most?
2. Add multicultural elements to your child’s wardrobe
I know they can be very expensive but it can be just something small, like a vest or a scarf. We have friends who lived in China and India for a while and they were kind enough to buy nice dresses for the kids! We also got German dresses for the kids from our neighbour and they look so cute in them!
3. Play games
If you’re crafty and creative, maybe you can think of simple games, like cutting out pictures of people dressed in traditional clothing and pinning them on your map. We actually have a game called “Boso czy w ostrogach” in Polish (translated into barefoot or in spurs). You have pictures of people cut into strips (for example head, chest, legs and feet) and you need to put together a full picture. I am sure you can come up with many more.
4. Use talking about fashion for talking about culture in general
For example, if your child- like mine- loves the colourful saris, talk to them about India and other countries saris are worn. Cook some dishes, read books about that country and watch movies. You don’t have to make it into a whole cultural appreciation 101 class, keep it fun and engaging. Why do the Dutch love orange is another great question.
5. Talk about how clothes are made
I think this is a good time to talk about how clothes are made. Which materials are used? What feels good? What is comfortable? Where do the clothes we’re wearing come from? How are they made? What are the different methods of making clothes? How people used to dress and what clothes are they wearing now? It is important for children to know that some clothes were not made in an ethically sound way and how to help them make better decisions regarding buying clothes.
6. Talk about cultural expectations about clothing
Every culture has a dress code of how people are supposed to dress. Why do some women wear a headscarf? What is allowed and what isn’t? Why can we wear certain clothes in certain places why others require you to wear special dresses? Why do some people wear uniforms and what does it mean? Talk about work clothes, every day clothes and nice clothes. I think it is important for a child to be able to express herself in many ways (including clothes) but cultural expectations and norms are also important. Find a good balance!
It is amazing that such a “normal” thing like clothing can be used to have deep conversations about cultural appreciation, the production of clothes, ethical shopping and cultural norms! As I usually say, any topic can be used for encouraging multiculturalism!