For about six or seven years, the salwar kameez was my most common “office” garment.
I still love them. They’re pretty, modest1, as comfortable as pajamas (oh wait, pyjami suit… <grin>), easy to make, easy to care for if you choose the right fabrics, and always look neat and pulled together.
During those six or seven years, I was working as an administrative assistant. When they were commented on, it was usually positive2, other than once during October of 2001 when a female employee who grew up in India asked me if I wasn’t afraid to wear salwar suits.
I started working for myself coming on to a year ago. I only work away from my writin’ chair four or five days a month these days. I really can work in my underwear most days. But obviously when I’m teaching classes, I need to dress a little more nicely.
I’ve noticed a pattern. On the days when I wear a salwar suit to teach in, at least one member of the class (more often than not, it’s a male), gets really sharp and challenging in a way that doesn’t happen when I’m wearing more Western clothing. Do I think there’s a subconscious idea foreigner=ignorant going on there? Yeah. Maybe even a(n) (un)healthy dose of resentment of India vis a vis employment in computer fields. Probably there’s even a fair whack of the submissive stereotype associated with the garment, so they wanna play the dominance game3.
On the one hand there’s this idea “Challenge ignorance! Wear what you want and let ’em deal!”
Not sayin’ it’s not a valid idea. It is. But I also think it’s not a good idea to get in an ass-kicking contest with a porcupine. While I was reared that America’s strength is in its hybrid vigor, that is not a popular idea across the board these days. I’m not in that class to teach the virtues of multiculturalism. I’m in the class to teach ’em how to use MS Office applications! I get about three minutes to convince ’em that they should listen to me as a teacher. Then, either I have to deal with someone who has decided to play “Stump the Teacher” or they just waste their time playing Solitaire all day. I don’t want to take the time to have a fight with anyone’s subconsciousness under the circumstances.
I want them to accept me subconsciously as a professional, then I can be as much of a galloping eccentric as I want, and it’s just an entertaining way to teach the class.
1I know, I know, a preference for dressing modestly seems strange in a poly woman.
2and tended to amuse the Desi portion of the local population mightily, what with my light hair and blue eyes.
3My tactic there is to ask questions at intervals that I’m pretty sure that they can answer but most of the class can’t, then celebrate their genius. Three repetitions is usually enough to shut ’em up.