Gender bending? Culture bending? …… (part 1 ~ His)

Ben? Gender bending?

What are we talking about here?

The thought of Ben donning a “skirt” a few years ago, would just have made us both laugh out loud. After all, no judgement here, guys wearing skirts has been a pretty marginal slice of the population. In the U.S. and in Europe, that is.

However, after spending about two years in sarong wearing South Asia, it’s amazing how normal it feels now, for Ben to wear one. That is… at home! The minute Ben walks in the door of our loft, after work, off come the jeans or the dress pants, and on comes the sarong. “Ahhhh” he says ” this is WAYYY more comfortable.” Weekends and time at home is synonymous with sarong wearing.

As we head out of our building on a Saturday when there is a music festival happening literally on our street, we both suddenly realize that Ben is still wearing his Sri Lankan brightly colored sarong! Uh oh..  now what?

I was wondering if this day might come. And here it is… unplanned, un thought out, but my boyfriend/husband is wearing what most Americans definitely consider to be a skirt, in public.

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Tropical bright parrot-like colors grace this sarong, one of about a dozen in Ben’s collection from Indonesia, India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

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This guy walked by and gave a variation of a thumbs up.

Lo and behold, it seems that Ben is definitely NOT the only guy wearing a “skirt” on this particular day. Surprise, surprise! A  new normal in America? A trend that is catching on… Or are we only noticing this, because of Ben’s sudden gender bending / culture bending wardrobe?

 

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ON stage, right below our loft, the singer is wearing a lovely floral short dress.

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And then…. the guy in front of me is wearing a pleated skirt in camouflage material. And this is all in the first few minutes of being outside on the street!

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Those teal curtains on the top right of the photo… that’s our loft in the Flat Iron Art Building in Wicker Park. The stage for the weekend’s festivities and loud music, is a stone’s throw away.

Shortly after we leave the music and head to a nearby park, we realize we forgot our water bottle and Ben goes into a 7Eleven store to buy one. In the line to pay, in front of him, is a very toned burly construction guy. When the woman working in the store looks at him to indicate he is next in line, he steps aside and motions to Ben and says, “LADIES FIRST!” And then, they BOTH crack up laughing!

Now that was CLASSIC!!!

But there is definitely precedent…

When we travel and live in other countries, we tend to naturally merge toward local dress, less as a matter of strategy, than as a matter of comfort.  The nature of interactions changes when superficial barriers, such as difference in dress, disappear…

 

                                                                  SRI LANKA

Sarongs are very common in Sri Lanka and worn only by men. A similar garment is worn by women, but is more of a wrap around skirt, called a “redda.” The sarong is the standard garment for most men in rural and some urban communities. Most men of upper social class wear the sarong only as  night garment or only within the confines of their home, or on special occasions.

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If women wear bright and gorgeous dresses in the Tamil region in the north of Sri Lanka, as they do in Hindu India, we discover a role reversal in the Trincomalee region. The “peacock” effect of blasting bright and colorful fabrics falls upon the men. When seeing this bright orange Sarong, Ben immediately says,  “gotta get me one of these!”

 

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Every man in this rural market in the Tisa Lake region, dons a colorful sarong.

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A vendor selling coconuts on the side of the street in his sarong, and a customer wearing pants.

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Oops, we got a flat tire here. Ben in a sarong and the two men who came to help us, as you can see, one in a sarong and one in pants.

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Kumara at the beach house we stayed at in Unuwatuna, wears his sarong in the evenings.

                                                                        INDONESIA

                                                                         Yogyakarta

By the time we discovered Sri Lanka, Ben was already well on the way to making the Sarong, or Lungi, part of his standard dress… It all started for him in Indonesia.

Sarong wearing in Indonesia has a rich history…With a humid climate, sarongs have made it easy for workers in rice paddies to walk through fields, and they are light and comfortable and easy to move in.

They have also been used as carrying sacks, headscarves and have therefore been an integral part of daily life for men and women in Indonesia. Sarongs in Indonesia still today are dyed, using the ancient method of batik. Designing sarongs is definitely an art.

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Elder in a rural village, decked out in a batik shirt and color-coordinated plaid sarong.

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This antique wooden carved sculpture shows that the sarong has been the preferred mode of dressing for generations.

                                                                            Bali

Even though Buddhist Bali is unique and very much differentiates itself from the rest of the Muslim majority Indonesian archipelago, the sarong does cross over to Bali.

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In addition to every day life, sarongs are an integral part of every ceremony.

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This is a procession accompanying a funeral of a well known citizen. The two sarongs on the left are checkered and geometric and the two on the right have swirl designs, but all are accompanied by the classic white shirt.  Nothing reads “feminine” in these sarongs.

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Sarongs everywhere!

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We were fortunate to be invited to a temple ceremony celebrating 100 years of temple life. This was Ben’s first sarong, bought from a vendor on the street enroute to the ceremony.

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Sarongs are clearly a very comfy item of clothing for both men and women.  Not sure about that head thing.                                                                            

                                                                    INDIA

You say “Sarong” and I say “Lungi”… same, same, but different.

In India, there are many variations on the lungi, depending on whether you are in the North or South, and the ethnicity and cultural traditions of the people of each region. In Kerala, the lungi is generally colorful and available in various designs and is worn by both men and women.  It is also called kaili Mundu.

                                                           Kerala

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At the train station. It’s easy to start conversations with a family waiting for the train, when they are the ones to comment in approval, on Ben’s “lungi”.

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The lungi or mundu is certainly a versatile garment which can be worn “half mast” and “full mast” as per the occasion and physical activity.  You see men constantly adjusting the length of their Lungi, as this gentleman above.

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Ben is in his element wearing a lungi and petting a holy cow (of which there are many along our way).

The Lungi or Sarong is not the only accoutrement that offers opportunities for “culture bending”.

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These pants are a form of “dhoti”, which is a four to six feet long white or color strip of cotton. and is traditional attire worn mainly by men in villages. Men also often wear long white wrong like sheets of cloth known as mundu.

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Camel trader in the desert region surrounding Pushkar,  donning his “all whites”

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Not long before Ben adopts the “all white” dress, as he goes for his morning chai.

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The colorful majesty of Pushkar’s “baba”, pious, wise men. Hues of safran dotted with some occasional lavender.

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No orange outfit for Ben, but in Pushkar, our “home base” in India, this is his favorite outfit.

 

                                                        ABU DHABI

In Abu Dhabi, men traditionally wear the kandura, which is a long robe for men which in addition to being comfortable protects from the hot sun.( It is “inherited” from the Bedouin desert culture.)

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Ben has been wearing one of these for years, bought way back when on a business trip to Saudi Arabia. He got many thumbs up and appreciative remarks all day long.

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The key to traditional clothing is its made for comfort in hot weather. Men wear sandals rather than shoes due to the heat.




 

 

32 thoughts on “Gender bending? Culture bending? …… (part 1 ~ His)

  1. restlessjo

    It’s funny how fashions and styles develop, isn’t it, Peta? But then, as you say, convenience and comfort is the important thing. The combination of a western style shirt with a sarong looks a little odd to me, but it’s simply what we grow accustomed to. 🙂 🙂 Thanks for an interesting share.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      We too at first found the combination of the Western style shirt with the sarong, an unusual combination. (Compared with say the Indian style of traditional clothing which all flows.) However, it seems that the sarong directly replaces the pants for men in Indonesia and in Sri Lanka.

      Peta

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Sharon, so glad you enjoyed this post. A little girl in the dessert outside Pushkar, during the camel trading fair, grabbed Ben’s hand and applied the henna design. There was no talking her out if it, she was pretty determined.

      Peta

  2. joannesisco

    This is so smart. As any woman knows, it is considerably cooler to wear loose fitting dresses in the heat than trousers. It’s not unreasonable for men to do the same!

  3. Gilda Baxter

    I applaud you for blending and embracing the culture of the countries you visit.The sarongs are so beautiful and colorful, Ben looks great. My husband is Scotish and I regret discoraging him from wearing a kilt at our wedding in Brazil. I thought the South of Brazil and in particular my father was not quite ready for that yet…how wrong I was. Lucky for me Brian still agreed to marry me hahaha.

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Haha that is too funny. Kilts are definitely cool, but you DO have to be Scottish to get away with it successfully, I think.

      If you have a picture of Brian in his kilt, that would be very awesome to see Gilda!

      Peta

  4. lexklein

    You guys are so awesome about blending in and becoming part of your locales! I’m pretty good about this, but the mere idea of my husband in any kind of “different” garb makes me laugh. (Although he did wear a keffiyeh in Jordan when it was so hot in the desert, now that I think about it!)

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Lexi for the compliments!

      Maybe if you share this blog post with your husband, you never know, it might give him the courage to take the leap. I must say, I was delighted when Ben took to the sarong like a Frenchman to his croissant!

      The funny thing is, from a pure demographic point of view, if you add one billion Indians plus a hundred and eighty million Indonesians, right there, you already have more of a global population that is perfectly comfortable wearing sarongs and longs than you have Westerners!

      Peta

  5. My Inner Chick

    Brilliant.
    Your husband ROCKS)))
    I kind of like the skirts, too, as they look comfortable & flow in the wind!
    And they are definitely not feminine, but appear completely natural.
    What about that “Holy Cow?”

    xx

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Well, thank you! I think he ROCKS too!! I just read this comment to Ben, who is pleased to know he has a fan!

      (In India, cows are considered holy and are revered. They roam the streets freely and traffic adroitly navigates around them. Not simply “not eaten”, cows are highly respected.)

  6. Brook

    oh i just LOVE this blog…one of my favs…and as for Ben in a sarong? That is just normal for me to see at this point. Would never forget how the Puerto Ricans made fun of him just walking out to the car. Ben, I wouldn’t change a thing if I were you! ROCK ON…

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      If Ben keeps getting positive feedback from female blog readers, he may just toss out the few remaining pairs of pants he still has! It definitely was very funny to see the machismo guys in Puerto Rico’s reaction to what they no doubt saw as a very feminine girly skirt!!

      P

  7. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

    Ben: And now for the crowning comment from my mother who lives in Beverly Hills, California and has a life long history as a fashion aficionado:

    JB: “I can understand identifying with the local culture of various country but Benjamin in a skirt in Chicago is going too far!!!!!!!!!! I don’t approve.”

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Ben:

      I cannot stop laughing!!!! To be clear, the very first item I am packing for my upcoming visit to you, is my favorite turquoise and pink sarong. It should be very easy to spot me at the airport. So funny…….Tres, tres drole! J’adore….

  8. Debbie

    I love this post! your Ben in his many sarongs looks great! and how about that so many skirted men appeared that date! here’s to synchroninity!

    tell your Mum she was wrong, and that she should travel more! i mean that sight of that singer in his short floral dress –

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Debbie!

      Yup ~ who would have thought we would see two skirted men in Chicago, within ten minutes?
      I definitely did a double take on spotting the singer in his dress! Ben says he is drawing the line at the sarong….no floral dress for him!

      Peta

  9. badfish

    THAT is one great post, Peta. I think it’s cool that Ben (first) purchased the outfits, and (second) actually wore them! I like the way you guys get involved when you travel. And I like that you enjoy yourselves so much by experiencing life as it is…where you travel. That is traveling!! Thanks for sharing this link with me…as I missed it due to my hiatus from cyber stuff!

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks baddish.

      You are absolutely right about breaking it down into “buying it” and “wearing it.”
      Buying it, always is a fun process because when we take the time, we can find out where materials come from, where the clothes are made, and ask about regional differences etc. In short, a reason to have conversations with locals and to learn about their culture.

      It also is an important data point for the cost of things as when we buy local items we can get a real idea of the cost of living.

      Yes, we get involved, you are right on!!! We are not the kind of travelers that are on “the periphery”. IN fact, just like you point out re purchasing clothes, by selecting a cause that we are passionate about and which requires time and effort, we again create opportunities to engage with locals frequently and in a real way.

      As we prepare to return to SE Asia, we have a long list of projects that we are interested in pursuing further…… Stay tuned!

      P&B

  10. Benjamin Ngiam

    Very nice you guys! Really loved how the different perspectives were shown with a nice story telling and actual photos!

    The little info on the traditions and cultural practices are a real nice touch too. Sweet post, kudos to you both. Ben looks like he’s having LOTS of fun wearing it and that just makes me smile haha!

    Travel safe, you two! Would love to see you both making more discoveries as well as differences in lives while journeying through this epic adventure 🙂

    Your pal,
    Benjamin
    http://www.projectbiy.com

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Hi Benjamin, thanks for stopping by to read us.

      For more discoveries we have made and adventures we have had, take a look at the archives for about 30 countries we have lived in or traveled to. Epic indeed. Took a look at your project and positively and enthusiastically can confirm that positive thinking yields great results. We have met positive thinkers in war torn areas and abject poverty and these people manage to “shine through” and live upbeat positive lives despite sometimes horrendous conditions and or challenges.

      P&B

  11. The Year I Touched My Toes

    Great post Peta. I love how Ben forgot that he had on his ‘home wear’ and went out on the streets. I love the blue number with the long complimenting and the henna painting no less. It’s a great post. I love sarongs and use them lots in Summer and always take one away with me, they are so handy when travelling. Very comprehensive sarong post 🙂 Louise ( I am not sure how I am missing your posts in my news feed.)

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Louise.

      Yup sarongs also make great towels, sheets, wraps, while traveling. Could not imagine being on the road without a few of them!

      Hmmm… did you sign up as a “follower”? Let me know your email address, and I can add you to my list.

      Peta

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Anabel, I think kilts are super cool. How often does the average male wear a kilt in your neck of the woods? Is it a special occasion thing, or more frequent?

      Peta

  12. lisadorenfest

    Ben would fit right in on Amandla. The Captain often sports a skirt sarong, especially when we make our way closer to the equator. I love the pics in your post. You’ve gotten me very excited for traveling to Bali (sailing there now) Java (up next) and Sri Lanka (perhaps a year from now). My favorite men in skirts were in Western Samoa. All the officials wore them. Nothing like a policeman in a Lava Lava 😍😍😍

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Lisa, this made me smile so much. Bali is truly fabulous… there are a bunch of posts in the archive for you to check out… You might be interested in the Yogyakarta posts, in case you are heading that way ~ great street art.

      Do you get internet at sea? I am excited to read about your sailing adventure!!!

      We particularly loved Ahmed, as the coral reefs are gorgeous and super close to the beach, you can literally walk right in without swimming out, or going by boat.

      (Ubud is fabulous for the quality and variety of raw food restaurants.)

      Peta