National Wear Not Necessarily a Representation of the Flag – Mark
by Bria King
The national wear of a country represents something about that country and is not necessarily a representation of the national flag.
So says Annette Mark, the director of Invest SVG, in defence of the design chosen to be the official national wear for women in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
Invest SVG, in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism, Sport and Culture and the Renewal at 40 Committee launched a National Wear Competition in September.
And the winners of that competition and their designs were unveiled at a cocktail last Friday at the Prime Minister’s residence.
While the national colours were present in all three designs, the winning design for female national wear has received much criticism for being predominantly white as well as its 1800s inspired style.
“I know people are thinking that it should reflect the national flag but there hardly is a national dress that represents the national flag. It represents something about the country. That’s what a national wear does. It represents something about the country, it doesn’t necessarily represent a national flag,” Mark told SEARCHLIGHT on Tuesday.
She said that countries will use national wear to “represent a period of time, a revolution, women who danced for different reasons, slaves who danced for different reasons; we just have to look at what they are trying to represent”.
The director said she believes people missed the idea that the dress serves as a blank canvas to be brought alive with colours and other concepts from each individual wearer of the design.
Since the announcement of the results of the national wear competition, many Vincentians have taken to social media to express their thoughts on the female national wear, which was designed by local designer, Jeremy Payne.
Several were seemingly unimpressed and said that the dress was not a true representation of this country.
“…Is what kind of Victorian style, subservient looking, lil House on the Prairie, Amish, slavery era Frock I’m hearing was voted as SVG National Dress? Voted by whom? Who are the experts who adjudicated this Mess?…” one woman wrote in a Facebook post.
Another Vincentian living abroad wrote: “I don’t know who judged this but i am ready to sign the petition against it! It does not represent our independence…40 years strong. I see it and all I am seeing is the continued impact of colonisation. Why are our colours embedded in a small pocket of whatever the white symbolizes?”
Mark said that there were 19 submissions into the national wear design competition and of those submissions, three finalists were chosen.
She also said there were several members of the National Wear Selection Committee, including lawyer and former minister of culture Rene Baptiste.
“This has been long in coming. We’ve had several attempts in the past however over those years, most of the designs were 20th century designs and when we were contemplating and looking at the brief for national wear, it had to echo the long history of St Vincent and the Grenadines, certain aspects of it, where you would remember your roots, your ancestral roots, the meaning of every piece of garment, why it is worn, what sort of environment and the people that wear it,” Baptiste said during her remarks at the official unveiling last Friday.
And when she spoke with SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday about the response from the public, Baptiste said that the committee didn’t just look at the designs and make a decision but they also consulted with others outside to give their views on the design.
Other members of the committee included Winfield Tannis, Hayden Billingy, Annette Francois and Flora Gunn.
Baptiste noted that most national dresses in the region also feature lots of white but also an apron — which has been used overtime in national wear designs to represent the working class.
“Up to today, people wear their apron. The women in the market wear their apron all the time. It’s something that is everyday wear among a wide cross section of the population,” the former government minister said.
She said the dress was not meant to be a fashion show but rather the design should echo the rich history of our country.
Many people have suggested that the designer should have focused on a different aspect of Vincentian history, perhaps the African ancestry or Garifuna.
But Baptiste also noted that when Garifuna people return to SVG, they too sport head ties in their official wear.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, at the cocktail last Friday, said that there are different kinds of national wear across the region and world.
And given that the Vincentian component of Caribbean has been forged through multiple influences, he said it is not surprising that the national wear will reflect that overall cultural and historical experience.
“Clearly, for the national wear to become broadly accepted — because those who have designed and those who have approved designs and those who seek to advance national wear — it will truly become national, when it becomes accepted, when there is among the people as a whole, a settled conviction that this is what we ought to have,” Gonsalves said.
The prime minister said that the nature of the national wear is not static and he is sure that there will be variations as time goes by.
“I look forward with great interest to see how the people of our country at home and abroad embrace what is offered this evening and what is proclaimed and affirmed as national dress and national wear,” he said.
[UPDATED Sunday, December 1, 2019 at 11:36 to edit the names of the committee members.]