Whither our National Dress
Editor: I have always been a strong proponent of appropriate, climate friendly attire. I have often written on social media about the need for an appropriate mode of dress for formal occasions in our Caribbean region, something which would distinguish us as post-colonial people asserting our independence. We all know too well, the chaos which presents itself when invitations say “elegantly casual”, or even “formal”.
Formal wear, we have come to accept, as suits and ties for gents, and for the ladies, well it depends on their personal tastes, which can run from well-coordinated to tacky.
Thus, when I overheard that we were about to have a competition to choose a National Dress/Wear, I became quite excited. Then in the multi-media social media milieu, and all the myriad of independence activities, the issue seemed to have disappeared from centerstage; at least in my conciousness.
Until I heard an announcement on radio that a National Dress was going to be unveiled at the Prime Minister’s residence. As luck would have it, I happened to be in a location where my chosen internet provider seemed to have been experiencing challenges, so I could not get the feed.
What I did get though, back in touch with civilization, was a lot of feedback about the chosen ensemble. And then I read a report in Searchlight where the winning designer spoke about his influences. And quickly social media began to light up with images of the influences from a painter who in the good old days when Yurumien was being robbed at gunpoint from the Garifuna peoples, worked for a Sir William Young painting “colored people”.
Well the reactions do not surprise me. And it may not be that the chosen design did not of itself have design merit, but people react when they do not feel part of a process. After all, this is 2019, in the 40th year of our reclaimed Independence.
But what did shock me was the process of choosing something which would be so central to our national identity.
I would have thought that after the call went out for designs, we would have seen several designs on display during our recent Independence celebrations for public comment. That, so as to gauge the temperature and thus gather a feel from our community for where we should go. Why not give the people the chance to opine? Is this how we approach something so important?
Such an ensemble I dare posit, must be reflective of a National feel.
Therefore getting a panel of judges together, then doing the reveal at the Residence of the Prime Minister just does not sit well with people. A great venue it is, but in our charged political climate, it automatically restricts attendance. Well my guess is that this was not wash-yuh-foot-and come, but by invitation.
We need not overlook the opinions of the people and thus seek their buy-in when we approach anything of national importance.
One understands that we were looking for both national dress and national costume. I would wager that not many members of the public were or are aware of this, or even of the given criteria which our talented designers and the panel of judges would have worked with. And with anything of a national import, we need to publicize what we are about.
So this nine-days-talk may die down, but where does this leave us?
How many persons know that back in 1979, there was a national dress designed by another talented Vincentian, Veronica Constantine, which was worn in competition by Petra-Ann Lewis-Ferdinand. What ever happened to that? I am sure that there were great intentions. But we can err, even with the noblest of intentions.
I am still, as of writing, looking for a site where I can appreciate all the designs submitted, and those short-listed and then chosen. It’s all about the process.