2019 Spring Amideast External Programs Gwen Jensen Morocco

Check Yourself Before You Dress Yourself

In the months leading up to my departure for Morocco, an endless array of tasks seemed to appear out of thin air: buying plane tickets, getting course approvals, and taking placement exams. However, the most daunting pre-departure assignment arose during my final days in the U.S. Packing. Aside from the logistical nightmare of cramming four months of daily life into a lone checked suitcase (with of course a little wiggle room for gifts and souvenirs to return with me in May), I was also presented with the challenge of dressing in a culture with a completely uncharted set of expectations. My daily wardrobe of jeans so ripped they could pass as shorts and midriff-baring shirts would be left behind. But what does one wear in a Muslim-majority country? What outfit is simultaneously stylish, comfortable, culturally appropriate, easy to fit in a suitcase, weather-versatile… the list went on and on. I scoured the internet, travel guides, and even Instagram, trying to gain a dynamic understanding of what I could wear on a daily basis that would balance personal comfort and cultural sensitivity, but as my departure date drew nearer I still felt unprepared. At home, getting dressed in the morning was one of the easiest parts of my days, but a month into my time abroad, dressing myself still proves to be a daily adjustment.

Growing up in Baltimore and attending school in North Philadelphia, I am no stranger to street harassment. In addition, the policing of my body and judgement of my worth based on the way I dress has been a running theme for me, since puberty. I thought I had built up a tough-enough skin by now to live my life unbothered, even humored by, the howls from men in the subway.

In Morocco, however, these encounters are magnified and create a new type of fear and anxiety associated with my womanliness. In addition to navigating a foreign country and adjusting my life accordingly, I was also faced with checking, checking, and double checking myself before leaving the house, my reflection in windows on the street, leaving class to look in the bathroom mirror to make sure I was abiding by the cultural expectation of dress. My shoulders were covered by several layers, scarves hid my chest, and long shirts covered my butt. If any of these requirements were even slightly out of order, I would spend the rest of my day feeling uncomfortable and distracted, constantly readjusting myself in an effort to abide, while feeling exposed, and mentally taking note that I can never wear this shirt again. Initially, the marriage proposals and compliments every time I left the house were almost comedic, but eventually the humor wore off, and the crude remarks in a multitude of languages took their toll on my demeanor. I didn’t want to be skeptical of every Moroccan man I met, but that is where I was left after every seemingly innocent interaction inevitably veered down the path of unwanted and unrelenting advancements. I quickly learned that it didn’t matter what I was wearing, my woman-ness was enough of an excuse for men to feel entitled to commentary.

Nevertheless, I am a guest in Morocco and therefore bound to the unwinnable task of balancing conservative dress with style and presentability. I talked to six of my classmates about how they’ve tackled this task.

Kendall


How would you describe your daily style in the U.S.?
“Outdoorsy, comfortable, light tank tops and basically anything that makes me feel good! Because I don’t have to worry about what other people think of me; because it usually won’t impact my safety like it might here.


How would you describe your daily style in Morocco?
“Different funky pants and jeans, with cute tops that I can make appropriate with cardigans and jackets. Cute sandals or bags when traveling.”


What has been the biggest adjustment for dressing in a conservative country?
“Constantly having to think about what I’m putting on every morning… if it’s appropriate in this culture’s eyes, not mine. I also have to constantly wear pants around my house (no shorts) which is really hard to remember sometimes because it’s just a reflex.

Madeline

How would you describe your daily style in the U.S.?

“I’m from California, so I wear a lot of shorts, ripped jeans, summer dresses, and A LOT of tank tops. And I never wear a bra.”

How would you describe your daily style in Morocco?

“Covered. I feel weird wearing shirts that are tighter, even if they fully cover my skin. I feel like I have to wear a cardigan to cover any shirt that might show a little skin or be tight on me.”

What has been the biggest adjustment for dressing in a conservative country?
“This the most I’ve worn a bra in the past 6 years. It’s also an adjustment to cover up in the house. I can’t wear shorts or leggings or comfy clothes around my host family without feeling like I’m being disrespectful.”

Sara


How would you describe your daily style in the U.S.?
“I like to try new things but stay within my comfort zone. I love experimenting with fabric.”


How would you describe your daily style in Morocco?
“I do a lot of layering and i’m trying to incorporate more colors into my style!”


What has been the biggest adjustment for dressing in a conservative country?

“It hasn’t been much of an adjustment because it’s taught me how to dress appropriately but still be sexy. Scarves are sheer and lightweight and sexy, but can be added to any outfit to give you more coverage. Silks and linens are sexy and can be long enough to keep my skin covered. I do miss my crop tops though.”

Isabella


How would you describe your daily style in the U.S.?
“ I love wearing sundresses in the summer! They’re my favorite thing to wear.”


How would you describe your daily style in Morocco?
“Jeans and a long blouse and a jacket. I do a lot of layering to make sure im covered.”


What has been the biggest adjustment for dressing in a conservative country?
“I actually appreciate the dress code, because in Morocco I feel like there’s less pressure to show skin. In the states, as soon as the weather gets nice I feel like if you’re not showing enough skin people make snap judgments about you.”

Tessa


How would you describe your daily style in the U.S.?
“I wear a lot of sheer shirts and thin jackets with funky pants.”


How would you describe your daily style in Morocco?
“I still wear a lot of my funky pants, but paired with layered flowy tops and looser jackets”


What has been the biggest adjustment for dressing in a conservative country?
“Not wearing sheer shirts. I’ve also had to reevaluate my workout wardrobe, the walk to the gym or the park where I go running is usually uncomfortable if I’m wearing leggings.”

Abby


How would you describe your daily style in the U.S.?
“Going to school in New York City, I try to dress comfortable, but stylish and a bit edgy.”


How would you describe your daily style in Morocco?
“Longer shirts that cover my neck & shoulders and a baggy sweater with jeans. I wear a lot of layered jackets, because I feel self conscious when I wear lower-cut shirts.”


What has been the biggest adjustment for dressing in a conservative country?
“I’m always second guessing myself and my outfits. I feel constantly judged for wearing things I would wear every day at home. The other day my host mom made a comment about me wearing leggings, and it made me feel super self conscious.”

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