You may recall that back in January, I was a tad worried about what to wear when visiting the DMZ between North and South Korea. I had been warned, repeatedly, by Choi from dmztours not to don anything that could offend. Since my visit was in the middle of a frigid winter on the Peninsula, I settled on a nice jacket with black pants and a warm hat. I wasn’t about to wear a bikini top and hot pants–which, according to Choi, could potentially lead to my being the subject of a propaganda campaign in Pyongyang.
I am now facing my greatest wardrobe challenge to date. In August, the height of the Arabian summer, I am going to Abu Dhabi with my family. The temps will vary between 90 and 120 degrees, so it would be tempting to dress like an American tourist. Instead, I plan to take my cues from the people who live there.
The good news is that I am a middle-aged lady with a middle-aged body that I actually want to cover up. FYI, I did visit the Pyramids in Cairo wearing a halter top when I was 22 and it was NOT a good idea; neither was visiting the Taj Mahal in a mini skirt a few years later. I was the subject of much unwanted attention. Okay, I was 22 and I wanted attention. I’m so over it now. I am going to be working in a conservative environment in Abu Dhabi. I need to look professional and to be respectful in order to be respected.
The bad news is that I can find NOTHING on the endless internet that would be right for my new setting. When I Google “work dresses” what comes up looks straight out of Kim Kardashian’s closet.
I need long sleeves, knee-length or longer and a Decolletage-Free Zone. (Hereupon to be known as the DFZ). The fabric should be lightweight and the fit should be loose. What I am looking for, however, does not seem to exist. I’ve spent hours — and not a red cent — trying to find what to wear to work.
But all I see is what not to wear there, which begs the question what the hell are we wearing here?
I read about a popular style of dress whose moniker suggests that it would be what I sought: the maxi dress. YES!
Yet I instantly discovered that the American “maxi” dress is actually “mini” by Middle Eastern standards. Moreover, it’s hideous. The designs of every single one I saw were way way off. And none offer a DFZ. The maxi dress must have been created to maximize the view of the bust. On me, a sleeve-less maxi dress would call attention to my swimmers’ shoulders. I would look like a half-naked, freckled freak of nature strolling the streets of the United Arab Emirates.
While we are on the wretched subject of the maxi dress, I would also like to talk about shorts. SHORTS ARE STUPID and UGLY — they ruin the natural line of the human leg. Your limbs will look shorter and chunkier in a pair of shorts even if you are long and lean.
I’ve despised shorts since I landed in Kenya as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1986. Only schoolchildren wear shorts in Kenya. Grown men wear pants; grown women wear pants or skirts and dresses. Kenyans laughed outloud at absurd Americans traipsing about in shorts with their pink sunburned legs sticking out. Short-wearers argue that when temps go up, so too should hemlines.
But the Bedouins know better: Keeping covered keeps you cool.
“How fragile we are under the sheltering sky,” wrote Paul Bowles about Americans who move to North Africa and are ignorant to the dangers around them.
I, for one, want maximum wearable coverage to protect me from the sky and to minimize my ignorance about where I am.