Global garment gaffes
Decode the Dress Code
Nudity is generally inadvisable in public, unless you are with author and television personality Rick Steves in Baden-Baden. His seminal 2008 article in the Seattle Times about getting comfortable with the unique tradition of bathing naked is an eyeopener: American prudes, European nudes at German spa (seattletimes.com).
Of course, there are other situations when public nudity is improper. For example, when art exhibit organizers in Qatar recently mounted a show called “The Olympics - Past and Present,”they negotiated for several ancient Greek statues to be sent to Doha. Unfortunately, the nudes (which included a long-haired, athletic kouros from 520 B.C.) caused a commotion, and the sculptures were sequestered behind a sheer black screen, only to be seen in silhouette.
The refusal to display the priceless art au naturel did not sit well with Greece’s National Archaeological Museum, so it was agreed to return the two biggest statues. Fortunately, there were no hard feelings.
Religion influences attire in other countries too. Qatar is actually less rigorous than its austere neighbor, Saudi Arabia. According to Joanna Saavides, professor of international business at the Emirates Aviation College, several airlines flying into Riyadh now provide abayas (the flowing dark gowns) for women who may have forgotten them. Abayas are required for women in all Saudi public places, and without one, a female may not be permitted to disembark. Observing Islamic guidelines for attire and behavior is particularly important during religious events. Airlines can be
fined and have their flights suspended if they bring in women without abayas during the Haj (the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca). Joanna also noted that women should eschew open-toed footwear in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. If you want to flaunt a great pedicure, do it in Rio, not in Riyadh.
Obviously, suitable attire varies in different countries. What your wear forms a large part of people’s first impressions, so invest wisely. Here are some guidelines to avoid a fashion faux pas:
Argentina: Get Serious Argentines usually wear formal, conservative outfits, even in many social situations. Foreign executives should do likewise. Argentines are aware of European styles, but tend toward a modest and subdued look.
France: Stylish, Best Quality As one would expect, the inventors of haute couture put a premium on style. Even entry-level workers buy the best clothes they can afford. The typical French posture (very straight, even when sitting) makes their clothes look even better. And Frenchwomen are famous for their hard-edged, feminine chic: a smart tailleur and good shoes are a must.Your entire wardrobe will be scrutinized.
Japan: Cool Biz During the horrific tsunami of 2011, Japan’s power grid was damaged and the government asked everyone to conserve energy. Many companies complied, setting their thermostats in the low 80s and implementing a“Super Cool Biz”dress code which eliminated the dark wool “salaryman”suit and tie in many offices. (There is also a“Warm Biz”code during winter.) Unless you are in the financial or securities industries, you can probably leave your heavy dark suit at home – go with more casual light cottons or linen jackets with dark pants. And statuesque women might want to shun the stilettos in favor of flats.
Your final, but possibly most important consideration is security. Never be a target. Global travelers may cringe at the sight of US tourists in their loud clothes and bright sneakers. But even US businessmen can be picked out of a crowd in a second. The first indicator is the “American cut”suit. It’s not just the single vent, straight lines, flappy pockets, and wide armholes. Strangely enough, many men wear suits that are too big for them. For your next trip, try a classic“British cut” (two vents, tapered waist, armholes slightly higher, button fastened at the waist) or a European-cut suit (two or no slits,V-shape design, flapless pockets). Whatever you wear, make sure your slacks break at the top of your shoes’heels, and your tie hits the top of your belt.
Traveling on Rome’s subways? When pickpockets attack, you may want to have some clothing that blends into the environment around you, yet keeps your valuables safely zipped in interior pockets. Scottevest (scottevest.com) is well-known to photographers and frequent fliers. Their vests, jackets and coats are tailored to hide iPads, expensive sunglasses, passports and other treasures. While a garment with 24 pockets may sound excessive, skirting pickpockets and some checked bag fees can be worth it. Che bella figura!
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What’s your Cultural IQ? True or False? Observant Muslim men do not generally wear gold jewelry.
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May’s Answer: True.“Respect”by Otis Redding, became Aretha Franklin’s signature song.
Terri Morrison is a speaker, co-author of 9 books, and is working on her 10th. She is also Editor of Kiss Bow or Shake Hands Digital - available through McGraw-Hill. TerriMorrison@kissboworshakehands Twitter @KissBowAuthor. Tel (610) 725-1040. BT