Playing Dress Up

When I used to blog a little more regularly (read: a post every week), my year-end post would be a round-up of some of the posts that I had written during the year. Actually, I would re-visit the ones on which I could actually provide updates, and let my faithful readers know what had transpired since I last wrote about the topic.

I first wrote about the subject of this post three years ago. It was all about Halloween and how the decorations in a supermarket actually took me by surprise. Since then, more people have gotten on the bandwagon and there are actually Halloween-themed parties complete with costumes – because we Antiguans love a fete.

I remember that one had been planned, and apparently permission had been granted to have it on the main road outside of the public cemetery, with sound system, tents for the necessary food and drink, and portable bathroom facilities – because all that liquor has to go somewhere. There was an uproar of course, but I can’t remember whether it actually came off. Since then, the party or parties haven’t exactly gone underground, they’ve just chosen less controversial locations.

Antigua’s Independence celebrations are also celebrated in the month of October, culminating on November 1st with a ceremonial parade and food fair. In the week leading up to it, there’s a church service, a choir festival, youth rally and a fashion show showcasing local designers. After years of everyone wearing his/her own version of a cultural costume, a competition was held to design both male and female outfits which would thereafter be known as our “national dress”. I gather that much research (in terms of what our ancestors wore), went into the designs, which are worn by quite a few people on National Dress Day.

Heather Doram, the designer of Antigua and Barbuda’s national dress.

Similar to national outfits that can be found in Dominica, Grenada and Martinique, the outfit features a dress made of madras fabric. It is overlaid with an apron of white with ribbons of similar hue to the colours in the fabric, which dress up the apron at its base. The dress is usually tea length, but some women wear it longer. The male wears black pants, a long-sleeved white shirt, a waistcoat of the same madras fabric and a straw hat with madras trim.

I’ve never owned one of these outfits, but I have, on occasion, worn an incomplete version of the male costume. It seems the easiest to wear, because my research showed several variations of the original dress design. But if I’m to be honest, that is one of the things I like most about Independence time – as we call it – seeing the creative use of the madras fabric, because we women like our styles.

One other thing I like is the fact that most schools on the island have what are termed Independence programmes where the children sing, recite and dance their way through two hours or so of national songs and ditties. It is also a chance for them to dress up in their national outfits. It’s not required, but clearly the mothers get creative because no two girls ever look alike. At my son’s secondary school – by dressing in his national outfit, he had the chance to earn merit points – the easiest ones he’s ever gotten.

Pictures then abounded on social media of kids in their versions of the national dress after their school programmes. Interspersed among these were pictures of kids who went to school as witches, fairies, cartoon figures and indeterminate characters. What? And then I remembered. Ah yes – there’s another form of dress up. Three years on, and it’s clear that Halloween isn’t going anywhere.



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