I’m nearly finished with my third year of wearing kimono as my daily teaching attire at the community college where I am a Professor of Anthropology. My kimono has become so normal that I rarely get questions or comments anymore…unless I happen to be wearing western clothes.
In the spring I also coach high school lacrosse and often have to wear my athletic clothes to the campus on days when I have a game immediately after work. Colleagues or a student sometimes remark about my not being in my regular garb. Occasionally a student walking past fails to recognize me! But, this past week someone said “Hey, you’re wearing real clothes”, to which I replied, “I wear real clothes everyday.”
I don’t think this person meant to be offensive, but the comment made me realize how easily our perception of the “other” can be colored by our expectations about what is normal and therefore, “real”. Are costumes “real”? What about regalia? Is traditional clothing only authentic when it is worn by a real member of the culture? Who gets to decide what is real or fake?
For me kimono is no less real than when I wear western clothing, a kilt to play bagpipes, or my uniform for coaching. Each garment is part of who I am, wether it be by acculturation or enculturation. Certainly after three years of being in kimono, my presence has become so much the norm that it is only when I am not wearing Japanese clothing that anyone takes much notice. But, I always keep it real!