Dress codes in Fiji
Bula shirts and dressing in identical styles is common in the South Pacific but there is more to the story than this. Fijian costume 200 years ago was mainly a malo for men, or grass skirt for women and a wrapping of masi for some chiefs on special occasions. When the foreigners came along, particularly the missionaries, there was a 'cover-up' imposed, a 'putting on the cloth' to do with a perception of what is modest and appropriate, even when the climate really suited bare skin.
A dress code is really about appropriate wear for different occasions and contexts. But the bula shirt and kalavata - same design - seems to be a predominant thing in the South Pacific.
Is there therefore a difference in dress code to walking about a rural Fijian village to walking along Victoria Parade in Suva? It seems so if the elders in a village have very conservative views and value tradition even when the clothes are uncomfortable and impractical. So do teenage girls wear their board shorts under a skirt until they reach the bus shelter?
Weddings, funerals, and certain family occasions require formal dress such as adding a ta'avala waist mat for Lauans, masi costumes for bride and groom. Guests dress up because it is a special gathering though bula shirts as well as suits are worn by men. Women can be very fashionable and today the dresses can be spectacular.Modern fashion designs in Fiji are fabulous, very beautiful but are they still fairly conservative? Very interesting designs are being sewn for older women and young women with some excellent designers' work is emerging. Way to go!
Dress is sometimes about status, seniority, from medals to feathered hats, Also dress is often about uniforms such as school children at both primary and secondary levels. I think that school uniforms need to be practical (not white!). Is a skirt on a girl really practical these days? Even at tertiary level, there was a to-do at FIT over the way students/young adults dressed and a ban on tight, short shorts, etc. Okay, they are there to study, not to distract!
Fishing, gardening, going on boats, washing and cooking are informal so shorts, trousers, jeans, old clothes, seem to be okay. And the sulu vakatoga (informal wrap-around) is fine here.
Athletics, the gym, sports, footwear, dress for comfort, conformity when in a team.
Kalavata means wearing the same colour, design, patterned material and this is popular in Fiji, not just for a dance or singing group but amongst family or friends for occasions such as vakatawase, the New Year. Church dress code is often about choirs wearing of white or in one colour. Children dress in their 'best'. Older men wear jackets and sulu vakataga, ties, no matter the weather or 90% humidity! Older women usually wear dresses and suluira (long sulu underskirt). Younger women might wear a sulu and jaba (shorter top).
For vanua events there is more care. Traditional warrior's dress is worn for some ceremonies and by men's dance groups. There is a tabu about noise and kids being around usually.
Teenagers in Fiji have to put up with the contradiction of having both a local and a world youth culture. They watch TV, movies, internet and see how other young people dress in USA etc. and many want to be part of it all even though it might mean drab colours rather than the bright primary colours of bula shirts and dresses. And the wearing of jeans or shorts is part of this world youth culture. But guys and girls, just check out the back view. It oughta look good. 'You look so good to be true. Can't keep my eyes offa you' so goes the song!
Is it different for tourists and local people? Who makes the rules and guidelines for tourists?
Is there much cross dressing between cultures - does a Fijian woman look good in a sari, or salwar and kamiz?
Someone else might like to take up the topic of dress among the Fiji Indian young people?
Going back to the topic that triggered this discussion - the conservative view in some Fijian villages as in a post previously published in this blog - about a girl beaten for wearing three-quarter pants instead of a skirt. It seems that there needs to be discussion by people in that community - men and women and youth talking together, airing their views and coming to a compromise that involves respect for both the community and the individual.