Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Red Satin Shirt

There are things I see in Rwanda every day that always make me have a little laugh and the number one trigger is the Red Satin Shirt.

Throughout Rwanda on any given day in any part of the country you are guaranteed to see the Red Satin Shirt.  They pop up in the cities, along dirt roads in the country, on a Rwandan friend's back.  They populate the country.

This is the infamous Red Satin Shirt:
What makes the Red Satin Shirt such a stand out in Rwanda besides being bright and ultra shiny is that it seems every 25th person is wearing one.  Which begs the question, "Which company is responsible for flooding the market with these shirts?"  Was it a Christmas item gone bad for retailers years ago?  

Almost all clothing in Rwanda and Africa in general is second hand.  One can assume there's been a massive overrun and/or poor sales of an item by the number of identical twins it has in the country.  For example, Eminem concert t-shirts, literally enough to clothe the continent.  Does that small village farmer 35 kilometers down a dirt road listen to Eminem?


I am always astonished, as someone who has absolutely no fashion sense beyond jeans, t-shirts and flip flops, at the outfits I see in Africa and how much thought goes into making the best outfit out of things Americans (mostly) and Europeans give away.  This is a classic ensemble seen at the end of the Gisenyi stage of Kwita Izina.  What young African men wear to a bike race...


What continues to amaze me is how everyone can keep their clothes spotless.  Rwandans always look put together.  They could live in a mud shack during rainy season with no clean water and electricity and they will emerge on Saturday afternoons (wedding days in Rwanda) wearing the brightest, cleanest Rwandan traditional outfits while I can't seem to keep the bike grease off my legs and clothes.  


I believe another reason everyone looks so great in things most Americans would never wear is because they are thin and in the case of men, generally super fit.  Try it.  If you want a new wardrobe try losing the extra 10, 15, 20+ pounds you're carrying around and watch how you can make a $10 skirt from Target look like you're wearing Vera Wang.  Face it America, fat is not flattering in clothes no matter how much money you spend on them!


And while I've gone down the rant path suddenly....let it be known that you really only need a couple of things.  No one needs closet after closet of clothes.  I took 3 pairs of jeans, 2 capri shorts, 4 t-shirts, 3 long sleeve wool shirts (it was winter in Joburg) and 3 pairs of shoes to Rwanda for a month and I over packed!  I also brought 2 nice going out shirts (never went out, never do actually) and 2 dresses.  Never wore those items.  Less is more.  


One final thought about second hand clothing...do not give away your "Johnson", your crude shirts you buy in places like Vegas or New Orleans or anything else you would not want your teenage son or daughter to wear.  It could end up on someone's non English speaking grandmother in Rwanda.  Show some class when you donate!  And please, whoever is responsible for the Red Satin Shirts, we have enough thank you.

1 comment:

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