Fashion Faux Pas

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I was raised in the 70’s in a nice appropriate middle class family. My mother was a hospital administrator/nurse and my father a teacher. I had one sister, a dog and a cat. We played outside on our bikes until dusk and walked to the neighborhood pool to swim during long summer days. We were pretty much the average, middle class family.

I was not much into clothing or fashion I just wore what everyone else decided was popular but I didn’t really care. In fact my sister usually lifted an eye brow or gave me that look, which meant “you’re wearing that”? She was more the beauty queen, fashion conscious teen. So, I tried to look good and do my part for the sake of teens every where on the planet.

It was 1983, my sister was working at a University in Seattle Washington answering phones after graduating with her degree in Social Work. I was still attending school and this was summer break. I was staying in Seattle for the summer when I met a young Saudi lady. We became friends and she invited me to a “dinner party”. I told my sister, we were both intrigued and decided to go and see what this was all about. My friend told me the party was at 6:00 p.m. We would talk, have dinner, drink tea. Her house was located in the capitol city of Olympia which was roughly an hour from Seattle. The plan was for my sister and I to meet up downtown so we would ride together. After she finished work we piled into her little car and were on our way. Traffic was heavy and we were very nervous that we would be late. We sat on the freeway chatting and passing the 2 hours it took us to navigate through rush hour to make our way to our destination. On the way we discussed our attire. I, of course was not concerned much with what I was wearing. I had a silk grey blouse with a fancy ruffle down the middle, a pin striped type skirt and heels. I did my hair as I always did back in the 80’s. I washed it, dried it and used a curling iron, then hot rollers, then hair spray and the famous upside down brushing to ensure a full 80’s look. I put on makeup and perfume and called it good. My sister had been at work but looked amazing as usual. We looked at ourselves and laughed, wasn’t this way too much? Wearing makeup, our Sunday best and just to a simple dinner! We both felt quite ridiculous as we sat in the middle of summer traffic, makeup dripping, our crunchy, once full hair now fading in the heat.  But, it was too late to change and we were already approaching 6.

We both felt embarrassed and debated on just not showing up. We finally reached Olympia an hour late and made our way to the party. We went back and forth, should we just drop this whole thing, over dressed, smudged make up and now an hour late. I felt bad, I had agreed to be there and my friend seemed very excited to introduce me, her American friend, to her close friends.

She had no children but she and her husband rented a large 4 bedroom home in a nice housing development. We parked on the street and climbed the stairs to the door. We rang several times,no answer, were we that late, was the dinner over? We stood at the door deciding whether we should ring again or just leave. As we turned to make our way to the car, the door opened a crack. I turned to see the young woman smiling partly behind the door, she looked very happy to see us. She waved us in to her home and closed the door.

Now the real confusion started. She stood in her nightgown and ship ships (slippers). A big smile on her face and a welcoming tone in her voice. She urged us to sit down and she would make some tea. Our fears were confirmed, way over dressed, or was there a misunderstanding.  Her English was broken and my Arabic non existent so maybe we had misunderstood the day. How embarrassing! She sat with us and talked and laughed, we had a great time. After an hour of this we stood to leave and thanked her for her hospitality. She looked at us with a question mark written over her brow?? She ushered us to the kitchen where a lady worked chopping and cooking. No, please stay, wait ok wait.  We sat talking and drinking tea for the next hour. We were too embarrassed to get up and leave and we were still confused as to what was going on. My friend popped out of the kitchen here and there offering more tea, cookies, perhaps some Turkish coffee.  I looked at my silk blouse and skirt and felt as if a spot light bore down on me. I didn’t like dressing up anyway and here I sat in this getup waiting for my friend to come in yet again in her house dress! I squirmed like a child pulling on my skirt and adjusting my blouse. My sister sat uncomfortably in her dress but primped and added make up to her already perfect face. She looked at me with that look that said, sit still stop messing up your outfit! 

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Our hostess soon came out and darted up the stairs. She was gone for 30 minutes and then the door rang. She gracefully came down the stairs and answered the door. What followed was my introduction to the Arab world as well as fashion. One lady after the other entered the door, a kiss on each cheek and a grand entrance. A parade of friends all wearing long brightly colored gowns. The gowns were laden with sequins, beads and other amazing sparkles.

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The jewelry was big, gold and opulent. We had on earrings and a necklace. We sat wide eyed as this parade came and went. Each lady came to greet us and gave us a kiss kiss. They were very welcoming and interested in meeting us. I sat looking at my skirt, blouse and faded hair, I felt very ridiculous and the spot light loomed. The ladies were having fun and didn’t care what we were wearing but we were overwhelmed and things had shifted a great deal throughout this day. It was quite an experience and we finally took our leave at 10 p.m. well before dinner was served. Middle Easterners are laid back and time is seen differently than in the U.S.

Just 10 years later we moved to Saudi Arabia and these extravagant dresses were in every window in each mall. So truly the ultimate in window shopping!

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