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This is my final dispatch from Zimbabwe — at least until I return. When you first begin to people-watch here, one thing you quickly notice is the attention to fashion. The results, though, differ a bit for men and women.

For men, the style is more “business casual” — lots of button-down dress shirts, usually long-sleeve, with slacks and nice shoes. This is a school principal near Nyanga. (I think it should be a rule that all school principals wear colorful vests.):

I saw these blokes on the streets of Masvingo. I quite like the purple sport coat:

For women, fashion can have a different orientation — lots of vivid colors and flowy skirts. These women hail from the town of Mapanzure:

And this is how you carry your toddler around with you, which seems rather sensible to me:

My traveling companions — (from left) Wilson, Joseph, and Chipo — pose by a sign for Zimbabwe’s largest dam.

So what’s going on here? Why do men and women have these different styles?

To answer that, let me defer to the African history class (AF16) I took in college in 2004. I went back to my notes, and it turns out they do a much better job of explaining all this than I can. With the giant disclaimer that it’s a bit silly to generalize an entire continent, here are the professor’s comments from the class on “Family and Farming Structure”:

“Post-colonial, men begin dressing in fairly standard, European ways. Women, however, began dressing differently, and common women began to buy cloth that they couldn’t buy pre-colonial. These cloths and new fashions were imported both from Europe and from other parts of Africa, such as Senegal. The women developed outfits that didn’t match either European outfits or pre-colonial outfits, and this is what we see today: bright, flowy garb.”

“Men, to hold their position in the colonial society, had to dress according to European ideals, while women, with income to spend and less need to match into the hierarchy (their less prestigious jobs didn’t require such rigid forms of dress) could and would do more to express themselves and the power that they bring to their lives.”

Here is a well-dressed man who would seem to know all about keeping one’s elevated seat in society:

There’s a third sartorial category, the animals one sees on safari, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t applaud their practical use of patterns and stripes.

As for my own fashion, I am just a typical example of “REI Chic” — all extra pockets and polyester. See past posts for examples.

Well, that’s all from Zimbabwe. I’m sad to leave. It’s been great.

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