18 December 2012

Rwanda: Is Revealing Skin Still Fashionable?

To all appearances from the picture shown here, Jennifer Lopez was in a hurry and didn't have time to dress, so she just took a curtain from her living room and draped it loosely around her, thereby revealing quite a lot of skin. The reality is, of course, that this is a designer dress which intends to show of the generous curves of the wearer (which, it cannot be denied, Lopez does indeed have).

And while you and me would of course never wear such a dress, even at a gala function or party, Lopez's dress is typical of a trend over the past decades which allows women to wear ever shorter skirts and lower necklines. The question is though, is it still a fashion statement or have we gone so far that it sometimes becomes a disgrace?

And yet, the receding hemline has a rather recent history. Not that long ago, anything showing a woman's knees was considered as only fit for prostitutes. But the freewheeling 60s and 70s and Women's Lib in the West changed all that, and ever since the amount of leg or cleavage a woman could show without being called a slut has increased. It didn't take long for the trend to also catch on in Africa.

But one can ask the question: where does it stop? A mid-thigh skirt that would have been daring a few decades ago, is these days nothing unusual.

The red carpet is a good place to look for an answer to question, because celebrities are always allowed a few more liberties than us common mortals. And if that outfit of Jennifer Lopez at an MTV function is anything to go by, it seems that the skin-revealing trend is getting close to its apex - not only is there an awful lot of her body showing, but the little bit of cloth she is wearing is so transparent that the designers could have left out those bits as well.

Yet Rwandan fashion designer Aline Alga doesn't really see a problem, saying that times have changed and that showing a little bit of skin is actually sexy. "Fashion and style is a field where change comes fast and is inevitable. For instance, cleavage used to be a big deal back then but now it is not an issue anymore, so many young ladies, including girls in school, do appreciate that style."

Not everyone sees it that way. Marion Nyiraneza, a mother and business woman, thinks that fashion has gone too far, especially for women. "What happened to decency where a woman would wear something nice, at most attire that would bring out her figure," she asks. "In our days it was important to leave room for imagination, and besides, certain parts of a woman's body are meant to be sacred."

Perhaps more surprising is that many men agree. Deo Kamanzi, an accountant, says that while change is inevitable, certain things should not be allowed. "I remember the time when women started to show more and more cleavage, and we found it weird and felt shy thinking her breasts might pop out. Then again, there are women who know exactly how to expose just a bit of skin to look sexy and not outrageous."

Kamanzi contrast this with the likes of songstresses like Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga, who he says are simply an embarrassment.

Not even the most fierce fashionista would contest that.

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