Tuesday, August 28, 2012

expat in Addis fashion part 2: the scarf

If you are like scarves, Ethiopia is the place to be.  Actually, anywhere in the world, other than the US is year-round scarf wearing territory.  I know Americans are jumping on board the the light summer scarf and we've always been pretty good about the winter scarf for warmth but; in other places in the world a scarf is part of one's daily wardrobe and has been for centuries.  Justin and I went to a dinner party a few months ago with a wide variety of expats from around the world and we were the only two without scarves on.

Ethiopians don't wear hats during the cold weather and some don't wear coats.  Traditionally men and women wear gabis, or a large woven cotton piece (or two) of fabric that gets wrapped around the head, shoulders, arms and the torso for warmth.  It's most often white or cream with a colorful pattern at the bottom.  Men, women and children of all ages also wear a smaller version of a gabi as a head wrap that covers the head and then the ends are wrapped around the neck for warmth.  It's rare that I see Ethiopian women without some sort of scarf or wrap on, no matter what the temperature is outside.

This series of blog posts is about how I am adjusting my wardrobe to fit the styles and practicality of living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  In the case of the scarf I am kind of lucky.  I have lots of scarves and wraps in my closet and since moving to Addis I am simply wearing them more.  I felt a little over dressed with a nice scarf on in the States (unless it was winter) or in SE Asia.  Here in Ethiopia scarfs are as natural as wearing a shirt so most days I have one on.  Scarves are for comfort and warmth as much as they are for style, especially during the rainy season.

Justin is getting on board the scarf train too.  When we first arrived we joked a bit about all the men at NGOs wearing scarves like hip Europeans.  Truly men who pull off a scarf are hip in my book.  The idea that a scarf would become an accessory for my khakis-and-a-polo-wearing husband was not something I saw coming.  But here we are, 8 months in Ethiopia and he wears them all the time.  Mostly when we travel for warmth and comfort.  I love it.

I'm getting much more use out of my scarves than I had in other locations and it's fun to play with how to wear, tie or drape them.  Most of the time I aimlesly wrap and tuck until there are no loose ends and my neck it warm.  I'm not the best person to ask about stylishly tying scarves but I personally prefer a messy looking scarf over a styled one.  So there you go.  Here are some of my favorites and a few ways I wear them.  

On the fashion side of things I tend to like patterned scarves unless it's one I wrap around my head.  I don't match my clothing to my scarf.  I tend to wear neutral basic things and then accesorize with a scarf.  A scarf immediately turns jeans and a t-shirt into an outfit.  I like that I can throw one on and look a little more put together.
I own one bright infinity scarf which I splurged on with a gift card from Athroplogie from my Mother in law. It's a gorgeous scarf.  It's a tad long though and it's hard to wear this out running errands because the long drape can get in the way.  I'm more worried about ruining this scarf than my others.
The small pink scarf is nice for warmer weather because it dresses up an outfit but doesn't provide much warmth. Justin picked this silk scarf up for me during his travels in Indonesia.  I used to tie it in my hair at the beach in the Philippines.
The other scarves photographed are all from a little shop in Manila.  They had a sale one day and I bought a few prior to our trip to New Zealand in 2010 because I was expecting it to be cold.  It was and I was grateful for the scarves then as I am now.  I didn't pay more than $5 for any one of them so I don't ever worry about traveling with them and getting them dirty.

The head drape scarf is still a little tough for me to pull off. I haven't actually worn this wrap around my head like this around town but lots of expat women do.  They wear them with a hat and sunglasses on too.  It's good to protect against the sun so I can see the need but so far I haven't dared wear all three accessories together yet.  The scarf around my neck with a hat is about as Africa chic as I have gone.

The head wrap style is very practical though because you can pull the top off your head when you get inside so the scarf is now only around your neck.

Do you wear scarves?  What's your favorite way to wear them?


Mommy said...

Love it! It's funny b/c I inadvertently became known at my office as the girl with the scarves. I had people coming up to me all of the time asking how to drape them and how they could pull them off more often with their outfits! I also wear mine year round--opting for lighter materials in the summer. I drape them differently depending upon the outfit and the length and thickness of the scarf. I also bought my first infinity scarf last year and love it. :)

Natasha said...

I love scarves! I mostly own just plain pashminas that I alternate in cold weather as a regular scarf or shawl over a dress. But I could definitely use some light printed scarves now that we'll be living in a warm climate! I have one infinity scarf that I love, but it's also a cold-weather item.

Sara said...

I wish my infinity scarf would wrap twice so the drape isn't so long. Maybe I just need to try shoving over my head again. Where do you like getting scarves? I just bought two from Old Navy super cheap just as every day bum around the house scarves. Now I know I'm an expat when I have scarves to just wear hanging with my kids!

Anonymous said...

I have such a scarf problem. I'm not much of a clothes person, I regularly purge and give things away, but not scarves. I feel like I need every single one (maybe because they camouflage the fact that I wear almost the same thing everyday?) I love that a scarf can make a would-be boring outfit look interesting and I'm forever using scarves to hide cleavage shots when I'm wearing v-neck shirts. Now that we're back in India again it's going to be trouble!! Soooo many nice pashminas and fabrics and oh yea. Trouble. Let me know if you need any, happy to send some or do a scarf exchange! :)

Sara said...

What a lovely idea-the scarf exchange thing. There are amazing scarves in Ethiopia too. I just haven't pulled the trigger on any yet. I can only imagine your scarf collection after your time in India. I love the one you have on in your family photo on your blog. Scarves are great and I wear basically the same thing every day too. Scarves are great at hiding that!

Anonymous said...

I have and love my Ethiopian scarf! I am loving your collection.

Melinda Renee said...

A girl after my own heart! I've been wearing TONS of scarves since PLU.... my favorites are my super-long infinity scarves that I got at Nordy's Rack & Marshalls. I'm actually fixin' to knit one right now, working on yarn & needle gauge.

Mommy said...

My two infinity scarves have come from Old Navy as well! I am able to wrap them twice b/c I agree that only once does leave a long drape. I buy scarves wherever I can find them: Old Navy, GAP, Cost Plus World Market...and then I have my ones from travel to the Middle East and my hubby brought me back a ton from Iraq. Last season GAP had these awesome "t-shirt" material scarves...nice and light material that I love b/c they are more casual looking. So maybe keep an eye out to see if they bring them back this year :)

Sara said...

Great suggestions. I think I'll keep working on the infinity scarf wearing. I LOVE the scarves at World Market! They are lovely and inexpensive. Have you browsed the scarves at Anthropologie? Gorgeous but super pricey and hard to justify the cost. Thanks for the tips about the t-shirt material!