Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ramallah Fashionistas

I had a flashback on my summer in Ramallah while reading this post from Already Pretty blogger Sally McGraw on covered up warm weather looks.

Although its summer temperatures can soar into the 90s, Ramallah – for cultural, practical and religious reasons – is a covered up kind of town. It’s also a fashion-conscious metropolis that is becoming known for its burgeoning social scene and is home to some hip new night spots, cafés like Zamn and designer shops such as The Boutique in Al-Tireh. New York and San Francisco have taken note.

So, what’s a stylish woman to wear to simultaneously attract and avoid attention in Ramallah?

Here’s what the Ramallah fashionistas wear:
  • Skinny jeans with sky-high heels or fancy flats
  • Long sleeved shirts or tunics with no décolletage
  • Designer sunglasses and bags
  • Long, blow-dried hair (or hijab)
When your body (and sometimes your hair) is under wraps, the full focus is on your face. Many a song has been written about Arab women and their beautiful eyes, so it is not surprising that many women emphasize their eyes with kohl. “You are killing me with your black eyes” go the lyrics to a popular Dabke song.

Here’s what I wore:

Lacking the figure for skinny jeans and the will to wear platform heels while navigating the West Bank’s steep hills on foot, I found myself relying on these key items to keep cool – and be cool ;) – on the Ramallah streets:
  • Light cotton shirts with elbow-length or long sleeves.
  • Large, gauzy scarves for covering up in the street, for covering my head when entering holy places and to add some interest and variety to my one-suitcase summer wardrobe.
  • Mid-height T-strap sandals that were comfortable enough to walk for miles in and secure enough to stay firmly on my feet.
  • Knee-length dresses and linen trousers.
What not to wear:

While there are no real “rules,” there are certain articles of clothing that should generally not be worn on the street in Ramallah. These include: shorts and short skirts, tank tops and sleeveless or low-cut shirts. It’s about not showing too much skin, which has an added practical benefit – you won’t fry like an egg in the unfiltered Mediterranean sun.

Many ex-pats fall into the trap of wearing billowing crinkle-cotton skirts, which – while culturally appropriate and no doubt comfortable – are still crimes against fashion. You’ll never catch a Ramallah fashionista wearing one of those. And do you really want to look like a tourist?