A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘clothing’ Category

Syria’s fashion police

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 24, 2009

I know: today was meant to be installment number two in Diamond’s Origins of Jihad series. But I can never resist a fashion update. This article, which focuses on Syrian traffic police and their new uniforms, comes from the UK’s Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

Changing uniforms isn’t on the same level as changing policy. But clothing is more important than many people imagine – and breaking the connection between ‘police’ and ‘military’ that seems to plague so many Middle Eastern countries is an important step.

(And who doesn’t love seeing men in crisp white shirts?)

In an attempt to make some of Syria’s police look less like soldiers, the government has decided to change traffic policemen’s uniforms from military olive green to more civilian white and grey shades.

However, many critics of the authorities have dismissed the move as cosmetic, with some asserting that it comes amid growing state repression.

[I do think that the state is and has been cracking down – but that doesn’t mean that the decision to change these uniforms was meant to either make up for that or distract people from increasingly repressive measures in other spheres.]

The decision on the change of uniforms was implemented in Damascus in September, with the rest of the country due to follow later. It included also the uniforms of customs officers at Damascus international airport and on the borders with Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

[Oh, the border officials. I’m not sure that uniforms are enough here, but surely anything that might improve their attitudes is worth a go.]

The new outfits are composed of grey pants, a white shirt with yellow shoulder patches and black belt and shoes.

[Vogue agrees: yellow is in this season! Good choice, Syria.]

It is the latest in a series of moves in recent years to shake off the image of Syria’s socialist, militarised society.

Four years ago, the authorities substituted military green school uniforms with other colours like grey, dark blue and off-white depending on the pupils’ grades.

Mandatory military service was reduced to one and a half years from two years in another move in the same direction.

[I would say that these are two very important changes. Children and adults both take cues from their uniforms, and primary school should not feel like basic training. And reducing the mandatory military service might be a way to start gently downsizing the overweight Syrian military. Might be, says the optimist, but even so.]

The government appears to be conveying an image that it is moving away from the militarisation of society, said a lawyer living in Damascus who also requested anonymity.

In schools, officials have toned down the practice of conditioning pupils not to be concerned with personal issues but to focus on broader regional topics like the liberation of Palestine and the struggle for Arab unity, which were slogans that students had to repeat every day, he said.

In a way, students are now treated less like soldiers and more like just students, he added.

An Arabic language schoolteacher from Damascus who also asked to remain anonymous said that since the new school uniforms took effect, students’ behaviour had improved, especially that of high school students. They had become “more polite”, he said.

[Hugely important – not the politeness, but the evolving attitudes toward students and what they should be learning.]

Similarly, the move to modify the uniforms of policemen and customs officers comes as part of a government plan to change the way people view civil servants.

Mona al-Ahmad, a journalist who works for a Syrian website and usually reports on social issues, said the decision was made by the new interior minister, Said Samour, in an effort to separate officials in charge of maintaining security from those tasked with serving the Syrian people.

The authorities have retrained officials in charge of traffic by instructing them on how to address citizens and deal with them in an appropriate way, she said.

[The idea of service – as in, civil service, civil servant, serving the nation, serving at the pleasure of the people, etc., etc. – would be GREAT. And once Syria gets it down, could they please send a delegation to Lebanon?]

Several websites hailed the decision. The pro-government website Damas Post said the new uniform “resembles that of French traffic police”.

[Oh for heaven’s sake.]

But many critics remain sceptical that changing the appearance of some police officers would solve core problems.

Some anonymous web commentators said that it was more important to stop traffic policemen from seeking and taking bribes.

Others said that the focus should not be on fashion but on the creation of a state where officials respect institutions and laws.

[Yes, but I would suggest that the two go hand in hand. Fashion that emphasizes service rather than state power might be a real help in this process.]

It is a far-fetched dream to expect Syria to become a really civilian-oriented country, said a Damascus-based civil rights activist, who preferred not to be named.

He argued that the tight security grip on political dissent along with the intimidation and imprisonment of intellectuals and journalists was increasing.

[Ouch. Clearly, the state is treating dissidents more harshly. But describing Syria’s capacity for change as a “far-fetched dream” sounds like this man has written off his fellow citizens entirely.]


Posted in Arab world, clothing, fashion, Syria | Leave a Comment »

mollusk silk: more from Bsous

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 12, 2009

Since it is the season of love, indulge me as I return to one of my Lebanese loves: the Bsous Silk Museum. I’m not actually a great silk wearer, but the history of silk production in Lebanon is one of my favorite stories.

Any thanks to a casual remark from one of my former professors, I am now curious about the name of the town itself. I understand that “Bsous” comes originally from a Syriac word, and wonder whether it might be linked to the word “byssus”, which appears in the Old Testament – in Exodus, where it is often translated as “linen” or “wool” or even “yarn”. Byssus is the term for the silk-like threads that some types of mollusks (shelled creatures in the mussel and clam family) secrete to anchor themselves to the sea-floor. (Think this sounds gross? Schedule a visit to the Bsous Silk Museum and ask to meet the silkworms.)

Merriam-Webster tells me that “byssus” comes from Middle English bissus, from Latin byssus, from Greek byssos flax, of Semitic origin; akin to Hebrew būṣ linen cloth. And apparently byssus silk and worm silk were seen as much the same – both somewhat nubbier and more linen-like than the silk we use today, thanks to the difference in hand-spun and machine-spun threads.

You can probably figure out my question. Do any of you know whether “Bsous” the town derives from the same word as “byssus”, and whether there was any ancient connection between its land-based silk-making and sea silk? Bsous isn’t a coastal town, so I’m guessing that the term “byssus”/Bsous was used by analogy, but I’m curious whether it was applied first to silk worms and then to silk clams, or vice versa.

Posted in academia, animals, Arab world, Beirut, bugs, clothing, education, Lebanon, research, sea | 1 Comment »

Syrian delight: discount shopping in the boroughs

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 16, 2008

This morning at the gym I decided to recover from the latest Business Week (basic message: yes, the economy is bad; and yes, it will get worse :S) by ending my workout with something lighter: a fashion magazine.

Appropriately enough, the magazine had a small feature on bargain/resale shops in Brooklyn, including one in Gravesend. I’ve never been to Gravesend – actually, I’m not sure I could find it on a map –  but apparently it is a “wealthy Syrian-expat enclave”. And that means bargains that are both high-end and well-tended:


“What you won’t find at this high-end consignment store is a single frayed hem, stained sleeve, or scuffed heel” – I’m not surprised. Even if this were a middle-end store, or even a low-end, I doubt you’d see frays, stains, or scuffs – not to mention scratches, fades, or even wrinkles. Lebanese may have the region’s reputation for stylishness, but Syrians, rich or poor, are the most impeccably groomed people I have ever encountered.

Bring on the January sales – I’m looking forward to my first trip to Gravesend 🙂 .

Posted in Brooklyn, clothing, Damascus, fashion, Syria, vanity, women | 3 Comments »

El rancho libanés

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 4, 2008

Sometimes, serendipity reaches out and hugs you just when life seemed to be getting truly ordinary. Yesterday, a chance encounter with a bit of Dubai PR absolutely made my day – and made me long for my next trip to Lebanon.

Here’s how it began:

The rugged outdoor and colorful life-style of a real cowboy is often glorified in movies and books, and can been seen re-enacted today in many areas of the United States.

Um, yes, although why is a piece from Dubai mentioning this? I wondered.

One would be hard pressed to image however, this authentic reenactment of the Bronco Busters of the wild west, to be located in the east, especially the middle east.

Very true, I thought. Is Dubai creating a Wild West Island?

International travelers can now get a glimpse of good ol’ country boy quintessential living, with real ranch hands and cowboys just outside of sunny Beirut, Lebanon.

HOW ON EARTH DID I MISS THIS PLACE? I thought, eyebrows raised.

The ranch is called, appropriately enough, “El Rancho”, and its website is ElRanchoLebanon.com.

The site, which features animated details like flying geese and a tumbleweed, as well as a soundtrack that seems to feature Woody Guthrie, welcomes visitors with:

For an authentic TexMex experience, set off on a dude ranch escape at El Rancho! Located in the magnificent Ghodras Hill in Keserwan, just forty minutes away from the heart of Beirut and few kilometers up the Casino du Liban,  El Rancho is the ideal place for family vacations, ranch holidays, friends reunions, weddings and birthdays, or just to get away for a Texan day or an under the star wild west evening meal. Meandering to reach beautiful Lebanese scenery in a western breathtaking setting, El Rancho has a great cowboy ambiance, old time saloons and plenty of cowboys and cowgirls ready to serve you at best.

I’m not sure what this dog-sheriff has to do with the ranch, but his image features prominently on the site:


Apparently recognizing that ranch living is not that familiar to most Lebanese, the site has numerous helpful sub-sections, including “What is a ranch?”.

For those who do not know, A ranch is an area of landscape, including various structures, given primarily to the practice of ranching, the practice of raising grazing livestock such as cattle or sheep for meat or wool. El Rancho, however, probably fits more into the site’s definition of a “dude ranch” as one catering to tourists, since in addition to a stables and “high noon” restaurant, it also features a paintball arena. It lists tennis courts and a health club as part of its planned 2010 expansion – following its 2009 additions, which include an Indian village and a “natural pool with bar”.

The planned Indian village, which seems to have been originally scheduled for 2008:


I also enjoyed reading “What to wear”, which instructs visitors to:

Leave your stiletto heels at home and put your riding or western boots on. It’s the Wild West at El Rancho with cowboy hats and a pair of denim jeans.

I’m not sure how this fashion advice fits with El Rancho’s suggested activities, which include corporate events and weddings. And I personally have a very, very hard time leaving my heels at home for any event, although after my father very kindly polished up my old huntseat riding boots last weekend, I wouldn’t mind taking them out for a trail ride or two.

At any rate, El Rancho is very much on my list of places to visit when I am next in Lebanon.

Posted in advertising, animals, clothing, friends, holidays, Lebanon, vanity, women | Leave a Comment »

fashion: the best defense?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 14, 2008

Saturday morning, while lugging three big bags of groceries home from the supermarket (and thinking nerdily to myself: three bags full), I looked into a boutique window and saw a t-shirt design that seemed more appropriate for Lebanon:

To be honest, I’m not sure why Brooklyn needs defending, or whether the t-shirt is being properly marketed. After all, the only people invading Brooklyn these days are yuppies and self-proclaimed hipsters. I doubt that Brooklyn’s long-time residents, who could legitimately claim to be its defenders, shop at the chi-chi store where this shirt is for sale.

And I bet that few Brooklynites, at least in our little gentrified area, think of that gun as an object they see on a daily basis. Here’s a close-up of the shirt:

I’m not claiming to have stumbled upon a new trend. The shirts have actually been around for over ten years, produced by a company also called Defend Brooklyn.

Portable machine gun … green t-shirt … I think that there could be a great market for these shirts in Lebanon. We could make them in choose-your-own-adventure options: single-affiliation neighborhoods could come in one color, while contested neighborhoods could come in multiples.

Hence for example a “Defend the Metn” shirt could come in several shades, while a “Defend Ouzai” shirt would have, er, fewer.

I think it could be a rich business opportunity – and much more socially conscious than the “Hi, Kifak, ca va?” t-shirts I’ve seen for sale at various Beirut bazaars.

But I’m not sure its the business for us. There’s something about a t-shirt decorated with “Defend Sanayeh” and a gun that makes me ill.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, clothing, fashion, Lebanon, politics, words | Leave a Comment »

random searching

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 11, 2008

This post is for H, whose enthusiasm for returning to the US has been considerably tempered by memories of bigotry and concerns over racial profiling.

Thanks to a terrific article published last month by Inter-News, I now know what to get him as a “welcome back to the US” gift – a t-shirt:

This one is available from a company called Rootsgear. If you feel that you fit the “profile” and would like a t-shirt of your own, you can order one online here.

Here’s the start of the Inter-Press article, which was written by Lyndsey Matthews:

NEW YORK: “There are almost 1.2 billion Muslim people in the world. At least 15 of us are not terrorists,” quipped Obaida Abdel-Rahim, 28. “It could even be more than that. Maybe even a lot more.” The Calgary, Canada-born  Abdel-Rahim owns the Muslim t-shirt business Phatwa Factory, one of several Middle Eastern-accented t-shirt businesses to spring up in saucy retort to the outpouring of anti-Muslim sentiment since 9/11. From Rootsgear’s “100 percent Randomly Searched at the Following Airports” and casualdisobedience.com’s “Enemy Combatant” tees, to the lighter “Lebanese Princess,” and “Allah’s Little Angel,” they are getting their message across.

Abdel-Rahim, who now lives in Gainesville, Florida, said he hopes to use humorous slogans to bust US stereotypes about Muslims.

“The best thing to happen to Muslim clothing since pants under a thawb [traditional men’s robe],” says a slogan for Phatwa Factory, which he started in 2006.

“I’d like Muslims to know that it’s okay to laugh,” he said, “and non-Muslims to know that we have a sense of humor.”

Two good goals – and a dozen great t-shirts. You can read the rest of the article here or here.


Posted in Americans, Arab world, Arabic, clothing, fashion, humor, Lebanon, words | 6 Comments »

begging off in Kuwait

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 2, 2008

I am so embarrassed.

This morning I read a news article about a visa fee that Kuwait is considering imposing on foreign visitors. Apparently there are too many foreigners entering Kuwait – 500,000 this year already – and the government hopes that raising the fee will discourage visitors.

And its not the mere fact of their presence that troubles the government – its what they are suspected of doing while in Kuwait:

… Colonel Badr Saleh Al-Hamadi, Immigration Department acting general manager, said the ministry was looking at imposing a monthly fee on visitors.

Al-Hamadi said the move would be in line with other GCC members, which charge a visitor fee.

He said many expatriates who entered Kuwait on a visit visa did so to find employment or to beg in public areas, the later of which has become a problem in recent years, he added. …

I am definitely one of those foreign visitors – or perhaps two of them, since I’ve been to Kuwait twice since January.

As for the begging – I’m so sorry about that. I wasn’t begging, honestly – its just that I need to refresh my workout wardrobe. Holes in my running pants, grey socks, big old baggy t-shirt, worn-out sneakers: Americans have funny ideas about what is acceptable to wear to the gym.

(As for the people who do come to Kuwait for grey market jobs or to beg – my sympathies are totally with them. They must be truly in need.)

Posted in Arab world, clothing, Kuwait, travel, vanity | 2 Comments »

dressing well is the best revenge

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 17, 2008

My friend S, a smart dresser herself and a soon-to-be major power in the Dubai finance world, forwarded a very useful Wall Street Journal article on the importance of dressing professionally (and determining what that means for different industries) when job-hunting. It seems like a no-brainer – but even if you dress impeccably, Christina Binkley’s article is a good refresher.

Smart dressing involves sending subliminal messages, particularly when a serious job is at stake. This is something that even high-ranking business leaders can underestimate.

In commerce, unlike in Hollywood, fashion plays a largely uncredited role. Business schools train graduates to shine their shoes for an interview. But once established, apart from avoiding the obvious gaffe — a coffee-stained shirt or a visible rhinestone bra strap — many executives spend little time contemplating what to wear to a job interview. At their peril.

I recently suggested to Dorothy Waldt, a New York executive recruiter, that CEOs and other high-level job candidates must know what to wear by that stage in their careers. “You’d think!” she said when she had stopped laughing.

“People don’t understand the messages that their clothes send,” says Ms. Waldt, a recruiter with CTPartners. Women sometimes don’t realize how often a tight shirt or a low neckline comes across as seductive. People who meet them are likely to assume the sexual innuendo is intentional. It’s harder for men to goof, but they do — for instance, by being sloppy with untucked or wrinkled shirts or wearing beeping sports watches to staid business events. Sagging socks, dangling earrings and obvious designer logos all send messages that register with the people on the other side of the table.

To complicate matters, things aren’t as cut-and-dried as they were in the days of strict blue-collar and white-collar work uniforms. Following the old dress-for-success rules, with ties and starched white shirts, would create suspicion and awkwardness at Google’s dressed-down headquarters today. Executive job seekers have to study more than the balance sheet these days — they have to suss out a company’s fashion ethos. Candidates may want to call the hiring manager’s assistant or ask a recruiter about the appropriate look before they show up for the interview.

Ms. Waldt recalls a candidate sent to interview with a retailer that had a casual culture. Unfortunately for him, he dressed up. “The clothes that he was wearing were so polar-opposite of what the company did that they thought he just didn’t get them at all,” says Ms. Waldt. They never bothered to interview him. “He sat in a holding pen all day and flew home.”

Possibly, that job candidate wouldn’t have wanted to work at a company that dismissed him so summarily. Yet boards of directors routinely size up executive-level candidates by inspecting the clues in their clothes. Hal Reiter, an executive recruiter and chairman and chief executive of Herbert Mines Associates, recalls meeting with a CEO candidate for a mainstream retailer.

The man, chief financial officer of a major big-box retailer, showed up in a navy-blue necktie with a gold circular symbol surrounded by what looked like leaves and red blotches. Upon closer inspection, Mr. Reiter discovered that the red was blood dripping from a crown of thorns. The tie isn’t the main reason he didn’t get the job, but the distractingly graphic religious imagery didn’t help.

Mr. Reiter, who leans toward Brioni suits himself, rails about “horrible footwear — unshined, rubber soles, acrylic socks” that he sees frequently. He isn’t shy about dressing people down, according to Larry McClure, senior vice president of human resources for Liz Claiborne Inc., who once hired Mr. Reiter to locate a senior-level recruit. In the car on their way to the interview in Newark, N.J., the executive recruiter glanced at Mr. McClure’s feet, which were ensconced in worn, pilled socks. “I gotta help you out here,” Mr. Reiter announced, according to both men. “You need some better socks. They’re horrible.”

“I guess I never figured that people would look at my socks,” says Mr. McClure, who has since invested in new ones, as well as Donald Pliner shoes.

Mr. Reiter’s parting shot for aspiring executives at businesses with a formal ethos: “It takes $1,000 to buy a suit that looks good.” And when you wear it, “you can’t look like it’s the first time, either.”

For ideas on looking authoritative but approachable, look at politicians — the most practiced job candidates of all — who are savvy at flashing messages with their clothing. In the ultimate employment interview, for U.S. President, Hillary Clinton wore a looped red scarf in New Hampshire earlier this week that looked decisive and framed her face, while her dark suit hit that nice-not-loud note that signals that we’re supposed to be paying attention to her brain, not her designer.

(You can read the rest of the article here.)

Perhaps the most useful part is the checklist that accompanies the article:


I have an executive mentality already – bring on the white wool suits!

Posted in advertising, clothing, fashion, women | Leave a Comment »

a day at the beach

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 29, 2007

In the past few days at least three people have asked me how often I go to the beaches here.

The truth is that I don’t go very often. The beaches that I love look like this:


(thanks to my mother for taking such a lovely photo last week, while the rest of us were lounging around in the sun).

Outfitting oneself for this beach requires only a pair of shorts (or a summer skirt), a pair of flip-flops, a beach blanket, a bottle of water and a good book.

A typical beach in Lebanon looks like this:


This beach is in Jiyyeh, south of Beirut. The one I’ve gone to more often is Edde Sands, which comes with its own map.

Outfitting oneself for this beach requires something more: a style-y bikini (which I own), designer sunglasses, a car to be valet’ed, and appropriate footwear:


Okay – I have the footwear too, but I don’t usually wear shoes like that to the beach.

I have no objection to Lebanese-style beachgoing, but … I’m lazy. I like my beaches to be as low-maintenance as they can be.

Posted in Americans, Beirut, clothing, fashion, holidays, Lebanon, maps, photography, sea, Seattle, swimming, time, weather | Leave a Comment »

the other marines in Lebanon

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on June 27, 2007

While waiting for my flight to depart last week, I picked up MEA’s in-flight magazine and began idly flipping through it.

Along with lavish coverage of this summer’s Beiteddine Festival program (do the Hariris own that, too?), I saw this advertisement:


Yes, its quite a piece of work.

Bracketing the obvious oddities – that the family is clearly not Lebanese and has a very curious role-playing hobby – what struck me most intensely was the brand name: Original Marines, accompanied by a stylized American flag.

The US Marines have a well-known history in Lebanon – so well known that it has become part of the United States’ subterranean memory. When I mention that I live in Beirut, this is what people ask about – and, of course, kidnapping. Despite all the events of the past year, what remains most deeply lodged in the American consciousness of Lebanon are the events of the early and mid 1980s.

When I saw this advertisement, I was horrified, imagining that some Lebanese entrepreneur had capitalized on the Marines’ name recognition (and the country’s loose interpretation of copyright law) to sell Swedish-ly preppy clothing.

But no. Original Marines, as it turns out, is an Italian company, with retail shops all over the region, from Morocco to the UAE. The promotional photograph on the corporate website is even loopier than the Cedar Wings ad.

What do Lebanon’s Original Marines wearers think of the brand name, I wonder. Do they think of the Marines’ history in Lebanon, or has it become just a name to them, much as Banana Republic is in the United States?

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, art, Beirut, clothing, economics, family, fashion, Italy, Lebanon, media, photography, travel, words | 1 Comment »