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The Shelf Life of Expatriate Clothes

In Djibouti we drink UHT milk. This is milk that can sit on the shelf forever, until it is opened and then it must be refrigerated. We also call it “long-life milk.”

There is no such thing as “long-life clothes” in Djibouti. This is due to:

  • sweat that requires us to change at least once a day six months out of the year
  • salty tap water that wreaks havoc on laundry (and appliances)
  • blistering sun that dries the laundry since we don’t have a dryer
  • dust and crows and fly poop that stains the laundry on the line
  • the fact that we have essentially only two seasons: hot and hotter
  • inexpensive but poorly made clothes available locally that often fall apart after one wash
  • and being worn by a member of the Jones family which means dirt, ketchup, BBQ sauce, or many other types of stains

All these factors conspire against clothes lasting very long IF we count length of time as the way it is traditionally counted, as in, with the passage of time.

(I’d like to see a commercial for a detergent that can handle this:)

dust

IF, however, we count length of clothing time in terms of the numbers of seasons worn, I think I have some incredibly long-wearing clothes.

I’m from Minnesota. In Minnesota there are four seasons and everyone, legitimately, has four sets of clothes. This means if I wear my winter sweaters for a single winter, though I have only worn them for one season, I have gotten a full year’s worth of use from that purchase.

Djibouti has really only one season. Other than blue jeans (which I wear in January, only and only because I insist on blue jeans at least once a year, just to retain the semblance of normality), I wear my clothes all year-round.

If I wear a shirt winter, spring, summer, and fall, which in Djibouti is pretty much all the same, I have worn it for four Minnesota seasons.

Shelf Life of Clothes

Translation: I have gotten four years’ worth of use from that purchase.

Today as I talked clothes with another American friend, I looked down at the tank top I was wearing. Navy blue, so the sweat stains don’t show up easily. Pretty boring, but also timeless. I bought this tank top five years ago and am still wearing it.

Translation: I have gotten twenty years’ worth of use from that tank top.

Score!

Great news for that tank top, a wise choice.

There are negatives to this, however. The negatives come in the forms of swimsuits, underwear and bras, and anything that isn’t black or navy blue.

I had a white t-shirt this fall. It lasted about two months before the armpits were stained yellow. That was a single-season/single-year wear.

Swimsuits tend to last less than one calendar year. By Djibouti-clothing-math that does equal four years of Minnesota swim-wear, but it also means we have to plan accordingly and bring more than one or two back, buying swimsuits locally isn’t an option.

Let’s not even talk underwear and bras.

I’m coming to Minnesota this summer. I will be shopping. I will buy things and then will feel sick when I see the piles of swimsuits and shoes and skirts for my family of five laid out to be packed into a suitcase.

Then I will remind myself that I haven’t shopped for a year this time and probably won’t for the next two full years. I am shopping for eight years worth of a warm season. For five people. Translation: Forty years of clothes! And I know, from years of experience now, that two years from now, come mid-April our clothes start to disintegrate, stretch, and become permanently misshapen. When everyone has yellow pits and holes and see-through shorts and unmentionable unmentionables, that’s the sign. That’s how we know it is time for a break.

Like my math? How do you figure clothes-math?

Culture Shock in Pictures: Clothing

Moving on in our week of culture shock photos, here are some differences in clothing.

Here are two members of Girls Run 2 (in the blue scarf and in the blue jeans) and their relatives, doing what they do before school most days.

clothes1

And then there was Naked Cowgirl in Times Square (not my sister, the two women behind her). Don’t see a lot of those in Djibouti. I know her name was Naked Cowgirl because that’s what the sign she hung around her guitar said.

naked cowgirl1

What I wear differs depending on my location, too.

In Minnesota on a warm day it was a tank top, a baseball cap I stole from my brother, and super short shorts (not shown and not as short as Naked Cowgirl’s).

clothes2

In Djibouti, going to a conservative part of town, it was a long dress and a scarf. Though in all honesty, I don’t often cover my hair in Djibouti.

clothes3

The culture shock part seems to come in the first time I wear those short shorts out and people see my legs when I’m not even at the beach. Or when the scarf keeps falling off. It also comes in when my Minnesota-bred mind sees the well-dressed women running errands in Djibouti and thinks they look dolled up enough to go to a dinner party. And then again when my Djibouti-taught mind sees women in yoga pants or jogging shorts when they aren’t exercising and I wonder why people are wandering around downtown Minneapolis in their pajamas.

How do you experience culture shock through the clothing you see and/or wear?

 

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