Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Where's the minis & high heels?

Dockside prostitutes in Cape Town rarely wear "sexy" clothing. They almost never wear minis, high heels or bright make-up. Rather, they sport casual androgynous streetwear: jeans, t-shirts & takkies (tennis shoes). This stands in contrast to Durban's dockside sugar girls who emphasize their sexy couture.

So why this difference? Why are Cape Town ladies more conservative in their attire than their Durban counterparts? I think there are two primary reasons. Maybe three.

1 - In Cape Town, most dockside ladies travel from their homes in the townships to the downtown nightclubs by public transport—buses, taxis, trains. They leave at 6:30 in the evening and return on the first taxis back in the mornings at 5am. The last thing they want to do is call attention to their work by wearing sexy clothing as they travel to and from their communities. It would attract negative attention and potentially reveal their source of income. So they seek to blend in by wearing casual clothing.

But in Durban, the women hail from upcountry locales, so they don't live at home. They reside in the blighted city center, surrounded by transient strangers of the shadowland. There's no community surveillance to worry about. They can wear snazzy clothing without their families or communities getting wind of their activities. Sexiness is not a threat to their reputations at home.

2 - Cape Town can get bloody cold at night, especially in the winter. The wind & low temperatures make slinky clothing a bad idea. So the ladies protect themselves with jeans, polo necks, hoodies, and heavy jackets.

But in Durban, the sub-tropical heat allows women to wear "come hither" attire most months of the year. In summertime, they almost have to wear such thin outfits because of the humidity.

3 - Another possible explanation might be the "Americanization" of fashion amongst coloured township-dwellers in Cape Town. While all South Africans are influenced to some extent by American cultural fads—in music, film, fashion, etc.—Cape coloureds seem to draw the deepest inspiration from the States. Especially from black American cultural styles. (In fact, when Cape Flats kids are allowed to wear casual clothes to school on Fridays, they call it "American Day.")

African women from KwaZulu-Natal also draw from American aesthetic influences, but not with the same commitment as coloureds do. They draw from a variety of ethnic inspirations: indigenous, pan-African, European & American.

So in Cape Town, dockside pros use clothing to camouflage their work while Durban women use it to advertise theirs. CT ladies dress warm to avoid the cold; KZN women dress lightly to deal with the heat. And coloured women embrace a casual style that fits with their community's cultural inspirations while Durban women adapt their attire to suit the competitive solicitous environment of the clubs.

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