Dressing the Diaspora: Dress practices among East African Indians, circa 1895-1939

Chris Wilson

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This article analyses the dress practices of East African Indians from the late nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, which have failed to attract much scholarly attention. It begins by examining the ways in which very material interactions with items of clothing while separated from the body were productive of identities and communities amongst Indian tailors, shoemakers, dhobis, and others in East Africa. It then turns away from a specific focus on questions of identity to consider the ways in which dress was incorporated into the diasporic strategies of East African Indians as they sought to negotiate the Indian Ocean world. Finally, it explores how, where, and when Indians adopted particular dress practices in East Africa itself, to illuminate the role of dress in orderings of space, colonial society, and gender. The analytic value of dress, this article contends, lies in its universality, which allows for the recovery of the everyday lives and efforts of ordinary East African Indians, as well as a new perspective on elite diasporic lives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)660-689
Number of pages30
JournalModern Asian Studies
Issue number2
Early online date27 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019

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