Clothing Crossing Cultural Divides

By Monika Salita
@monikasalita or About Monika

Clothing Crossing Cultural Divides

By Vishma thapa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Simply put on some clothes, any clothes, and you’ve already spoken volumes about yourself without uttering a single word. Teaching around the globe obviously gives TEFL teachers new opportunities to experience and learn about new cultures; clothing is one avenue with which to do so. An article in The Guardian discusses a recent crackdown on the importation and selling of Barbies in Iran, or rather, a crackdown on the importation of Western culture to Iran, which is not in line with traditional Iranian values. One point of discussion here includes the style of clothing the Barbie doll is wearing and how the clothing promotes a certain culture.

Aside from practicing diligence and cultural understanding with the way we dress, clothing can express many different personal ideals. Some religions prefer to not have women wear pants, and not bare their shoulders. Some Amazonian cultures have no problems wearing minimal amount of clothing or body coverings.

Our apparel can express a very specific style, our likes, dislikes and even world views and personal convictions. Clothing, behind the simple “what am I wearing?” questions, can serve as a unique and creative base for an ESL lesson plan. The website, Simple ESL, offers a great variety of basic, intermediate and advanced lessons focused around clothes. Activities include discussions on school uniforms, vocabulary on clothes and jewelry, and related games and activities.

With advanced students, clothing could serve as a springboard on conversations on one’s self, culture, general likes and dislikes including art, music, sports, style and celebrity culture, and world views. Topics that can be easily discussed include the following: cultural significance of special outfits such as wedding attire or quinceañera dresses, clothing colors and what they represent (think chic, monochromatic New York City artist wear versus a beautifully intricate and colorful Indian sari), baggy clothing versus form-fitting clothing and what these styles may represent, discuss local clothing styles and how they compare and contrast with your own, and what can be learned about a certain culture in this instance.

Feel free to share various photos of any number of clothing styles and ask students what they think the clothing represents. You may end up with one very interesting conversation filling your classroom; just be sure to not allow conversations to skew negatively towards stereotypes.

What does your closet say about you?


I adored teaching English in beautiful Montpellier, France during the 2008-09 academic year. I am an avid learner and have finished two professional certificates in public relations and social media technologies.