Jamaican Dress
Its Forms, Formats & Functions

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The typical Jamaican dress code reflects the warmth of the island, coupled with the Western influence of dress. As such, you will find similar clothing styles and colours to those worn in the warmer climates of North America.

Jamaican Dress - by Leah Karena Gayle -Dec 2012

In other words, a typical Jamaican woman would own any combination or all of the following articles: jeans pants/skirts for casual wear; breezy, summer-type dresses (with or without sleeves); T-shirts; casual blouses; oxford-type work blouses, etc, similar to a woman living in Florida for example. In the same way, a Jamaican man’s closet would hold similar clothing to a man living in Florida.

The only items of clothing that you would not locate in a typical Jamaican closet are: the heavy winter coats, ear muffs, woolen or leather gloves, etc that are found in the winter climates of the Americas.

This is due to the fact that, although the winter season in Jamaica may get a bit chilly at times (due to cold winds and/or rainy weather), the location of the island; close to the equator; does not allow for the temperatures to go low enough to require such clothing. In addition to casual and work wear, a typical Jamaican owns several “church wear”.

This is due to the island’s strong Christian background (as it is noted to have the most churches per capita). Depending on the denomination that the individual belongs to, the type of clothing may vary from a uniformed look to a variety of dresses for women or dress suits (complete with jacket and tie) for men. There are also diverse forms of headdress associated with different churches.

As such, you may find one set of individuals may own various head wraps (of differing shades, textures and lengths, where another set may own several wide-brimmed hats and/or a few rounded ones. You can observe these variations on a typical Sunday or Saturday morning, respectively, when these individuals are on their way to church.

Traditionally, funeral garb consisted of black, white or purple dresses for women and a black or black and white shirt and tie or dress suit for men. This tradition has changed over the years, with other colours being added to the mix, in various styles and lengths and the option of sleeves or sleeveless.

In a similar fashion, the typical ball gown-type was reserved for special occasions, especially graduations and dinners. There are variations from this tradition as well, but it still holds true, for the most part.

On occasions of national interest and import, such as Jamaica Day, Independence Day, Festival, as well as other ceremonial days, the National Costume is oftentimes worn. This consists of a head wrap, dress, skirt and blouse or shirt and pants combination, made from the madras or bandana material.

Jamaican Dress - Bandana

This is a burgundy with white and blue streaking plaid material that is sewn to create the various combinations. Sometimes the costume is a white top with a bandana-frilled edging along with a bandana skirt for women, and a bandana top and white pants for men, while at other times, the bandana is the more dominant material used along with white frills.

Jamaican Dress - Colors of jamaica

Being an island of varying cultures, you may also see a few variations in dress, reflective of other cultural and religious backgrounds. It is, therefore, not uncommon to see a Muslim in a hijab, an Indian in a Sari or a Rastafarian in turban and African-style dressing (with or without footwear), among others. These dress codes, however, are fewer in number, with the Rastafarian headdress being more common.

As was noted, the Jamaican dress consists of various styles, dependent on the occasion. It is a melting pot of cultures and religions, so there are variations to the type and style of dress worn, when they are worn and who wears what.

For the majority, however, the style of the Jamaican dress follows that of most Western countries, especially the Americas, with the emphasis being on clothing that is cool and reflects the climate of the region.

by Arriel Bullock

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