Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chuukese on the Catwalk

The atmosphere was electric with anticipation as the music thumped and a spotlight shone on the runway. Bouncers rigorously guarded the two locked doors to make sure spectators could supply the requisite proof that they had an invitation (aka, were female). What would be the 2009 fall fashion for Chuukese clothing? What surprises might be in store for the spectators who would watch lovely Chuukese models promenade down the catwalk? Well, OK, so I am glamorizing the event to some extent. But, what a great evening we had.

The idea of hosting a fashion show came about after I heard a PIU student extolling the beauty of "the latest" Chuukese skirts. I couldn't see what the fuss was about. At first glance, the skirts looked the same as they always had--same floral cut-outs, same tea-length, and same cotton or nylon fabric. As the students attempted to explain last year's fashion, the fashion of four years ago, and the latest fashion, I suggested we have a night where they could bring the skirts and actually demonstrate the differences for me. I also asked them to explain to me the rules around what they could wear and when. Well, one thing led to another, and eventually we decided we'd have a fashion show in the large classroom at PIU. I'd bring the dessert and drinks, and they'd do the rest. As seems to be consistently true of our Micronesian students, they amazed me with their creativity and ability to provide quality entertainment. Undoubtedly, the students more than took care of "the rest." They had arranged the chairs so there was a long runway proceeding from a set of double doors, they located some special colored spotlights, and hooked up a sound system so that the entire event was narrated by an emcee. Additionally, they had music coordinated throughout the entire show. Not only did they show the latest in Chuukese skirts, they paraded mu mus, "sports-wear," and traditional wear from the Chuuk State islands of Satawal, Puluwat, Faichuuk, Weno, and Bafeng. It was during the showing of traditional clothing that I understood the need for locked doors and attentive sentinels! (Think styles similar to what Adam and Eve would have worn!)

Below I have posted some select photos. I had to be quite discriminating because I didn't want to inadvertently expose a student's knee, a part of the body that most our students are not comfortable publicly revealing. Guess you should have been present to get the full showing! :-)

How Chuukese fashion-astute are you? Below is a picture of Chuukese skirts in various levels of fashionableness. Can you arrange them in order from least to most fashionable? (The answer is at the bottom of this article).

The picture below is what females wear while playing sports! It is a skirt (worn with an underskirt so as to ensure no chance of it being seen through). Then comes a t-shirt. Over the t-shirt is a skirt tucked into itself forming a type of "tube top." Just imagine how hot this must be! (Remember Chuuk is about 7 degrees above the equator and thus ALWAYS blistering hot.)

Mu mus are worn to church and all other formal events.

Skirts are "every day wear" and are worn while cleaning, fishing, playing sports, bathing, swimming, etc. They are considered casual--no matter how "fancy," and therefore not appropriate for church or special occasions.

Traditionally, and even now on many of the islands, women go topless. But, showing one's leg (Knee and above) is taboo! This picture is of a traditional skirt woven and currently worn for special events (e.g. an inauguration) on the island of Puluwat. (It felt like the heavy weaving found in Mexican serapes. Unfortunately, the student was unable to explain the materials used to make it). It is worn as a wrap around and, therefore, it must be very hot to wear. However, when you wear this skirt, you do not wear a top so perhaps that compensates?!

* Answer to the order of which skirts are most stylish: The most sylish are on the left, moving to the least stylish on the far right.


Carolyn_ Armin said...

This was very informative.Many things I did not know. I wear my skirt to church but not my mu mu. I guess I have to change that.
I also wish I could have been there to watch. My heart is still with you all!

HLodge said...

Everybody learn something new at some point...even I did...gender differences??

Anonymous said...

It was very nice to see things from home. The last skirt is not a skirt, rather a lavalava most likely made from 100% cotton threads from the Outer Islands of Yap. These lavalavas are very important as they signify womanhood. They are also given as gifts as a sign of respect. They are mostly worn and given during important events such as weddings, important gatherings and funerals.

Your friends are right in saying that there is a time frame of 'trendiness' of the skirts. The more the glitter the more the recent. In the 80's they only used poplin and in solid colors. But the skill set back then was amazing. Women drew elaborate pictures that depicted daily happenings. Things like animals (chickens, fish) and even people and plants (coconut and breadfruit trees).

There are many more aspects of these skirts, but it would require too much information. It was very nice to read your blog..

Eric and Karyn Sorenson said...

To the person who wrote the very informative anonymous comment filling in some details of Chuukese fashion, I'd love to get your email address so I could potentially use you as a resource in the future. You were very articulate. Thank you!

P.S. You can send me an email at so that you are not posting your email address on this public forum.

Sandra Lasswell said...

I found this site very informative and interesting. I am really wanting to purchase some skirts and mu-mus. can you get me in touch with a place to purchase them?