Dutch Dress: Offensive, Traditional, or Self Expression?

by Jen Chiappone

Each of the four authors this week (Dibbits, Karskens, Raboteau, and Roodenburg) have their own way of describing and analysing parts of Dutch’s cultural fashions that reflect on the wear’s lifestyles. Arnold Karskens uses a photographic essay style with personal accounts to help his reader understand the life of a prostitute working in the Netherlands. This up-close-and-personal account allows the reader to get a view of prostitution and drug use that is not found in other methods. The reader starts to understand and feel for the women in the pictures. However, while there is an emotional understanding, there is some historical and overall context missing from this piece. The reader is left not understanding what the essay was about.

Hester Dibbits discloses that her essay is exploratory and, unlike Karskens, does not rely on first hand accounts from Moroccan-Dutch youths. This was a fact that couldn’t leave my mind as I read her essay. Is she creditable from afar, without knowing the personal facts and motivations behind the Moroccan-Dutch boy’s change from baggy to streamlined Italian brand named clothing? This type of method limits the author from going into the topic deeper, which would come from personal accounts.

Both Herman Roodenburg and Emily Raboteau focus on first hand accounts as well as historical context for their essays on traditional Marken dress and the Zwarte Piet tradition, respectly. Because of their use of personal insight and emotion and traditional values that come along with these essay topics, I feel these essays had more well-rounded and thorough arguments than the other two.

Like in most countries, clothing in the Netherlands holds the identity of the wearer. When it comes to the families of Marken, dress is one of the most important things. Clothing is passed down through the generations and shows the families’ pride, status, and the importance of tradition and legacy.

marken dress

However, this elegant traditional Dutch dress has become almost obsolete over the last century. In the 1960s, the isle of Marken was connected by a dike to the mainland which allowed easier tourism to the quaint village as well as the Marken population to travel and study elsewhere. Many of the personal accounts told how the women felt out of place in the rest of the Netherlands in their traditional dress. In addition, tourism was growing and the traditional garments were attracting tourists. Many Marken people felt they were just seen as a tourist attraction. These reasons caused many villagers to wear normal clothes and retire their traditional attire. With this the traditional dress is becoming lost and the original families of Marken are moving away or dying out. However, is it better to be in control of your cultural heritage and allow it to falter rather than allow it to become a tourist commodity? To this day, Marken is a very popular day trip from Amsterdam and the cultural dress is still celebrated here. But is that to fuel the tourism or for the Marken people to keep the clothing memory alive?

In her essay, “Who is Zwarte Piet?,” Emily Raboteau discusses her hatred, confusion, and eventual understanding of Zwarte Piet, a Dutch Christmas tradition involving blackface. This story of Zwarte Piet as St. Nicolas’ helper originates from the Middle Ages. Raboteau reflects on the use of slaves and Dutch colonialism and how Zwarte Peit, or Black Pete, is a stereotypical symbol of a black man. This story has turned into a tradition of dressing in blackface and jester costumes for St. Nicolas day celebrations. While this seems outrageous that it is still performed and celebrated today. As Raboteau discovers, dressing in this manner isn’t meant to be offensive, its original meaning erased with time, but a joyous celebration of Christmas and Dutch culture. However, although it is in good fun and not meant to be racism, is it still racist? I think so. While many people find it racist, getting rid of the Zwarte Piet tradition would be devestaing to the Dutch people.


As I read “Moroccan Dutch Boys and the Authentication of Clothing Styles” by Hester Dibbits, I noticed there is a difference in calling something real/authentic and what is not. If the Marken people had stayed in their traditional dress for the sake of the tourists, it would not be authentic. Does how someone dresses tell their whole personality/life? Does one have to prove they are not ‘fake’ to dress a certian way? 


4 thoughts on “Dutch Dress: Offensive, Traditional, or Self Expression?

  1. The timing of each of these pieces may indeed be instructive–how dated do you think any of these might be at this point? How might Dibbits need to change her framework or context of analysis today? How might those boys’ clothing styles be viewed today? How might the women of Marken’s choices be seen in this new context?


  2. Thank you for your comments and questions! Ian Buruma discusses the political and religious problems surrounding the death of Theo Van Gogh, which helps to create a larger picture around the readings from Monday. It shows the world that the Moroccan-Dutch buys, the Zwarte Piet actors, prostitutes, and people of Marken live in. However, as AJStreker pointed out, these articles vary in dates. This meaning their view of the world around them may have changed for better or worse today. For example, does the Zwarte Piet tradition get more backlash and racial notice now that the Black Lives Matter movement is growing and spreading from America? Are people today more sensitive and aware of possible racist comments/traditions/etc because it is being made an everyday topic of conversation? Buruma’s book about Islamophobia and politics in the Netherlands was written in 2006. 10 years later, the world has changed a lot, even in the past two years radical Islamic terrorism is on the rise. I wonder how his book would have changed if written now.

    I enjoyed Buruma’s writing style which made the information-heavy narrative enjoyable and engaging. It was personable yet fact driven. This kind of writing style can help engage and educate people with historical and political narratives (that are usually dull, dry, and uninteresting). I cannot help but think back to Emily Raboteau as an “outsider” author and how Buruma is also an outsider to his topic of Islam and politics. While he is half Dutch and lived in the Netherlands for a good part of his childhood, Buruma would not get the entire Dutch feeling behind the politics and Islamophobia being experienced. However, I still feel this is authentic. It is well researched and approached with a very balanced, neutral view of the Dutch religious and political issues.


  3. I like the idea of authenticity laying somewhere other than just the physical clothing itself! That the same clothing on the same person could mean two completely different thing? So, what counts as authentic for those Dutch Moroccan boys? Does the fact that all looks are in some way performative make them less authentic? Whose definitions apply? Who polices them?


  4. I think you bring up a lot of great points, I mostly just have follow up questions that might help you with your weekly essay.
    Does Karsken’s photo essay need a historical context? If he didn’t mention the year 1988, I could have believed the photos were from a multitude of years/decades. In my opinion, this establishes his essay in history, but also makes it atemporal. It could’ve been 20 years ago, it could’ve been yesterday. He is manipulating the identity of his subjects to stand them out from the crowd, but also make said crowd applicable across time.
    What is authenticity? If the women of Marken only dressed for the tourists, does that matter? It’s their heritage and identity to do with as they like, or?


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s