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Traditional Culture And Costume Around The World Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4737 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This chapter is focused on the relationship between the traditional culture, music and costume around the world. Five countries from different regions have been selected. In order to prove that the music influence on fashion happened not only in a particular period or area, it leads to a concept of investigating the relationship between the two within different region. The countries that are involved in this section are Africa, China, India, Japan and Spain. Each country has their own traditional culture which still remains important to the society until present. Besides its traditional culture, the music and costume of these countries have their own distinct characteristics that help to reminds us of the importance of the culture. Although traditional music seems to have an indirect influence on cultural costumes, it is however proven through the analysis of this chapter, that there lies a close relationship between the two forms of expression and music does significantly influence the development of costumes.

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Africa is the birthplace of the human species around 5 to 8 million years ago. It was an ancient civilization that has existed for so long and much of their traditional cultural activities focus on the family and ethnic group. The country’s unique culture and tradition can easily be recognized through their rhythmic music and ethnic costumes. With a huge emphasis on life centered on their religion, the African lifestyle and social patterns are expressions of their passion for life and nature. Whether it is their music or traditional costumes, the symbolism and validity to the psychic energy is made preeminent. The existing religious activities had been served and reinforced by art forms, music, costume and oral literature of Africa.

Percussion instruments are the most characteristic elements among African music. Numerous types of drums are used with other ‘wind instruments that are made out of tusks, horns, conch shells, wood and gourds.’ Also, they use rhythm to unite the music of various different tribal groups and areas. The beauty of repeating musical rhythms to create patterns is a technique that is also applied on the creation of traditional fabrics. In Africa music, singing is harmonized in the thirds to fifths with the main rhythmic melody. And it has influenced to their fabric making, patterns are repeated vibrant shades to create a harmonic balance of color and graphics.

In the African culture, music is most often accompanied by dance, as a part of the spiritual and ritual expression. Like the musical presentation, the dances are commonly defined as passionate and free spirited. They allow people to fully express their emotions and display the feeling of liberation through unrestricted movements. Traditional African costumes are designed to enhance the passionate nature of the music and dance. The costumes not only allow the people to move freely in the hot climate, but with the aid of make up and other traditional adornments, the beauty of the African culture is painted even more richly.

The costumes are commonly known for their unique combination of colors, but it is rarely known that the colors and patters bear symbolic meaning to the culture. For instance ‘The combinations of black, green and gold represent the colors of the African National Congress’ flag’. Patterns such as the colorful geometric shapes and ancient symbols are definitive elements in creating colorful patterns on their traditional costumes. The common African costume is a loose-fitted garment with color or symbolic pattern reference to the culture of their area. Around 200 B.C. the people began to weave fabric to make clothing, they also make use of other materials provided by nature to enhance their looks. Amongst the materials used, fur and leather are popular choices for covering and accessories. Meanwhile shells, feathers and even grass are used to further adorn the costumes. These colorful accessories play an important role in completing the tribal nature of the traditional costume of Africa.

With a burning passion for religion and life, Africans are reliant on nature for sustenance of food, shelter and protection. Their original cuisine is made up of a combination of native fruits, vegetables, dairy and wild game. Africans have wisely used their native resources to create their own culture. For example, both the creation of their music instruments and the materials for costume are done from the native resources that characterize the African culture. They believe that their existence is extremely reliant on the mercy of their religious deities, therefore making worship an intrinsic element of their rich culture. Their worship rituals are defined by music, dance and sacrifice. It is where they are liberated and free to express their gratitude and other emotions. Therefore, they serve the rhythmic music as chants for them to unite believe and reinforce the passionate nature of their movements. Together with their bright and symbolic costumes, the rich fabric of the African culture is an ancient weave of the nations passion, beliefs and appreciation for life.

2.2 Chinese culture

The analysis of this section will be focused in China. If the native African culture were best described as vibrant, tribal, passionate and expressive, then Chinese culture mentioned in this section would stand at the opposite and make a contrast to it. Chinese traditional culture has attracted and inspired many people from all over the world for thousands of years. Commonly identified for their extreme practice of restrain, subtlety and discipline. The Chinese are known for their unparalleled craftsmanship, design elegance and poetic culture. It is unique and one-of-akind, that also described as elegant and inspiring. In order to protect it’s own traditional culture, China has maintained control of its boundaries almost without any other invasion. It tends to support the fact that the culture of China is equally uninterrupted, in terms of literature and art which reveal a striking dependence over several millennia. Despite its long history and wide diversity of subcultures, Chinese literature and art reveals a strong cohesiveness of their culture. Various disciplines of art, such as traditional music and costume, share a codependent relationship in influencing each other.

Traditional classical Chinese music is known as Art Music and is also sometimes being referred to as Sophisticated Music, as they were mostly composed by ancient scholars and literati. This form of music shares an intimate link to the Chinese poetry and other various forms of lyric drama, which is essentially wordless poetry. In the same manner as poetry, music allows the people to express their feeling, offering them a form of comfort and spiritual elevation. Chinese classical music are typically played solo, and classified as either thematic, poetic or philosophical. ‘Instruments that often being selected to play solo such as Qin or known as Guqin, has characterize among the Chinese instruments.’ The Guqin is a 7-string zither, an ancient instrument with over 3000 years of well-documented history behind its origins. Another popular instrument used in Classical music is the Pipa, otherwise known as the Chinese lute. Through these string instruments, the music played expresses a light, pure and elegant feeling, which is also predominant theme for what is perceived as traditional Chinese beauty and costumes.

The famous sultry dress Qipao, commonly known as Cheongsam is an elegant type and most typical, traditional costume of Chinese women. This traditional costume has evolved along with the country’s history and is now most recognized as a body hugging dress with a high neckline and slits on the side. Tailored in brocade or silk fabrics with intricate embroidery and broad lace trims along the collar, sleeves and edge. Since it was known as a traditional costume of China, the dress is often designed with symbolic Chinese themes such a flowers, birds and dragons. The Chinese Qipao became very popular among royalties during the Qing Dynasty according to (Wu Juanjuan, 2009). At that time, it was fitted loosely and it was longer than the usual so it would reach the insteps. Today this traditional costume can be considered as an instrument to suitable represent Chinese beauty and culture, making it an iconic costume for the performance of Chinese music on instruments such as the Guqin and Pipa. The popularity of the Qipao helps not only to showcase the rich and intricate heritage of China, but it has become symbolic of the Orient Chinese beauty to other nationalities. Many influential people have suggested that China should consider the Qipao as an official national dress for women.

The rich history of China documents a wealth of archeological records that follows the development of their national costumes. These costumes not only differ according to their dynasties but also with their location of popularity and social caste. However varied as they may be, Chinese costumes commonly share similarities in the bright color choices, refined artisanship and ornate details of art references. It is not hard to notice the nation’s emphasis on refinement in all aspects of life, especially in their perception of beauty.

Another example, the foot binding consisted in the traditional Chinese culture shows how Chinese perceive a women’s subtly and lightness to be beautiful is the brutal practice of it. The practice binding the feet of young girls by the ancient Chinese was in order to stunt the growth in size is a cruel method practiced in the past, which to ensure the small and light movements of women. Not only were the little “Lotus Feet” of Chinese woman folk is an extension of beauty and fashion, but considered as a form of social acceptance. Women were forced to move slowly and light-footed, as suggested by the style of traditional music.

The Chinese Classical Music is an arrangement of soft harmonious notes that eludes a gentle sense of calm and elegance, and use to performed with a group of female dances dressed in an elegant fashion, in light feathery steps. The appreciation for refinement and elegant beauty has reflected in the design of the Qipao. The fitted silhouette of the dress restricts big movements, while presents the curves of the female body form rightfully. Dress in a Qipao, a woman has to learn to walk in small and unhurried steps, while maintains a straight posture to fit the snugness of the cut. The dress presents its ability of ingenuity to demand discipline and showcase a sultry form of appeal. Therefore it can be concluded that Chinese beauty is shaped is largely by to its development in arts, with music playing an important role is propelling the notion. Therefore we can say that music has dramatically influenced the way the Chinese dress and behave.

2.3 Indian culture

The traditional culture of India can be defined as the art of living, it refers to the intellectual development that evolved out of the physical and mental training acquired in the course of Indian history. For a culture that is recognized for ‘humanity, tolerance, unity, and secularism’, Indians are noted for their humanness and calm nature, with the lack of harshness in their principles and ideals. Today in India, there is unity within its conglomeration of gender and their various castes and creed. The people have the freedom to worship any religion without breeching the law or violating the beliefs of others. Racial groups are tightly interwoven together with members of different religious backgrounds (Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs) to form the cultural fabric of India. Despite their diversities and difference in beliefs, the people are still able to live in relatively harmonious state during times of both calamity and festivity.

Traditional Indian music is based on two main elements called the Raga and Tala, with the former representing the melodic scale and the latter, the rhythm. Two important people have greatly contributed to this music form. The first person is Bharata Muni, an ancient Indian musicologist who invented the ‘concept of nava-rasa (nine principle “moods” or “tastes”).’ The concept emphasizes on the spiritual emotion during the practice of their religious movement, the Bhakhi, while worship is integrated into the music. Along with the music, it was not only considered as adoration of the Bhakhi movement but a deeper meaning towards the higher consciousness of people pursuit of God and self-realization. The second note-worthy person in the development of traditional Indian music is Tansen. He is believed to have the power of performing miracles through his singing. Instruments such as drums, tables mridangas, manjira and the harmonium were commonly used for Indian music. The music of India is entirely monodic. Its tone can be ‘divided into 22 segments called srutis’ and uses basic scales known as Sa-grama with other scales derived from the basic srutis, by sharpening or flattening of some of the tones. The melody is based on the system of ragas, and it is usually used as the basis for self-improvisation.

Among the traditional culture of India, the colorful traditional clothing of all women is the most impressive and charming. Amongst the symbolic representation of traditional Indian culture, the traditional clothing for women folk known as the Sari. It is considered to be the most popular and commonly known costume of the culture. It is skill that Indian women acquires at an early age of wear Saris on an everyday basis and their ability to accomplish daily task with the 6meters of a 2meter broad fabric scarf wrapped about their bodies. Saris are made in different materials such as cotton, synthetic and silk with a wide variety of designs and varied levels of intricacies. The style and quality of the Sari is designed to cater to the different purpose it is worn for and the occasions where it is seen. For instance, quality silk Saris with gold thread embroideries are elaborate showpieces that cost a lot more than the common cotton Saris. These intricate costumes are worn by Indians as a symbol of wealth or for the celebration of events. Much like other cultural groups, this traditional costume needs to be complimented by colorful accessories, such as bangles made from metal or glass. The jewelry not only enhances the overall appeal of the costume, but the jingling noise created when the wearer moves and dance, adds to the ethnic festivity of Indian music.

The Sari is considered to be the best choice of costume worn for the Bhakhi movement and other traditional or religious events. The details in the traditional music and costume echo each other in their delicate manner and attention to details. Due to the fact that the way traditional music can be divided into more than 20 segments and Saris are influenced to fold in the different layers and segments, while fusing together eventually to cream harmony. Also, due to the improvisational and combinational nature of traditional music, Saris are influenced to draw symbolic colors and prints from multiple sources to form an elegant costume that stands to represent the diversified culture of India. Therefore it can be said that the traditional music culture has influenced the way the Sari is designed to bare important religious and symbolic purpose.

2.4 Japanese culture

Japan, otherwise also known as Nihon and Nippon, directly translates from Japanese to English as the “origin of the sun”. For a country with relatively drastic variations in regional social and cultural patterns, Japan is considered to have a highly homogeneous society. The country is known for their strong sense of national pride and the has established a strong identity with her local cultural patterns. Japanese people often attribute personality traits from the different regions where they come from. These regional identities are often are recognized and set apart through the local culinary specialties and dialects. Beside all these lifestyle elements mentioned, the traditional Japanese culture is also defined through the traditional Japanese music and costume, which is recognized and appreciated globally . Although the way that the traditional Japanese music influences its costume, is similar that of how the Chinese traditional music influences the Chinese costume, the two costumes of these 2 cultures are influenced individually to have drastic differences in silhouette. The Chinese costume is slim and fitted, whole the Japanese costume presents a looser fit and volume.  

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Traditional Japanese music has its own characteristic and unique sounds that helps set it apart from other traditional music of different countries. The flutes, the percussion instruments, stringed instruments and wind instruments,  are the commonly used instruments in traditional Japanese music. ‘Koto and Shakuhachi are known as the typical Japanese instruments.’ The Koto is a 13-string zither, made from Paulownia wood and measures about 2 meters long. This instrument is often been used in an ensemble in Gagaku in Japan or as a solo instrument. It is plucked with picks on the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand, while the players’ left hand is used to modify the pitch and tone. Like the Koto, the flutes are also very important in traditional Japanese music. The most famous flute is the Shakuhachi bamboo flute, which has 4 or 5 finger holes on the front face and a thumbhole on the rear face. For the performance of traditional Japanese music, the vocal aspect has always played a very important role, and it is sometimes even more crucial than the instrumental music. ‘Folk music and art music are essentially the two basic types of traditional Japanese music.’, with the art music being the most iconic traditional Japanese music. It is soft, elegant, light and allows the listener to feel pure and fresh while being entertained by it. Japanese music emphasizes on monophonic or non-harmonic texture, this helps to produce other characteristics such as the delicate use of microtones, the importance of timbre and the refinement of free rhythm.

When the traditional costume of Japan is mentioned, the first thought that comes to the mind for most people would be the Kimono.  Kimono literally translates as “something worn” and it is considered as the national costume of Japan. It can be described as a T-shaped, straight-lined robe that falls to the ankles, with a collar and wide, full-length sleeves. This iconic costume has become an integral part of the Japanese culture is also known as the beautiful graceful costume of Japan. Before the days of the World War II, Japanese use to wear Kimonos on a everyday basis, however in todays’ Japan society, it is worn by women for attending special occasions such as tea ceremonies, flower arrangement events, special ceremonies, weddings, funerals and other events in the Japanese calendar.


Japanese pay a lot of attention to all the details, such as their extremely groomed social behaviors in dining and speech. Traditional Japanese music is usually slow in rhythm and speed, the sounds that are created from traditional instruments are light, pure and elegant. This aspect of the Japanese music is somewhat similar to traditional Chinese music, in terms of the  mood, the selection of instruments and the meaning it embodies. The traditional music of both countries are presented at slow speed and pays much attention to the detail of  the notes, while at the same time it translates these ideas into the delicate details in the costume. Both cultures seek to express thoughts of elegance and delicacy in detail through their traditional music, and this has influenced the Kimono style in several ways. For instance, the Japanese culture place great importance on the values of modesty and quality, this is reflected in their light elegant music, which commands the attention of listeners in a powerful but subtle manner. This aspect is then translated into the design of the Kimono, which seeming obscures the female body with its loose silhouette, but indirectly garners curiosity and appeal. The Kimono is often crafted in pure silk and other intricate fabrics, and serves showcase exquisite work of traditional embroidery.  Although it is design with a loose fit on the upper body, the straight silhouette of the bottom half of the Kimono, restricts the wearer to make big movements. Thus traditional Japanese music dancers have to move slowly and elegantly to the music, much like their Chinese counterparts in the restrictions of the Qipao.  The Kimono is truly an iconic badge of the Japanese culture, and it has help to introduce the Japanese culture, music and costume to the rest of the world. 


2.5 Spanish culture

The traditional culture of Spain is synonymous with flamboyance, vibrancy and the bodacious spirit. Without mentioning the Spaniard’s national sport of Bullfighting and their sizzling Flamenco dance, the vivid description of the Spanish culture would be incompletely. Spain is famously known for their Bullfighting, and has attracted tourist from all over to world to witness the event. Rather than being a competitive sport, Bullfighting is about the demonstration of style, technique and courage by its participants. Fighters display the highest degree of passion and courage to overcome their fear of the bull and risk the chance of death. The same passion energy is required of Flamenco dancers as well.

Flamenco dancers strive to claim the title of “duende” which translates from Spanish as the demon or elf, recognition of their accomplishment in reaching a deep stage of emotional involvement in the dance. The “duende” is one who has achieved a heightened level of group communication and feeling of sympathy with the musicians, dancers and audience. The Spanish music and dance style has an important effect over the costumes as the appearances of the performers serve as an extension of the spirit of the art.

Enduring a long and colorful history, Spain has a record of traditional music that resembles a multi-faceted mosaic. The traditional music and dance style varies according to the regions of origin. Flamenco music is formed with ‘three elements, Cante, Baile, and Guitarra’, known as the song, the dance and the guitar playing respectively. The singer plays an important role in the music as it is traditional to sing with the accompaniment of the guitar.

The Flamenco costume, which is the national costume of Spain, is closely related to the history of the dance. Being an important part of the Spanish culture, Flamenco dance has a multicultural origin, with ‘Cultures such as Jewish, Islamic, Andalusian and Gpysy’ all claiming credit for the creation of the original flamenco style. Both men and women wear the unique and colorful costume, with the women’s costume specially styled to express and enhance the rhythmic and passionate dance steps. The flamboyant dress known as bata de cola, worn by the female dancer has a stylistic heavy and voluminous ‘long skirt that weights 10 pound, trails 5 feets behind the dancer and is full of flowing and colorful ruffles around. The waist is tied around with a mantan. It is a fringed, colorful, V-patter shawl for flamenco costume. The purpose of this is to give color to the rest of the costume. The shawls are often made of silk. Compared with the women’s flamenco costume, the men’s costume is less involved with the heavy skirt and shawl. The flamenco costume for men traditionally only requires a black, tight-fitting pants and shirt worn beneath a short jacket or vest. Sometimes, the male flamenco dancer will wear a straw hat while dancing.

Due to the persecuted gypsy culture by Andalucia, flamenco is a passionate form of music and dance, combining the elements of Jewish, Moorish and Andalucian influences. Jondo and Chico are the two main styles of Flamenco. The first style is regarded as the serious with deep meaning, expressing the cries of oppressed people. While the second style is happy, light and often humorous. The music of flamenco can be summed up as the passionate performance with the coordination of different section, presented in layers, to create colors. The bata de cola is a important part of the flamenco costume, it is shaken and lifted, allowing the ruffles to move with the music and highlight certain sounds. By contrast male flamenco dancers focus more on complex footwork instead of paying as much attention to the costume during the dance. With all these elements mentioned above, Spanish music has a major influence over its costume with a important of connection between the flamenco music with the actual flamenco dress. There is a fine blend of spiritual and cheerful characteristic in the traditional culture of Spain. The culture of Spain is acknowledged for its festivals during New Year and Easter weeks. The Spaniards are just as colorful as their culture. The bata de cola ruffles worn by the female flamenco dancers are being used to accentuate the rhythm of the music while dancing.

Conclusion of Chapter 2

The analysis of this section shows that traditional cultures serve as a basis for development of the traditional music and costume. For instance, the passionate, energetic and pursuit in freedom of African culture is expressed through the rhythm, tempo, and the combination of music notes. The cultural beliefs and music style of Africa, has influenced the costume by the use of different vibrant colors and natural materials. Much like beliefs and lifestyle of native Africans, their music is raw and celebratory of nature, this trait is reflected in raw finishing of self-made traditional African costumes. 

The Spanish use a similar method of expression through music and costume as the Africans. The Flamenco dress is traditional Spanish costume for female Flamenco dancers, it is as colorful as its music and culture. Through the movements of the Flamenco dance, the details of the dress go reflects and compliments the music style. Element such as the waves of the music has influenced the movement and silhouette of the dress design. 

Similarly, the traditional music of both the Chinese and Japanese culture is based on a slower tempo with softer instruments playing back up to delicate top note melodies. Despite the cultural difference of both countries, both their traditional music seek to express elegant but meaning thoughts, the feeling of delicacy and lightness. The Chinese costume Qipao showcases the rich heritage of China and the poetic lyrics of the music, through a body conscious silhouette that restricts movement, but employs the use of intricate designs to symbolize the Chinese culture. The Japanese on the other hand, uses the Kimono to represent the nations’ value of modesty through the loose fit upper silhouette, and straight cut bottom half, that forces the woman to move in a gentle and slow manner, much like how the Japanese music commands. 

Lastly, the Indian Sari exemplifies the traditional Indian music style of multiple segments and sequence, through the folds of the Sari cloth and the unique draping techniques. Like the music itself, which is a harmonious combination of interesting elements, the Sari is a long fabric that is folded and draped on the body as one, to create volume and layers.  In conclusion, the traditional music and costume of these countries are relays on its traditional culture. 

The difference in the tone, tempo, lyric meaning, style and symbolic value of different cultural music, can influence the development of traditional costumes, in terms of silhouette, details, colors, fabrics and functionality. Traditional music has influenced the traditional culture and costume of many different regions in the world. 


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