For me dressing up means putting on my jean skirt instead of just my jeans, it means my black jacket, or maybe a nice sweater. I like to fool myself by calling it an ‘elegant, understated sort of style’, but to my Uyghur friends it is just plain, simple, and boring. Dressing up requires more, it needs sparkle and colour and zing. All of the Uyghur ladies I go out with will have on makeup and jewellery; their dresses are often caked and incrusted with sequence and glitter.
This semester I have had a real journey to try to add some bling to my outfits (I don’t want these ladies embarrassed when they introduce me to their friends). I don’t know how many times I went to the stores to look. I always wanted to get the smallest delicate necklace I could find in the shop, but the sales ladies would often pick up another one and tell me how much more beautiful it was. The war inside would begin: I knew I should get the one the local people like if I really wanted to fit in, but I just didn’t like it that much. Normally the frustration and tension inside would mount to the point that I would give up and leave the store empty handed.
The truth is that jewellery is more than just a status symbol with the Uyghurs, it is a way to care for your family. Every girl at a rather young age is given a pair of gold earrings by their family. The logic is that if the girl ever finds herself desperate for money, the family has provided something she can sell to survive. So the glitter also has a practical side.
The other day for my birthday my tutor (and Uyghur mother) gave me a pearl, jade and diamond necklace, which might sound like overkill but is actually really pretty. Now she doesn’t have to be as ashamed of my drab appearance in public. But really it is more than that, the pearls are all real, so now my Uyghur family has helped take care of me.