An Australian volunteer who was doing whatever volunteers do in PNG.
I was there for 2 years until Dec 2005 .. I hope I made the most of it.

Friday, September 10, 2004


I have been meaning to write a post for a while in regard to PNG street fashion, or depending on your point of view, lack there of. There are a few distinct styles that seemed to have taken root here. Now trust me I am no expert on fashion, as my ex will testify, but I will have a go and see if I can enlighten on these styles.

The Meri Blouse
This dress is probably the most distinctive fashion available for women. I am not 100% sure of the history, but I am certain that the dress was introduced to the country by missionaries who needed an easy way to get all the women to cover up. There was just too much flesh being shown in the old days. Women running around bare breasted, how savage!

So the Meri Blouse was invented, there are slightly different styles depending on the area (or so I am told). But the general jist of it is a loose dress which comes to you knees, with a round neck and short puffed sleeves. Underneath a laplap (sarong) is wrapped around to cover even more skin. The material is usually pretty loud, bright and colourful with patterns of flowers, birds or whatever and they get worn everywhere. Most women will usually have quite a few blouses. One will be everyday work in the garden or at the market, but then they will also have a special blouse for Sunday and lotu (Church).

If you are wondering Meri is the pidgin (tok pisin) word for Woman. Meri = Mary = Woman.

There are quite a few styles of hats. The good news is that the local styles are still making an impact, especially in the form of the colourful Highlands "beenie" style of hat. The dedication of the devoted wearer is pretty amazing as well. It could be 35° in the shade with a humidity over 90% and these guys will still be wearing their hats (plus probably a big jacket as well). It does get cold in the highlands, but not in Lae.

Western styles of course have crept in. There are plenty of baseball style caps, with all sorts of logos on the front - popular ones are NRL teams or one of the two State of Origin sides. There are also other slightly more bizarre western styles probably collected from the ubiquitous second hand clothes stores. The other day I saw a guy wearing a green Heineken top hat, the kind you would probably see on St Patrick's day and one of our tutors comes in occasionally wearing what looks to the a Russian (fake) fur hat. It looks like he has got an old tabby cat and wrapped it around his head.

Company Logos
Because there are so many second hand clothes stores that get their clothes bales from Australia, you will find all sorts of company logos on shirts floating around. I have seen Victoria policemen, State Rail workers, Telstra linesmen and even a guy from Muffin Break (it was a ladies shirt as well).

The second hand clothes stores are a great place to shop for clothes. They are soooo cheap. I have picked up business work shirts (logo free), for K1, and they are perfect quality.

Not sure if this was in a previous post, but I was invited to a Bohemian fancy dress birthday party a couple of months ago. I couldn't find anything decent in the shops until I found a short workers style jacket and a peak less bakers cap whence upon I decided to go as a communist (loose interpretation of the theme I know). And these items worked out to be the equivalent of the price of a banana in Sydney. Great huh.

PNG Place T-Shirts
Screen printing must have arrived on PNG about the same time as the cheap chinese polo-neck T-shirts. As soon as this new technological widzardry became available all sorts of creative shirts started appearing. Any place in PNG you visit now you can get T-shirt as well. In fact you don't even have to visit the place, as there is a store here in Lae, where you can "Greeting from Madang" or "Aitape: Sandaun province" etc.

I must admit that I think these shirts are pretty cool, if for nothing else because they are uniquely Papuan New Guinean. Before I head home I will be stocking up on a few of these shirts.

There have also been some creative locals who are now branching out and modifying the style with some pretty funky designs, not with just place names on the back. The other day I bought one saying "PNG: EXPECT the UNEXPECTED" all in a cool font.

Inside-out Shirts
OK lastly I have to make a comment about a certain fashion of wearing clothes in this country. T-Shirts, second-hand corporate shirts or work shirts all get the same treatment it seems. After a few days of wearing an item, instead of giving your shirt a wash the fashion is to just flip it inside-out and continue to wear it.

This is almost seen as a trendy thing to be doing by the proponents. Maybe, I am not sure, they don't even wait till they have worn it beforehand and straight after a wash get it thrown on inside out.

While in Manus I saw a memorable look. A guy was wearing what was obviously a womans blouse, a nice pink one too, but he had it inside-out and back to front so that he had a nice opening on his back and was almost being choked across the front of the neck. Very odd.

Anyway, that is some of my views on fashion here in PNG. As you can see it is slightly different from other places.