Glittery garb of Algeria brightens a wardrobe

Candid Closet

January 29, 1998|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

While living in different regions of Algeria as a child, Karima Roudesli was introduced to the geographic variations of the country's traditional dress. The daughter of an oil company manager, Roudesli could afford to acquire brilliantly hued, embroidered dresses and suits for her dowry, a custom that she and other Muslim women adhere to with happy anticipation.

Roudesli, 43, a linguist fluent in French, English, Spanish and Arabic, as well as its Algerian dialect, treasures the history behind Algeria's native customs, but she is also a self-proclaimed feminist who has never been one to shy away from snug jeans and a T-shirt.

Roudesli has lived in the United States 22 years, teaches French in Johns Hopkins' continuing studies department and develops Algerian texts at a language research center in Washington. She is also writing a book about her experience straddling two cultures.

Describe your traditional wardrobe:

I first lived in Constantine in the east of Algeria, where the traditional dress is called "gandoura." It's a long, velvet gown worn as a wedding dress. Then, my father moved us to Algiers, where the "karako," a two-piece velvet suit, with Turkish pants and gold or silver embroidery is worn. It is part of one's dowry. Mine is black and gold. The pants are open on the sides and fitted. It's sexy when you wear them.

Isn't that too forward for Muslims?

Bear in mind that at Muslim weddings, men and women are segregated.

Where else did you live in Algeria?

My father moved us to Oran, capital of the west. There they have what they called a "dlousa" an outfit which is also fitted, with short sleeves and sequins in wonderful, different colors. I have several. They're beautiful and very festive for wearing to parties.

Muslim modesty doesn't preclude brilliant dress?

Arabs love gold, and everything that glitters. We love rich colors.

Do you continue to find clothing in Algeria?

Each time I go back, my sisters give me gifts and dresses. I bring back lots of caftans.

I'm a member of the Algerian Association of Greater Washington and when we have "hasla," -- that means party -- I wear them. We also have fashion shows and I've modeled many traditional costumes at cultural festivals and other events.

Growing up in Algeria, were you confined to Muslim clothing?

No. I remember when I was 20, I was wearing tight jeans and a tight T-shirt and a guy came over and introduced himself as an assistant movie director who wanted me to audition for him. My father would never let me.

Were you the exception?

My parents were liberal in some ways. They let me travel on my own and work and go to school abroad. I was the youngest. I have two sisters and one brother. My sisters are very obedient. One wears the veil. I call my mother twice a month. She wants me back now that I'm divorced.

Do you enjoy shopping for Western clothes?

I love clothes. I'm a clothes horse. I generally wear business suits in wools, sweaters and pants and lots of dresses. I shop at Nordstrom, Hecht's and at a friend of mine's discount boutique in Paris on the Rue des Plantes. ... She'll close the store and say to me, "Karima, it's all yours!"

Do you look for accessories?

I'm very flamboyant. I have a collection of hats that match with my coats and with my clothes. I also sell Mary Kay cosmetics and I always try to match my makeup with what I'm wearing.

Do you shop when you travel home?

We have these beautiful "souks," or markets, where I buy fabric and take to the wonderful, talented seamstresses who work there.

What was one of your last finds at the souk?

I got a piece of brocade fabric in almond and silver, which I had made into a little contemporary dress. It's gorgeous.

Do you know any snappy dressers? Let us know. Write to Stephanie Shapiro, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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