by Azuka Onwuka
Growing up, underwear was usually white: pants, singlets, bras, etc. Women were allowed to wear black underwear during their monthly “special days.”
For men, Hings was the premium brand. If you wore any coloured briefs, you would not want anyone to see them, especially if you lived in a boarding school. If you were seen with such drawers, you were ridiculed with the term: “Nwafor seven colours!” The only people who wore such multi-coloured pants were old men who engaged in palm-wine tapping and the like. And they wore it during their work hours as the only garment on their body. No young guy would like to be caught wearing any multi-coloured pants. It was the height of lack of class!
While washing the white undergarments, you must not allow any stain to remain on them, for fear of being called a pig. Therefore, Parazone bleach and Jik were popular among school children. You dared not hang dirt-stained briefs where people would see them. But if you trusted your undergarments, you would proudly hang them where everyone would see them.
But no matter how white your undies were, once worn under your clothes, you would not like anyone to see some parts of them in public. They were truly what they were: underwear! They were meant to remain under the garments and not seen by the public, except while you were undressing or dressing up in the hostel.
In the same vein, every secondary school and primary school that I knew had white tops for boys. The trousers or shorts could be any dark colour, but the shirt was always white. If the girls did not use white, then their collars were usually white.
Because of the ease with which white gets dirty, you would not be able to wear white shirts more than once without washing. For those who could not afford more than two sets of uniforms, the light material called “wash and wear” was preferred as school uniforms, so that they could easily get dry if washed after school hours.
Today, wearing boxers among men is in vogue. But the boxers are never white: they range from brown to blue to grey and multi-coloured. Because they are not white, they can be worn everyday for a week without seeing water or having any communion with water! Even the singlets are no longer compulsorily white. Some people wear singlets that are grey, brown, or light blue. Some men don’t even wear singlets but T-shirts or vests under their shirts. These T-shirts or vests also see water and soap once in a blue moon.
And in this age of sagging, these boxers that have become “coats of many colours” and are neither clean nor beautiful are flaunted by most juveniles to show that they are hip. One is not just assaulted by the fact that these boxers are displayed in public, one also has to contend with the non-attractive state of these boxers.
Similarly, women today wear undies that are red, brown, green, green, yellow, purple, etc. Only God knows how often these “rainbow” undies are washed. In this age of low-waist trousers and short tops, it is a regular sight to behold multi-coloured pants sticking out of the backsides of women, especially when they bend down or sit on commercial motorbikes. You are not even allowed to complain at such a sight. You are reprimanded to mind your business or close your eyes. Close your eyes while driving or walking?
It does not end there. Most times it is not only the “mgbafor pants” that stick out, some part of the backside also sticks out disgustingly. The “display artiste” feels no shame. Those who are assaulted with this unsightly show can feel ashamed if they wish. It is not the wearer’s problem. The low-waist trousers cannot get to the waist, no matter how hard they are pulled up. They are meant to hang low.
Not long ago, during a discussion with a doctor friend, he complained that he got uneasy frequently by the type of underwear of many patients during examination. He said that if they were emergency cases, it would be understandable, but what he found surprising was that someone from the middle class – educated, well-travelled, well-dressed, financially comfortable – would leave home to see a doctor without attempting to wear decent undergarments, given that the person could be asked to remove some outer garments during examination.
During my days in primary school and secondary school, it was compulsory for children to be inspected every morning during the morning assembly. The inspected areas included the hair, teeth, fingernails, sandals, and school uniform. Even if the shirt looked clean, the collar and armpits were inspected to confirm the cleanliness level of every child. If they were brown or dirty, you were in trouble. But today, most schools have abandoned the use of white tops. All manner of colours are used as school uniform, including brown, red, purple, blue, etc. Only “village schools” still wear white today!
With the aversion to white, it is difficult to know a shirt that has been worn two or three times. Undergarments are worn until they begin to complain. Students don’t feel bad wearing their shirts repeatedly without washing them. It is only when some odour starts oozing out of the body of the person that one would be any wiser.
In primary school, we had our physical education (PE) outfit. We never played in our school uniform. Any time we wanted to play, we changed into our PE outfit.
During winter and early spring in Europe and the Americas, one could wear a white shirt, have a tie around one’s neck all day, without a trace of dirt on the collar of the shirt. How do you have dirt on your body when you don’t sweat? In a tropical country like ours, you begin to sweat without even exerting yourself. In fact, by simply sitting down for 30 minutes, you begin to sweat.
A look at the security agencies underscores the uniqueness of the Nigerian Navy. Just by wearing white, they look like gentlemen. A person wearing white does not like to engage in a scuffle. That image rubs off on the naval officers as people who don’t engage in trouble. That image contrasts with the image of naval ratings who wear blue top and black trousers. They don’t have any gentleman’s look.
There should be freedom of dressing. Schools should have the right to decide what they want to wear. But even if primary school children are too young to learn how to keep their school uniforms clean by washing them regularly, the secondary school students should be taught how to keep their school uniforms clean. Choosing a dark-coloured top as part of the school uniform, with the aim of avoiding the children being dirty, is not a good policy for a school to implement. The state governments and Federal Government need to reconsider the use of other colours but white as the top of the school uniform. Wearing white tops will add to the children’s cleanliness as well as positive behaviour. Wearing a white shirt makes a person show more restraint even when provoked.
Let’s bring back white and cleanliness to our school and lives.
Azuka Onwuka is a Brand Strategist/Consultant. He can be reached via Twitter @BrandAzuka
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.