Found this pink dress of mine in my mother’s closet. She kept it for 28 years. I don’t have an archive of my photographs through the years. Hopefully words will suffice. Don’t know if this sort of thing is interesting to read but I wanted to pen it down for myself. Chronicle my life so far through clothes.
School uniform of pale blue shirt and navy blue skirt of a certain specifications. Hair braids were compulsory. When not at school, it’s a mix of hand me downs from my older cousin and presents from my aunts who would live in America. My parents lived on a very tight budget and I don’t remember ever going shopping unless it was for a very special occasion – a wedding or a birthday. Also, it was a very confusing time style wise. I lived in a small town where people dressed conservatively and anything ‘western’ was deemed evil. I was once asked to to change out of a dress I was wearing or wear a burka on top, by an uncle. The dress was knee length and he said it looked vulgar. There were strong feminine/masculine associations for garments in my society with no scope for cross over ( at that time ). My cousin lived in the city and her hand me downs were dresses, jeans, t-shirts, etc. I was not comfortable in her clothes but never complained. I spent my time reading and outdoors. A book called ‘History of medicine’ from my fathers library made the biggest impact. I wanted to become a scientist. When I told my dad about it, he bought me biographies of a well know scientists. And would make me read one per month #bestDad. India launched its first PSLV into space and it was an exciting time to dream big.
No more uniform for school meant that I had to choose for myself. My father gave me a yearly clothing allowance. My mother and I, would go to a fabric village to pick out plain cloth by the yard, get some embroidery done and my tailor would stitch them for me. The colors I wear today are from the color palette I discovered back then. The college I attended was conservative. They would chide you if you weren’t covered head to toe. Wearing pants or dresses meant that you will be sent home to change. I was told that I need to should start using fairness creams. I also got told that I need to wear off-white and yellow because of my complexion. I never liked those colors and refused. But I did believe I was ugly. Sort of had no interest in clothing or vanity or grooming. I wore traditional clothing like the rest of the women in my town. And spent my days studying from dusk to dawn to make it into Engineering school. But I did know the meaning of the word – content. I had a dozen outfits in all and never never was in the ‘let me shop some more’ mode. I was very content with what I had. Was a minimalist.
I left home to attend university. Moved to the city. Its the place where I came out of my shell. I met lot of people, learnt to be independent, read a wide range of books, embraced my idiosyncrasies, did a lot of activities outside my comfort zone, learnt english, read banned books, went to underground plays, understood the difference in art vs sketching, learnt about money from the sharks, started exercising, started traveling, participated in my first protest, got picked up by the police, …. Lived with my cousin who is my favorite person in the whole wide world. We shared clothes and had lots of them when pooled together. She is very creative when it came to designing clothes. A true artist. She could have become a fashion designer but she choose to become a doctor. Everything Isabel Marant makes reminds me of something my cousin and I wore. We would go to numerous fabric stores, collect buttons, visit painters, salvage old embroidery, repurpose old tribal jewellry, design our own clothes and had an amazing tailor who would execute it all. I enjoyed the creative process.
America. Nobody told me what to do or wear anymore. Absolute freedom. I could wear shorts, tank tops, pjs to class, swimsuits, …. the list of cultural taboos didn’t apply anymore. There was a day when it was 115 degrees outside and the sorority girls in the university took off their clothes to walk around in bra-panties. The university hosts an ‘undie’ run as a stress buster before the final exams. My master’s graduation ceremony was on a hot summer afternoon and had President Obama over for commencement speech. Lot of the women who were graduating, had a bikini underneath their convocation gown. Absolute freedom to choose without the fear of being judged was a new concept. My dark skin color made me ‘exotic’ and I got asked out a lot. This was new territory for me. I was independant and was making my own money. It wasn’t a lot ( 400$ a month, shared a bedroom with 2 other girls to survive). I couldn’t shop. Wore blue denim from Abercrombie and black t-shirts from Victoria Secret. Had a tiny closet.
Started making more money. Had an Isabel Marant phase. The mixing of fabrics, the embroidery, the usage of cotton, the silhouettes – reminded me of the clothes my cousin and I wore back in the day. I would buy peasant blouses from Free People and Anthropologie. Stuck to my color palette but experimented with prints and various silhouettes. My fellow engineers dressed like Mark Zuckerberg and I didn’t want to. I wanted “creative clothes” and to stand out. Think I did.
The aesthetic cleanse : I wanted a less boho silhouette and cleaner lines. My aunt Renu was my idol – work long hours, exercise, eat clean and wear simple fuss free clothes – it all came from her. Got my teaching job. The first course I taught : Mathematical Foundations for Informatics. I was frankly terrified. Used to call up my dad and tell him “I cant breathe”. I threw up before class for the first two weeks. I tried extra hard to dress the part to give me the confidence boost. Bought my first ‘good’ silk shirt and black jeans. Frumpy clothes and billowy silhouettes didn’t make the cut. For the first time, I was chasing good fit and I couldn’t find anything. And one day, Zara happened. The Celine aesthetic was prevalent. I was obsessed. I shopped a lot.
The words ‘chic’ and ‘simple’ dominate my sensibility. I got hold of a list of French basics but it didn’t do it for me. I wanted to find my own personal style. A quest to understand and find quality filled the brain space allocated for sartorial thoughts. The idea of sustainability lingers in the background. A more critical and analytic approach to clothing kicked in. In turn, I discovered a world of brilliant craftsmen. There is nothing frivolous about the work they do. Technical garment construction meets creativity meets business acumen meets pleasure. I stopped seeing designers are these malicious folk trying to charge exorbitant amounts of money for the sake of a label. But as someone who is really good at what they do and command the price because of the demand-supply curve.
I started watching fashion shows, researched the work of each designer, tried to understand the philosophy behind their design, comprehended the difference between fashion & style, learnt the pleasures of a very ‘personal’ personal style, found a few style muses, bought my first trench, broke into my leather jacket, amassed a collection of blue dresses, purchased my first garment from Stella McCartney, thrifted men’s cashmere scarves, learnt how to shop second hand, discovered Yohji, learnt that I like pinstripe more than bold fisherman stripes, …
Started this blog with the idea of showing beautiful products and being an online shopping curator. Endless wish lists , what-to-buy-to-look-stylish, 5 essentials for winter, … that sort of thing. But I couldn’t do it. Style plagiarism is encouraged by the industry since its an easy marketing technique. I dislike those click bait titles and follow the crowd sort of content. I just want to do my own thing. Isn’t that what finding your own style is ? Finding your own rhythm? “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it”, wrote Toni Morrison. I later took on the challenge of talking about clothing without instigating people to shop-the-post / buy what I buy / copy my style. I don’t know if its possible, but I want to find a way to separate consumerism from celebrating one’s personal style.
I am excited for all that I will learn and evolve into, when I think of the future. I also have my dream scenario :
Age 40 :
Wear half turtle neck tunics with stretchy black ankle length pants paired with Valentino Rockstuds. Wear statement shoes everyday ! Perhaps it’s time to let go of my distressed leather Campomaggi satchels and switch to structured bags.
Age 50 :
Time to try a cape. And my fabulous collection of jewellry will do all the work in my outfits. I will own a Kelly perhaps ? In red. You can not be very sober at 50 – its aging. Considering the rate at which my scalp is shedding the hair on it, I would be bald. I always wanted wild curly hair. A wig perhaps ? I am sure I will try to pull off some sartorially embarrassing stunts. My nieces better fight over who gets to inherit the current contents of my closet that no longer fit me.
Age 60 :
I might get nostalgic and switch to Indian clothes again. Back to my roots and heritage. My husband would have retired and become a writer. He will kiss every wrinkle on my face ‘good night’, everyday. I would have become a great cook and will continue to write this blog. We will live by the sea and go on long walks everyday.
…. I can dream.
Do you have a story of your style evolution with culture, trends, political climate, traditions interwoven ? If yes, would you like to write a guest post for me ? If yes, email me at : email@example.com
The best essay on style evolution that I have read so far : Diana Athill for 1843Magazine.
Most style evolutions talk about a past. Do you envision your future style evolution like I do ? Is yes, would you share ? Our dreams and hopes can be as exciting right ?