Editor’s Introduction : Every time you comment and share something about yourself, I build a mental image of you from the information you share. My image of Lakshmi is that of Latika in yellow scarf. I read a new comment, and I imagine her writing it while wearing a yellow kurtha while sitting in her garden. I imagine her closet to have gorgeous colorful and simply cut Indian clothing that she cherishes. She is the image of the modern Indian woman who lives in the city, juggles household duties and her work, can stand up for herself and is opinionated. Here is an essay she shared :
I believe that personal style is an extension of who you are. Sounds very obvious, doesn’t it? I fervently believe that everything we do in the outer world is a natural and spontaneous expression of our inner self. Call this my personal hypothesis, a pet theory, a life philosophy. Knowing oneself can seem like a monumental task. People spend a lifetime searching. They seek help from enlightened masters, ancient teachings and practices, wisdom in books and scriptures. Does this mean that good style can only dawn, post enlightenment? Not really. Knowing oneself may be easier than you think. One can embark on the path of self-knowledge in many ways. As you gains greater clarity and insight, life changes inside out. Appearance, mental make-up, perspective, outward action, expression, relationships… all of it. So here I am, curious and introspective, a little more aware of myself than before, and naturally that knowledge manifests in my lifestyle choices, relationships, future dreams, etc… Including personal style.
As a child, I was somewhat shy but I was able to pull off the extrovert act quite well. So well that I fooled myself too. It took many years before I realized that I wasn’t an extrovert any more. Perhaps I never was one. I wore simple clothes, nothing too attention-grabbing or bright or fancy. I was (and still am) of a conservative mindset, so I’d pick inexpensive clothes. I favored plain colors, often picking shades of maroon, brown, russet, beige, cream, etc. I think my style at the time may have been an extension of my personality — shy, timid, unsure, wanting to please.
As I progressed from teenage to adulthood, my style didn’t change much. I wore a lot of jeans and t-shirts which is pretty much how my cohort dressed. Mumbai is a hip city, and I recall feeling intimidated by girls in miniskirts, shorts … My parents are fairly progressive; they wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if I wore shorts to college every day. But I was the self-conscious one: oh, my thick calves and fat legs! No, my calves weren’t remotely thick. I also wore Indian cotton salwar suits in beautiful shades of saffron, red, ochre, dark green and like. This may have been the period in my life when I “flowered” outward, and possibly my clothes reflected the inner confidence and blossoming. I had no qualms about wearing bright colors at that time. I was drawing my fair share of male attention, and my personality glowed under its heady effect.
Then it was time to get married, meaning I had to buy wedding sarees and salwar sets, jewelry, etc. And I was moving to the United States, so I also had to begin packing. Oddly enough, I hit a phase that I like to term “delayed adolescence.” Pink entered my wardrobe. I even owned a pair of deep pink heeled shoes! Again, it may have been a reflection of my life and emotions at the time. I was marrying the love of my life and moving with him to a new country. It was going to be just the two of us. It was the end of courtship and the beginning of married life. Excitement, apprehension and happiness made for an eventful entry to the U.S. But I was carrying sadness within. I had baggage to deal with. And it was dealt with in good time, and soon I felt free, light and forgiven.
Then I hit a so-called “style wall.” What was I to wear? Stores were so overwhelming. And sizing was a problem. Plus I had to get the hang of layering. I blundered along, picking clothes, shoes, bags, etc. as best as I could. Again, my conservative mindset prevented me from making expensive mistakes. Parallel that with my life journey where I was similarly experimenting, testing the waters, finding my true philosophy.
Fast forward to 2017. I am 38 years old. I have been a resident of the United States since December 2003. I am a happier woman today than I was when I came to America. I enjoy a deep sense of contentment within. It feels as though all those years of soul-searching, climbing craggy hills and mountains, and wading through murky streams has brought me to a happy, verdant place. Now I can saunter along at my own will… Gazing at lovely sunsets, drinking in the quiet solitude, relishing the stillness. I have nowhere to go, nothing to gain. That probably explains my current dressing style too. I have found the clothes that make me happy, comfortable. No, this isn’t a static state. As my mind expands and develops its knowingness, so does my style. I have no one to impress. This feels like a happy medium that allows me to explore, stay curious and content, all at the same time.
My current wardrobe comprises of slim-fitting jeans and pants, a plethora of tops that include blouses, linen shirts and tunics, cotton tees, a couple of dresses and skirts. I prefer natural fabrics and simple silhouettes. I am not afraid of color; I think I would wear any color that appeals to me. I hardly ever stop to think about how a color would look on me. I think I gravitate towards shades that I enjoy and look good on me. I love Indian clothes. I have a good collection of sarees in the loveliest of shades and fabrics… Navy blue, flaming orange, beige and maroon, ice blue and gray, vibrant aqua, cream and gold, deep brown, smooth silks, comfortable cottons — I love them all.
A few years ago I decided that I wouldn’t wear silk any more. So that meant the end of new silk sarees for me. It’s okay; I have no desire to acquire any more. Yes, I have a similar policy towards leather as well. I think that my low-drama, no-fuss attitude to life has percolated into my sense of style and dressing in a natural way. I have very little desire to buy clothes. My closet looks full to me, and I genuinely enjoy wearing the clothes I have. What does the future look like? Perhaps a continuation of the current state? As long as I remain true to who I am, all is perfect.
Editor’s Notes : I wish no woman would say that there is nothing special about their style journey. She started her essay with “I wish I had a great story about my style”, and I almost removed that line. Sorry Lakshmi for the edit. And thank you for writing about the mind-body-closet connection. You gave me new material to think about.