I am writing this dressed in a nightie, sweatshirt, pyjamas and mismatched socks. The Mumbai winter has had its way with me. Still, from the depths of my sartorial shame, I rise. I rise so I can tell you what it’s like to live among those whom the style bus forgot to pick up. We hung around the stop for a while, but figured what the heck. Let’s make our journey on foot, pointing and laughing at fancy store windows and screaming billboards. Perhaps people will construe our fashion lethargy as strategy, we hoped. We still hope.
Grunge and socialism
A glamorous cousin once tried to rationalise my startling indifference to matters of style. “Maybe you think you’re looking good,” she once said to me with characteristic innocence and candour. I rolled up my hand-me-down sleeves and got thinking. Perhaps that is true. Grunge is the last resort of the fashion failure. Years of frequenting the garage-themed pub in the neighbourhood made me feel I actually belonged. Who cares if it was to a club of hirsute men with whisky breath, headbanging to Iron Maiden. These days, the pub welcomes an assortment of millennials in hipster shirts and floral jumpsuits. Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.
Even my mother despairs of my jhola-carrying, chappal-wearing ways. She once memorably asked me, with more than a hint of worry, “Are you a communist?” I wondered where the question came from; we hadn’t been discussing politics at all. But I tried to look at myself from her point of view, and the image of a ’70s socialist sprung up. Socialism is aeons away from our current ethos. But Kolhapuri chappals – the ones that cut your heels, not the ones with fuchsia pompoms – are an anachronism that I’m happy to embody.
Fashion Vs fashion
There are those who fight fashion with fashion. The rebels who create scarves out of safety pins and skirts out of towels. They will always have my admiration for being inventive and invested. I, for one, am no fashion rebel; it takes too much work. I am, in fact, fashion indifferent. It makes no difference to me if checks are the new black or beards are the new aphrodisiac. Nor does this fashion agnosticism point to a lack of aesthetics. Which brings me to the philosophical part of the whole question. You can appreciate things without wanting them for yourself. And this applies to everything from Bradley Cooper to Aston Martins.
You can appreciate things without wanting them for yourself. This applies to everything from Bradley Cooper to Aston Martins
There is a kind of fraternity that is admittedly forged by shiny brands and pretty objects. The kinship of laptops and shoes, leather-crafted dairies and mid-century modern furniture. Things connect us to one another. They express us to others. It just gets a bit scary when they become the primary communicators of our identity. Advertising tells us what to fill the gaps in our lives with. But any poet will tell you those are not gaps to be filled but spaces to be cherished. (Just ignore their unkempt hair, torn sneakers and superior air when they tell you this.)
A bird called Ranveer
The thing with fashion is, it is not to be dismissed, even by a lazy curmudgeon like me. It has an ability to instantly lift one’s spirits like few other things. Whether it’s a streak of lipstick or a dab of cologne, it has undeniable powers. Like birds in the wild showing off their colourful feathers, we too want to be attractive and unique, but not so different as to alienate our audience. (Unless you’re the terminally excitable Ranveer Singh.)
A friend in New York, who I admire for her independence, sensitivity and grit, shared her new wardrobe acquisitions on a recent chat. These included an exquisite Palestinian embroidered thobe – an ankle-length gown – and a cashmere tracksuit! The sheer beauty of the first and genius of the second made me wonder if I’m not missing out on a majestic realm thanks to a lack of imagination. I could never be a Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City, but I could move on from grunge and socialism, at least when it comes to appearance. The trouble is, perhaps I really do think I’m looking good as is.