Wednesday 13 November 2019

A fashionable journey

I have never quite got used to the fact that we can now buy clothes and shoes and handbags at the swipe of a finger or the click of the mouse, gratification instantly provided and net worth instantly depleted. While I bow down to the utter convenience of it all, every now and the nostalgia strikes in thinking of simpler, more penurious days. When one didn't need to adopt slow fashion; fashion, by definition, was slow. When middle-class clothing budgets allowed for no more than twice-yearly shopping expeditions to find that perfect outfit (in my family those events happened for one's birthdays and Deepavali). When the intense pleasure of wearing a new dress could not be diluted one bit by the sight of multitudes of others on social media, wearing better clothes and shoes; or the belated information about yet another flash sale on that cool must-have brand!

I must have started paying attention to fashion early. I remember being engrossed in my mother's college home science notebooks which featured clothes designs, sewing patterns and household decor ideas (the latter definitely contributed to my current and lifelong obsession with interior design and decor). Today Sabyasachi, Manish Malhotra, Prabal Gurung and their ilk may be household names. Who knew fashion designers back then (though they must have existed!). All one noticed were film stars and their unique style mantras. Rekha's exquisite taste in sarees (Kanjeevarams in Basera, chiffons in Ghar, sexy halterneck blouses paired with satin sarees in Silsila, and those elegant high neck blouses) come to mind. In the late 80s/90s, fashion icons abounded. I remember rushing off to pay a white kurta and churidar with a flowing green and white chiffon bandhani dupatta after Chandni released, and accessorising the outfit those with tons of oxidised bangles.  I personally found the Maine Pyar Kiya fashions ghastly (especially the white high neck kurta in the Kabootar ja ja song) but I did pay homage to Bhagyashree's costumes with a butter yellow kurta and a multi-coloured dupatta to go with it. In later years, my eye candy was Madhuri's outfits in Saajan, Juhi's puff sleeve top and long flowy skirt from Raju ban gaya gentleman, and all the outfits worn by Suchitra Krishnamurthy in Kabhi haan kabhi na. Down South, Amala and Nadhiya were my fashion icons; blessed with the not-so-healthy proportions of the Indian figure, these slim actresses could carry off pants and skirts with aplomb.

Linking Road and Fashion Street in Mumbai, Brigade's and Comm Street in Bangalore, Sarojini and Lajpat Nagar markets in Delhi, hold such fond memories. In Chennai, Amma and I used to shop for fabric at Pantheon Road in Egmore, delighted to discover bolts of cloth that roughly approximated those worn by the screen divas. Off we rushed to Panama Tailors in Besant Nagar, a hole-in-the-wall discovery which entailed multiple trips by PTC bus from Thiruvanmiyur to Besant Nagar, to check whether the dress was ready. No whatsapping or calling in those days! 

The dress, once delivered and paid for, rarely looked like its screen counterpart. And neither did I look anything like those film stars! Never mind. The pleasure of having 'created' something using limited resources and talent was enough. And in fashion-backward Chennai, I was fashion-forward enough! Leftover scraps of the material would be diligently collected from the tailor to fashion a matching scrunchie with a bit of elastic. Voila! A transformation indeed!

For years, Amma's old sarees were torn up to metamorphose into salwar kurtas, skirts and blouses. With Westside, Shoppers' Stop and their ilk a distant twinkle in some corporate's eye, creativity was the name of the game. For my 12th grade farewell party, we even tore up a Tanchoi silk saree to make a ghagra choli, an act of desecration so vile that I now cringe to think of it. Little did I know of heritage weaves then!

I rarely experience that heady feeling of creative achievement any more, when hardly any of my clothes are tailored for me. Buying the nicest clothes in an airconditioned mall doesn't quite give the same kick. However, I still tear up fraying kanjeevarams, to craft outfits for Y, and to feel once again, inventive, and resourceful. And I take some pride in the fact that my daughter is not just interested in fashion, but constantly browses online shopping sites and is often to be found trying out new styles with her existing wardrobe. 

Ads mocks us....after all, fashion is unnecessary, vain and there are so many other things we could be spending time on. I don't try to disabuse him of his notion that his book-reading, non-profit working mom is also a frivolous fashionista :)