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November 07, 2014

One Size Does Not Fit All!

Text by Sandhya Mulchandani. Illustration by Hemant Sapre

Shunning eyelash extensions, streaked hair, blind aping and contrived dressing up, Verve finds the middle ground and revels in being her own self

I have been at the receiving end of so much grief from such varied people as my husband, daughter-in-law, mother, shop owners, designers, nutritionists… that I am so pleased to be sharing my views on ‘dressing up’.

Raised a Tamil Brahmin, a community that for the most part is not known for its sartorial brilliance,  the emphasis was always on tidiness and comfort ( also due to the fact that Tamils are notoriously parsimonious) rather than trendy fashion. And I diligently followed this dictum until I met my Sindhi husband who was used to rather different fashion sensibilities.

Deeply unhappy at his inability to change my outlook towards all things fashionable, we carried on stoically and things would have remained much the same when two things happened. First, my big landmark birthday was staring me in the face and I was admittedly (though only to myself) feeling fat, frumpy and frustrated. Then arrived a very elaborate card announcing a high society wedding in the family. One look at the accompanying booklet that specified dress codes for three days, my husband decided that we couldn’t go. Stung at the insult, I decided that I’d clean up my act and while not competing to be on the Best Dressed lists, I wouldn’t at least embarrass my family.  I set out thinking how hard can it be?

It is and more! There is a whole world out there, where everyone is preening and painting, vying and competing rather fiercely. And these women are certainly worth watching for there’s something odd about them. They all look photo-shopped, as if they’ve been cut from the same cookie cutter… a master mould. Their skin tone is all the same…perfectly smooth, flawless and wrinkle free, Thick, wavy, streaked hair with extensions… Check. Red, oleaginous lips? Check. And oh I mustn’t forget the spidery Nova eyelash extensions that take three hours to stick on, only to keep shedding in your soup. The delicious irony is that they are all competing to look like clones of each other! Look around you and there is an alarming number of teenage girls, older women, film stars, models and socialites who have all morphed into carefully contrived, over-embellished, high-maintenance, mini-skirted …chicks?

How would I ever fit into this cookie mould? The tacit consensus is that anyone falling short is automatically made to feel ashamed and inadequate… Ostracised from high society. I’m obviously getting something wrong… I have always believed that dressing up was about making a personal statement, an assertion of individuality and all I see is everyone striving to deliberately add artifice, fresh-faced naturalness no longer the norm.

This homogenisation is not restricted to urban fashion circles; it’s ubiquitous, sadly wiping away all traces of personal expression. The young girls in Kerala and Tamil Nadu who used to wear sensuous half saris, now wear ill-fitting ankle length salwar kameezes. The girls in Meerut and Ambala are in tights and working women squeeze themselves into business suits. All brides are in Sabyasachi as are their moms, aunts and even grandmothers and all affluent middle-aged women in Cavalli and Dior.

So, after much agonising and many card swipes later (American Express called to thank my husband) I came to the firm conclusion that designer couture, hair extensions, nails and eyelashes were not for me. After much introspection I decided that the only thing that mattered was that I remain me… I did not want to morph into Kim Kardashian. It’s about individuality, about not being afraid to be who you are, having the confidence to wear the simplest of clothes with élan. It’s about grace and understated elegance, simplicity and timelessness. Long-gone adjectives in today’s world of fashion. It’s about being unique and different and being unafraid to stand out.

Fashion, make up and dressing up are fun and not an issue… It’s not being swept away by it, which is. Finding a good middle ground can be tough. Style, much like singing or gardening or cooking is an innate skill and lots of people don’t have it at all however hard they try. Most importantly you have to accept what you’ve got to work with. One size does not fit all.

So how did my story end? Did I make it to the wedding? Yes. I did. After discarding all the clothes I’d bought, I wore a beautiful white and gold sari with jasmine flowers in my braided hair and old temple jewellery. Was I amongst the best dressed ? Far, far from it. I just felt comfortable and confident and that’s what carried the day. And the smile on my husband’s face said it all!

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