The illustration you see above is a picture that was taken in 2010. I am standing barefooted on a chipped wooden floor trying to pull up the zipper on my yellow frill skirt. In the background there is a mirror with my reflection on it, clothes lie strewn about on my right, sneakers, and heels with its other half missing are on my left.
I like this picture. In many senses of the word, I like to think that this picture ‘defines’ me.
Fashion has always played an integral part in my life in identifying my personality and also at many times, my mood. It is the one weapon that has always given me the freedom to explore my inner self. When I look at the picture I can still feel the frustration of not being able to the get the zip undone.
Ever since I can remember, I have always been fascinated by the idea of how fashion works: how everything has a rule and at the same time how every rule has a code which can be broken. For example, how patterns should never be worn with patterns but then again how too many patterns make fashion.
My aunt would pass on to me her pearls of fashion wisdom quite often. When I think about it now, she was the one who told me never to wear stripes with checks! She would point flaws almost every time. It is solely because of her that today, I know what fashion is. As a child, I’d peek into her wardrobe and be filled with an awe I can only call mesmerizing. I’d pray for my body to quickly grow bigger in size. I’d try on her clothes and shoes and pretend as if I was going to a movie with my friends.
My mother is a hoarder who stacks up all her old outfits and puts them in a wardrobe that no one is ever allowed to open. She shops for both western and ethnic attires at one go and has different wardrobes for different styles. She would often say, “Fashion revolves, don’t throw that away.” Today when I go back home, I can find almost everything that is in trend inside those two wonderful giant wooden boxes.
Today, my wardrobe is filled with garments as old as I am – all of them are neatly pressed and brand new. Since I follow the footsteps of my shopaholic mother and my nagging aunt, I tend to go back and forth between the trends of the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000. Half of my wardrobe has all my favourite garments folded and on hangers, whereas the other half is just crumpled up in a bunch. I don’t throw them away –never. The guilt would just kill me. What if I throw something away and then it becomes trendy?
Back in the 80’s, clothes seen and worn on TV were impossible for anyone to get their hands on. It was the time when hippie fashion had made a huge impact on the people in Sikkim. The only way they could wear these clothes was to get it tailor- made. There was a different charm to fashion then — people would have to wait for days to get something made. And because they were tailor-made, everybody had a unique twist to their attire. Puffed shoulders, sharp shoulder blades, low cut necklines and Chinese collars. It really was one’s own design back then. Today we are used to a fast moving industry. We get things in the blink of an eye and get them all at once, at the same time.
Today people from Northeast India are exposed to not only European but also the South-Eastern fashion industry. Korea, Japan, and China have all made their fashion presence up here. Therefore, most of them have a sense of infused fashion styles. Where I come from, big malls and high-end stores that we find in cities have still not been established and the stores that are there follow the latter sense of fashion trend. Most of them import clothes from Thailand, China, and Korea.
When I first came to the big city I was surprised to see how diverse fashion in the city is. Maybe it was because of the cultural difference that exists between the Northeast and the rest of India. Traditional or ethnic dresses such as kurtas and sarees are hardly worn as casuals in Sikkim, Darjeeling and elsewhere (well, apart from the old people).
It was a liberating moment when I finally came to understand how untrue this notion was and I speak for most people when I say this. When you come from a small city and you gain access to stores like Zara, Marks & Spencer, Mango, and others, especially at an early age, control over your wallet becomes hard. The ‘I am ready to tear it open and even sell its pieces to shop more’ feeling descends. Now, this might just be another confession of a shopaholic but the amount of shopping I did back then and still do makes no sense at all because half of the brand new items go into what I call the future wardrobe.
A future wardrobe is what you invent to stock garments that are either smaller or larger than you really are; it is preparing you for ‘what could go wrong or what could go right.’ Also when you can’t find your right size, you predict your future body size and still end up buying it thinking maybe you will either lose weight or gain weight and wear it then.
When I started exploring western brands, I found out that the material of their garments was better than that from the stores I would shop from back at home. The price range was also similar. The good part about this was that I knew then what a good quality material was and the bad part being that I couldn’t refrain myself from shopping. Most of the garments that I am referring to can be found in Tibet Malls in Bangalore.
Something else that surprised me was the influence of Northeast fashion over the rest of India. Flamboyant, fashionable and flashy as many would call it. City folks found my overly flowing flare pants, studded jackets, poncho shirts and midi skirts fascinating and would often ask me where I got them from.
I like to believe that my sense of fashion is unique. One might even call it stingy and greedy. I hardly ever shop for full retail. I am a snake when it comes to sales. I patiently wait for it and as soon as it goes up I slither my way through every aisle picking up everything that is my size and then take my own sweet time on deciding what I want to buy. The Future Wardrobe syndrome is high at this point. This year however, I have decided to slow down on my purchases because I have a lot of unwanted items in my wardrobe. I have decided to first make full use of them and then move forward.
My last major haul was this January. I got two bomber jackets for the price of one from H&M, three jeans for the price of two also from H&M, three shawls (I don’t know why) one from Zara, and 2 from Promod. Two baseball caps, socks, belts, boots, heels, skirts, tees, dresses, sweaters, high necks, the cutest fluffy bunny faced bedroom slip-ons from Forever 21 and for some reason an annoying but expensive bag tag from Zara which makes me feel like a cat with all its jingling sound. Among all of these, I only like the two leather skirts that I got for a grand from Forever 21, the white sock boots from Zara, the uncountable number of white tees that I got for Rs.300 each from different stores, and the maroon bomber jacket which is three times my size from H&M. These are my best buys. Everybody knows where the rest is heading.
Fashion today has made a whole new turn, I can still hear my mother’s voice telling me that fashion is revolving! And not just from the 60’s and 70’s but also from the 80’s to now. The best part is that I can now dig into her forbidden wardrobe. The colours, the materials, the patterns, and the styles, everything about it makes me squeal with excitement. When I look back at all the little fashion fiascos I’ve made in the past, I can now say that I know fashion.