June 17, 2013

Essay: Fashioning Fashion - The Pink Top


It was a long sleeved amaranth pink top with shiny fuchsia, red and clear sequins of varying sizes trimming the neckline. I bought it five months into my first year at university, undecided till the last minute whether I would actually wear it or not. My closet already burgeoned with unworn clothes bought on impulse, still sprouting price-tags and smelling of plastic newness, resigned to spending their lives in its dim interior. When push came to shove, I inevitably reached for that familiar, comforting neutral palette of camouflage: gray, beige, brown, white, and olive green. Wearing anything else – bright, embellished, printed – would doom me to visibility when I had assiduously perfected the art of invisibility all this while. Still, I bought the top anyway.

 In my mind, when I think of fashion and the relationship that I have shared with it in the last decade or so, two photographs manifest themselves. The first one is of me in a Dubai shopping mall a month after I graduated from school and was about to start university in UK few months later. I am wearing a military green three-quarter button down blouse and a khaki cargo skirt; more interestingly, I am posing next to a mannequin dressed in a sheer sleeved ruffled magenta top and white Capri pants. The second one was taken exactly three years later: I was due to graduate from university and was out for that one last ritualistic shopping trip with my friends. I stand in the gold-green dappled shade of a leafy tree, wearing the above mentioned pink top and a flared gray skirt whilst carrying a black and white sequin-trimmed wicker shoulder bag. During the time that elapsed between when each of these photographs was taken, I learnt to fashion fashion itself into a language of my own, as a wholly individual expression, rather than perceiving it as an elitist space into which I could never gain entry. 

Tops, shoes, handbags: all these accoutrements individually form a part of the greater narrative of the person that I have become over the years. As a teenager, immersed in the frothing pool of shyness, adolescent confusion, and attention phobia, I frequently suffered indecision and doubt about what and how I wore a particular garment. With passage of time, I have become more comfortable in my skin and yet, I cannot help but point out that the clothes have become my skin. Slipping inside a puff-sleeved gray cotton tunic, I instinctively revel in its whimsical button bodice details and embrace the garment as much as my individuality. Ultimately, fashion for me is not as much slavish surveillance of fashion trends and catwalk newflashes as incorporating and configuring whatever appears appropriate to my fashion saga. 


Over the years, I have learnt to befriend and rely upon clothes. Just as one is able to intuit and learn about a person from the books they read or music they listen to, the clothes that I happen to wear form part of my personal narrative, a narrative intensely crucial and enlightening for me, if no one else. As a compulsive packrat, I have religiously accumulated and preserved all those particular clothing items that have played a significant role in my life: the list includes the pink top, a floral three-quarter sleeve button down blouse that I gleefully bought during a sale from my then favorite store, Monsoon and a pair of kitschy, golden tinsel-fringed jeans. For me, those items document the person that I was when I wore them; they are souvenirs from a past which has inevitably become a foreign country. The pink top tells me of the moment when I learnt to embrace and incorporate color in my life, thus beginning my initiation into the playground of jewel-colored hues; the tinsel-fringed jeans embodied my desire to customize my outfits, injecting a bit of me into what was otherwise a globally ubiquitous and therefore, anonymous uniform. 

Similarly, having transformed a clothes tree into a handbag one instead, the numerous handbags piled atop each other too are an index of time, each handbag making me recall the year and occasion in which it was used. Like an archaeologist interpreting the past and its stories from layers of soil in a stratified soil sample, I too see a mélange of the past and present in the handbag tree. 

My sculptural cuff

 In the end, fashion assumes a performative element for me; at home, clad in regular wear, I am almost a tabula rasa, blank and temporarily adrift yet while wearing a favorite outfit, I occupy a novel space, performing and posturing for a different personality. As a theatre enthusiast during school and currently a fiction writer, I am accustomed to transmigrating through different personas. Fashion simply allows me to enrich and expand upon that theme, each new configuration of an outfit allowing me to inhabit an alternate persona; it would not be unbefitting to say that indeed, each varied persona requires a costume of its own, so to speak. 

 The other day, impelled by a desire to spring-clean and declutter my life, I began to ruthlessly purge clothes stockpiled in my closet. I found myself pausing on encountering the pink top: a sequin or two had fallen off and the pink was blanched, the victim of indifferent washing machines and caustic laundry detergent. Yet, its fabric was still redolent with memories of that significant time during my life, when I lingered in the grayland between being unseen and seen, when I was trying out one persona after another, searching for the one which would fit me the best. The pink top aptly described the persona I was then: a work in progress, a work that will always remain in progress throughout my life, in fact. Yet, in that particular intersection of time and space, the pink top was the perfect – and only - coordinate. 


This piece originally appeared here in The Closet Feminist

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