To the manner born and the manor born.
Fashion rings a subservient bell in my head. What do I know of fashion? I am a techie turned corporate lady who probably should be dressed up in muted tones for my client meetings. Because after all we need to ‘respect our work culture’.
My earliest encounters with fashion and style I would say were the women’s magazines I would browse through at home. While my mom read articles on women’s issues and stories from across the country, the pages of exquisite adverts of exclusive brands of jewellery and clothes fascinated me. I loved looking at the outfits the models wore and admired their perfectly manicured talons. I wondered if I would be like them. (If ever). I wondered what made them choose a certain outfit or those envious pair of heels. Most of the times, I wondered if I would ever have that perfect hair style and colour, the perfect body they seemed to display and the layers of make-up these models seemed to carry off at ease.
I guess most of us Asian kids back from the 90s, were exposed to this phenomenon called ‘FTV’ or Fashion Television. A channel that showed only run-way modelling shows. Obviously it contained all the drama that came with fashion on the ramp. Read – bizarre outfits, odd colours, stick thin models, high-rise heels and of course enough skin show. While of course this was very normal and is very normal for the Western world, I presume India took its own time to adapt to the western style of clothes and fashion. I wondered why some colours of those outfits were such contrasts. I sometimes wondered who wore those run-way clothes anyway.
This was also the time, I got to know of some famous fashion houses. I was so young, I probably could not even pronounce the French and Italian names with that ooh la la accent 🙂 But nonetheless, I grew up to keep a keen eye on these brands to sometimes just be posted on what was the latest.
Nostalgia on a budget.
Growing up in the fashion capital of India- Bombay should speak volumes of the kind of ‘Fashion’ stores we were exposed to. All my relatives from other parts of the country would flock to Bombay for the proverbial shopping experiences this city offers. My friends and I would normally shop at little outlets in Bandra. Bandra- the queen of the suburbs, the one who still makes me all nostalgic and is a one stop locale for wonderful food and shopping. More on Bandra and food later.
Our fashion sense back in college is best not spoken about. My friends and I look at the photos from the days gone by and it makes us laugh till we have tears in our eyes. Such oddballs as someone said. I guess just as one sees transformations of ‘before’ and ‘after’ when people lose weight and it inspires many others, we could have a round of ‘before’ and ‘after’ for our photos back then and now. The ugly ducklings did become beautiful swans. The funny (and fun)part is – some of those trends are back now and some top retail outlets are stocking denims with embroidery, blouses with embroidery, tops with loose bell sleeves, flared pants all colours.
Most of the times, I was a denim and tee kid in high school and through my college degree. With just a little pocket money to survive on, one couldn’t really afford much. Humble beginnings indeed after breaking the shackles of the ‘prim and propah’ convent school uniforms. Freedom to wear what we want, came with a budget too. Also, given that my degree was in technology, we girls were a rare species. I would like to believe, girls and boys from other courses had far better fashion sense than us. It is not like we were awkward, it is just that we didn’t care much about grooming or looking presentable in engineering colleges. Let the pictures speak for themselves I’d say.
The English Department
Venturing into good Ol’ Blighty, my beloved England that is, was an experience in itself. From happy, sunny, bright colors of Asia, I went to greys and darks just like the English weather. First of all, I had to shoulder the extra weight of jackets. Jackets and scarves galore. I thoroughly enjoyed the soft hues that came at British high street stores in my university town of Sheffield. It was different and it was classy. I would say, I was still very ‘studenty’ with my little denim skirts and hoodies. I was still juggling with home rents, food bills and the works that come with staying away from home on a part time job and a full time intensive post graduate degree coursework. While I moved from Sheffield to London for my job, I donated clothes to a charity. I guess we do it anyway in India, but it is always a good feeling to pass on your stuff for someone in need. It made me grateful for all the things we have in life.
London was a different planet altogether. If I ever learnt how to ‘dress up’ I think, this is where it was. My clients were all over central London and the smartly dressed men and women at rush hour at say- Waterloo Station inspired me much. Travelling across Europe and observing people’s dressing sense, left me a little more amazed, a little more curious and certainly a lot wiser. Be it the colourful bags and shoes in Italy, the beautiful Champs-ellysees in Paris with all it’s fashionable men and women, the minimalist clothing of the Nordics in Sweden and Norway –European fashion and style left me truly inspired. I resolved to always turn out well dressed, no matter what the mood or occasion. As the Swedish say – There is no such thing as bad weather. Only bad clothes. I learnt to embrace the unpredictable weather with good clothes and loved it anyway.
Another little influence that we had on our dressing was watching popular sitcoms such a Suits and FRIENDS. Rachael and Monica’s impeccable style and all the characters of Suits left me inspired to dress well at work. It is a fact though that most corporates or at least the industry corporates are moving towards smart casual clothing as acceptable work wear. All that is fine, as long as the term ‘casual’ isn’t mis-used. Many corporates and consulting firms still have proper formal wear and I guess it looks smart.
Back to India
After moving back to the Indian sub-continent, my work wear did make a few changes, especially to the warmer weather. I travelled more across Asia Pacific and I must add here, women from Hong Kong and Singapore are the best dressed of all. At this retail company I worked for I once received the ‘Most stylish team member’ award as was voted by the team. I was elated and amused. Like they say- looking effortless takes some efforts. My US returned friend and I always wonder how people come dressed up ‘so casually’ to work. We prefer our dark clean denims (no stone wash even) and smart tops. One thing I love about being back in the sub-continent is dressing up for festivals and weddings. Where else could I experiment with gold and all sorts of colors and yet look graceful. The ‘bindi’ and bangles add to the magic that is gorgeous Indian wear.
I keep telling my other friend too, I am super cautious with colours. Even a slightly darker or lighter shade of clothing can make or break your look. I am no stylist of styling expert, but it takes just a little common sense to mix and match clothes and colours that sync. Personally- I am a combination of shorts, skirts, dresses, denims and carry it all off with equal aplomb. Thanks to my curvy-ness, I don’t indulge much in off shoulder or tank tops. But I guess they look nice as long as one carries it off confidently. Style and fashion for me have evolved into wearing whatever one is comfortable in and yet looks classy. I refrain from too many prints and prefer my classic monotones. I have a soft spot for jewellery specially neck pieces, I have picked so many from all over the world and still cherish them as an intrinsic part of my wardrobe. For guys, ladies will admit, a shirt (folded at the sleeves) and denims look the best. My personal favorite for all the gentlemen is a classic tweed jacket. Think of the character of Robert Langdon from the Dan Brown series of books or simply think of the Canadian PM Justin Trudeau. Sigh. (Dreams). (Forgets to write for ten days thinking of Trudeau).
Signing Off. Stay stylish, stay simple, stay beautiful and give away what you don’t wear to someone who really needs it. After all, the greatest joy in life is that of giving. —Priya
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Author: Priya Prabhu
Priya Prabhu lives in what she still likes to call the city of dreams- Bombay. Former Londoner, travel blogger, glass painter, voracious reader, sassy sister, doting daughter and an IT professional best describe as to what she has made herself to be today. In her own humble words – Traveling to 23 countries across the world so far, hasn’t changed her values, but certainly changed her perceptions about things. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org