Instep, The News May 3 2010
Pardon me, and I know it’s impolite, but I stare. Correction. I ‘observe’. There’s something in what I do for a living that compels me to observe the way people dress or carry their personal style. And over the last decade or so of consistent observation, I can’t help but slot all the women I’ve been staring at into separate little spaces and slap on labels according to their personal style. And I’m talking about women, mind you, not the anorexic variety of teenagers who hang in their t-shirts as their denims hang loose on their hipbones. Not even girls who believe they’ve hit sartorial maturity when they’re finally allowed to wear saris to their school graduation party. No, this article is about all those women that I have been observing and highlighting with hypothetical markers. Before I begin, let me explain that since style is always fluid, falling under one heading today does not mean that you cannot fall into another tomorrow. Peoples’ personal choices change, even as frequently as twice or thrice a day, and subsequently their style may change too. Chameleons I could call them. Read on…
The Gloves: ‘I must fit in yet stand out’ types
Lowest on the fashion food chain are women who cannot think for themselves and live by what is ‘in’. Unfortunately most women in Pakistan fall into this category; women who have been unable to discover their own style narrative and instead blindly follow what others are endorsing. They will have straight hair and big sunglasses if they are lunching at the governor’s house, they will pull out their cashmere heirlooms if they are heading out to a musical evening at the haveli and they will uniformly dress in the long shirt, straight pants, flat bejeweled chappal (throw in a red or French pedicure) formula when they pick up their kids from Grammar School. The big sunglasses apply here too. If they are rich (which they mostly are) then they will have the greatest label fetish, dedicating one season to Prada and the next to Burberry without knowing how to stylishly mix the two. This kind will stick to high-end labels because you can’t go wrong with a Birkin on your arm, right? Falling into this space are usually high society begums, middle class begums and, um generally all begums. And you’re most likely to find them in the social pages.
The Not Glamour Oriented: ‘NGO’ types
Next is the ‘NGO’ type and before the entire population of feminist/activist NGO types starts gunning for me, I’d like to clarify that this isn’t a derogatory label. It just defines, in my eyes, the type of women who in Miranda Priestley’s (The Devil Wears Prada) words are too concerned that others will take them less seriously if they dress well or invest too much (time or money) in style. Their attire will steer clear of glamour and they will prefer to adapt a very Gandhian façade. Their kurtas will be cotton or khaadi (the inexpensive variety), their shalwars or churidaars will be white and their shoes will be kohlapuris. Their height of accessorization will be silver jewelry. Being perceived as intellectual is be the most important thing on their mind, which is why most of them will be bespectacled. This doesn’t mean that everyone working at an NGO looks like this but whoever does falls under the NGO type label. Generally speaking these may be activists, lecturers, lawyers, feminists etc. A lot of journalists fall into this category too, especially the ‘save the world’ types who will wear their khaadi kurtas with scruffy jeans replete with kohlapuris. NGO, meaning Not Glamour Oriented.
The Sartorialists: ‘creative rebel’ types
Highest on the style ladder are the creative types, women who don’t give a damn as to what people think. They have individual style and will try to push the envelope, automatically coming up with at least one eccentricity every time they get dressed. And they will never fear disapproval because they don’t want to conform. These are women who set off trends, women who redefine them and women you would look at and say, “I wish I could carry that off!” They’re usually the ones with the experimental haircuts and often the tattoo or body piercing. And even if they’re not rebellious they certainly are fashionably mature and will exhibit unique style that most people will be either envious or scornful of. Two extremes but never indifference. The creative rebel types stand out in the form of most fashion journalists, artists, poets, writers, musicians, women with creative jobs or lives…and other (in most cases) social outcasts.
I’m running out of space but these are just three out of many style (not stereo) types. There are the White Tie Stiff Neck Corporate Dressers, women who work at multinationals or banks and must look proper. No ruffles here. Then I have the Faithful Followers, women who dress according to the belief they follow. The Muslim FFs will always be in burqas, the Hindu FFs in saris and sindoor and Parsis in their Goan mould, whether it is sari or skirt. Religious belief will be the most predominant part of their style quotient. Last but not least are the Khaandani Khawateen, women who will always dress with dignity as if single handedly upholding their entire family’s honour. You will always find them wearing some family heirloom or the other (mostly a piece of jewelry) while they boast genetic superiority on their well-pressed sleeve.
Most women fall into these six categories but I’m sure there must be more and if you can think of any then do write in with your suggestions!