Published in Instep, The News on March 2, 2010
Let’s face it: as women in Pakistan, most of us are not really encouraged to take individual decisions in our lives. We live in the protective shadow of either our parents or our husbands and those of us who manage to break away (by means of a foreign education perhaps) are eventually considered social outcasts or worse, rebels. There’s hope for us if we’re effectively lured back into the roost (the most desirable lasso being a suitable boy) but if we blow the candles on our twenty fifth birthday cake in a bachelorette pad in London, as our global salt and pepper of friends pop a cork with us, we’re mentally crossed off ‘acceptable’ back home.
And so how can women here suddenly be expected to be individuals when it comes to their dress sense? Most of them are simply striving to be socially acceptable in the prettiest way possible. Yawn!
As a fashion journalist – and I’m sure anyone who is fond of dressing up would agree – any woman’s worst nightmare is stepping into a room and finding someone else wearing the same outfit as yours. Even when we’re critiquing fashion shows, we search for designs that cut off the edge, introduce something new. Those are heralded as the trendsetters. So why any sensible woman with half an ounce of style would want to look like the other half of town is beyond me.
But there is safety in numbers. In Pakistan you don’t run that much of repetition with fashion labels because not enough of them go around (and the one’s that do are hugely unaffordable), but the litmus test is always lawn season. Lawn season opens and every woman in town is suddenly armed for the kill.
You first bump into an aunt at Park Towers. She’s wearing the same Sana Safinaz print as the one you knew everyone would buy but picked up anyway. Then your tailor delightfully tells you that three other aunties (the ones who host the kitty/committee parties you just hate in every moment of snob superiority) have given him the same jora for stitching (along with the look book that you thought you had exclusive rights to). And then finally, when you go visiting, you see your best friend’s maid wearing the same print. A fake version that your friend picked up from Sunday Bazaar but the same print nevertheless. That’s when you know you should have resisted the impulse and stuck to the print less retailed.
I know that human beings are grammatically compounded as groups or congregations, but when it comes to women dressing up, the only word that comes to mind is herd. Because a herd mentality is what they follow. They’ll pick up the oh so popular leopard skin printed lawn (because animal prints are the in thing) without thinking that combined with their blond hair they’ll end up looking like a feline on the prowl. Prints are one thing. The female species pushes the extreme when it comes to silhouettes…or even hairdos. I’ll kill myself if I see another long hair, straight blow dry! If you have long hair then braids should be your thing this summer. They have featured all over the runways of Paris, London, New York and even Lahore. Those assymetrical loosely knotted types are going to be all the rage.
And when it comes to silhouettes, this is the grand era of the kaftan. Kaftans and ponchos. Ponchos and kaftans. Tents, as my husband calls them. “We can hold our sons wedding in one of yours,” he’s been telling me eversince I started wearing them a year ago. Back then people around me (the ones in patiala shalwars and chhoti kameezes) thought I had gone cuckoo. What the hell! They thought I had lost my marbles while inflating my entire wardrobe into a billowing marquee. But I indulged in my moments of dropped hemlines and flowing silhouettes.
Eventually the tailors mastered the pattern, the trend found mass following and all and sundry said goodbye to darts and hello to kaftans. Suddenly silhouettes flowed as freely as the oceans…and in as much abundance.
Change, ladies change is the key to successful style. Change and individuality. When you pick up your college albums, you want to scoff at how you and your friends used to dress then. If you’re still dressing the same then believe me when I say that you’re committing style suicide.
“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different,” said the great Coco Chanel. Add reinvention to that.
And indeed, the key to having style is to be different not the same. Not everyone’s a trendsetter but everyone is different. God made every single human being different for a reason. Hell, He even made every single snowflake in the world different. Then why would women want to follow each other and dress for an assembly line? They wouldn’t, unless they were all a herd of cows lining up for the greatest sacrifice of all: that of style. Step out of that line while you can!