What a shopping trip is like when you’re broke.

Today I stepped out for a run. But ended up going to Forever 21 instead. (Don’t say it – I know – it’s silly). It started off quite ordinarily. After watching quarter an episode of The Good Wife on Netflix and downing two mugs of tea, I suddenly realised that if I didn’t step outside now, it would be too late. Daylight would’ve disappeared. So I changed into my sneakers and shorts, almost didn’t take my wallet (which on second thoughts would’ve been much smarter) and bounced outdoors.

Once I was actually out on the street, I got this sudden itch to spend money – which is surprising as I am literally in debt with most of my recent purchases being on a credit card. However, I thought – a few steps in the crisp, fresh November air may inspire me to stick to the healthier original plan. So I continued walking towards the park. The itch, sadly, was a stubborn one. I couldn’t walk it off. And by the time I reached the corner, I found myself hailing an autorickshaw – “Bhaiya, Infinity Malad?” And fate decided to take me on with a slight nod to the affirmative.

I sat in the rickety rickshaw, my thoughts racing. What do I do once I reached Forever 21? Shop or just browse? What if I actually liked something? Shit, that would suck as I can’t afford it. What do I do when I am back home? Maybe I should finally start writing the book I’ve been meaning to write for the last gazillion years. The book about love. But what part of love? My first boyfriend? Current boyfriend? But, I have no clue on how it all turns out! Should I assume? No. I should concentrate on what’s elapsed. Finish a story that’s already finished. This happened and then this and finally this. Oh, but would people want to read it? And what if it sounds too rushed? Maybe I should just stick to an incident and elaborate every little detail. Maybe, I should add a hint of magical realism like Murakami? But what? Murakami’s books are mostly metaphors about uniting with your dark side or shadow. What would my books be about? I need to discover something and then use metaphors to explain it. What have I discovered?

And like this, my brain raced on and on and before I knew it, me and my auto were speeding along a windy backroad that ran parallel along a sewage drain. For a brief moment, I thought we were near the sea but the black colour gave the drain away. What a disappointment. A sea would’ve been the perfect sign for me to begin work on the book. Romance. Possibility. Freedom.

The auto screeches to a halt near Forever 21. I get off and rush to the women’s loo. I find a stall that seems it’s about to get vacant any second -a brush against the flimsy door somehow seemed to me an indication of pants being being pulled up clumsily – however I was wrong and the lady in my stall decided to have a nice, long dump.


I got to Forever 21 and the first thing that caught my eye was a faux leather button-down miniskirt. Love at first sight. My mind began racing – I would team it with a t-shirt and a boyfriend shirt. Or a vest for a night out. And  I found myself throwing it in the black mesh bag, an overenthusiastic sales person handed me.

The collection was very streetstyle inspired – hence I was in love with it. There were jackets – military, bomber, trench-style, fluffy, straight – all kinds. And there were skirts – corduroy, military, pink georgette, rust hued. The bralets and bustiers didn’t fit well – so I didn’t pick up any- I wanted to wear one with a saree. However, the skirts were lovely. Boots were a colossal disappointment – they had barely anything that fit my large feet. Plus the designs were very blah.

Anyway, after a bunch of clothes I tried, I ended up buying nothing.The faux leather skirt was awesome – but was I really going to travel in a local train looking like a goth-inspired monkey? Nah. So, reluctantly I placed it back on the shelf I’d borrowed it from.

A lady walked over to me, “Ma’am, would you like me to find you another size?” “No, I murmured, I am just putting it back” How could I explain to her that the skirt fit me like a glove and how I wish it had been too big or too small so my heart wouldn’t tear when I placed it back like that?

So, sheepishly I hailed another rickshaw. And took an hour reaching home. Evening traffic.

A run would’ve been more fulfilling after all.

 

Humans stress me. Clothes de-stress me. 

 

 

Unless ‘clothes’ refers to a short sequinned (read ugly) number. Or worse, a my pure-white shirt has a spot of mustard. That’s when humans become a breeze.

I remember when I bought my first pair of boots. I was 21, in London for the first time. And my father bought me these really chic knee-high black boots. From Aldo. And oh, I was in love.

And, like all kinds of love, with it came a new set of anxieties.

What if, I leave my shopping bag somewhere. What if my baggage gets lost in transit? And with it go my boots? What if somebody steps on it – when I am wearing it? What if, it gets fungus? What if it breaks? What if a pigeon shits on it? 

And I realised, I share a weird relationship with fashion.

Inanimate, material fashion.

A ‘spontaneous anti-depressant’ in the words of Eugene Hutz, an instant excitement kick or a happiness machine – call it what you may, just the act of putting together fresh combinations from my closet is enough to bring on that sense of achievement. “Oh, why I didn’t I ever put those two together?”

 

And, the sheer joy on seeing a movie where the star dresses just like you do!  Keira Knightley in Begin Again, anyone? Or Emilia Clarke in Me Before you?

Clothes.

 

So, I wrote a silly poem about clothes.

Here it goes.

 

Clothes.

They won’t throw a fit if you don’t call them.

They won’t taunt you when you crib.

They won’t leave you for another country.

And they won’t make you feel like you’re shit.

They’ll be there for you when you’re happy.

And they’ll be there for you when you’re low.

They’ll make you feel fabulous,

even when you shed half a kilo.

They’ll bring out your best features

And they’ll notice your new haircut.

They’ll cover-up the extra inches – oh you dark-dark chocolate sundae!

And they’ll show-off all those curves!

 

Well, folks, that’s all for today. Drink lots of tea, wear lots of dresses, and laugh a lot.

Cheers.

Shivani

How I found myself through fashion.

Fashion saves me. Everyday.

Some see it as an annoying intruder, a pointless culture, and a distraction from what’s important. Others see it as an occasional indulgence meant to be partaken in, only during special occasions. And a few, like me, see it as an integral party of the everyday, a constant saviour in the journey of life.

When I was little, my mother dressed me up in smocking frocks with peter-pan collars and puff sleeves, matching ribbons for my hair – little bows, white socks, and smart Mary-Janes. I was the “well-dressed” child in every circle, never without a missing ribbon or shoe, never with snot running down my face, and never in flimsy spaghetti straps and careless hot-pants. I was quiet, well-behaved, and disciplined enough to sit with my shoes and socks, white without a speck of dirt, at parties.

I wasn’t a cute child. I wasn’t adorable or talkative. And I had no special talent apart from being able to draw – not something you can show off to your relatives about. I couldn’t dance or sing or act or mimic. I couldn’t play an instrument or say adorable things that grownups could listen to and go, “awww…”. Nope. I was quiet, I sat in the corner, played with my dolls and read. I spoke when spoken to and answered with a “yes” or “no”.

Then I went to boarding school. And the awkward pre-puberty age set in. I no longer liked frocks and I wanted to look more boyish than ever. I looked at my friends with their jeans and shorts and rubber floaters and that’s all I wanted to wear. I lost my love for pink, I lost my love for frocks and a part of me lost myself for a little while. I tried to fit into boarding school, by borrowing aesthetics from the people around me. Baggy shorts and baggier denims. The more boyish, the better. With my skinny legs, bony knees, gawky face and giant braces, nothing looked good on me. And my school uniform? That looked particularly horrid. No matter how much I tried, the grey pleated skirt refused to sit flat on my tummy, puffing up in an odd sort of way.

My rebellious hair was chopped up – “Maggie cuts her hair” style with no real definition. And I would comb through my hair – a hundred strokes every night, hoping for some semblance of straightness. I would oil, shampoo and condition it twice a week. I would buy the serums “specially formulated for dry, frizzy hair”, as the Livons of the world smiled inwardly , conscious of the giant prank they had played upon frizzy-haired believers everywhere. And none of it worked. Of course.

As I grew older, little by little I realised the reason everything looked odd on me. It wasn’t my genes or the lack of effort on my part – trust me. I tried everything.

It was because I was running after an aesthetic that wasn’t mine.

And subconsciously I began to define myself. I lathered on kohl, got a set of double piercings on my ears, and I got my skirts shortened. I began to tie my hair up in a high ponytail, and wear my skirts an inch shorter than the knees (everybody else was going for the low wasted, extra baggy-long skirt look at that time). And I gave up trying to straighten my hair. I washed my hair less, stopped combing it like an idiot.

I finally started embracing my curls.

And that’s how I made my little mark in the sea of identical uniforms. But, when it came to “coloured” clothes or clothes that weren’t uniform, I was lost. I tried long skirts, short skirts, capris and flared denims. But, nothing… nothing made me feel like me. I felt odd, my body felt sloppy and I just didn’t feel like “me”. The me who wore her smocked frocks with matching ribbons and pretty shoes. The “smartly dressed” me.

I read up the Vogues and the Cosmos, and I tried to draw inspiration… For the longest time, I blamed my weight for making clothes look odd on me. But, then again, I wasn’t really fat.

I knew I had toned legs, and so I should wear shorter silhouettes. But I had a tummy, and at that time, shops were only selling really fitted tees and body-con dresses. So, I struggled and struggled to find clothes that would flatter me. And would make me feel more “me”.

I think, it was only recently, say around 3 years back, that I discovered my aesthetic. I think it was repeated trial and error and a conscious understanding of my body-type. It was finding the middle point between comfort and style. And understanding my mind a little better. That lead me to it. And slowly I knew I was all about cottons, checks, anti-fits and comfort. Of button-down dresses, fit and flare silhouettes and skater dresses. Of bright florals, knee skimming lengths and floaty-breathables – The exact opposite of tight jeans and synthetic tops – my uniform throughout college and early years of working.

And once I found my aesthetic, I suddenly knew, no amount of taunts and jabs and magazine advice could hurt this strong extension of my being – my everyday armour. And even though plenty in India would call my style “jhalla” for it’s incredible looseness, and even though I admire those who can pull off the tight dress and stiletto look, when I look at myself in the mirror, with my  ultra faded-plaid dress and black-floppy-chappals, I know i couldn’t wear anything else – for the sole reason that it won’t fit in with me. It just won’t be me.

The deep-pockets for storing the odd lip-balm. The loose fit to cover the slight overeating at lunch. The knee-skimming length for leg-freedom. The cotton fabric to beat the humidity. And the absence of fluff to drive attention to my face rather than the dress. The dullness of colour to serve as a canvas to my personality. And the detailing of the dress, finally, to ground me sartorially and to pay homage to the talented designer.

This may seem too intense for something as seemingly light as fashion. But if you were to watch the documentary on Bill Cunningham and hear what people around have to say, you may understand things a little better.

Fashion is not just feathers and fluff and an ostentatious display of cloth for thrill. All that is advertising. Fashion is more. It’s advertising (of course), but it’s also style and craft and art and a tool that ordinary people like you and me can use to build ourselves a little brighter.

And as I found my aesthetic – an aesthetic surprisingly similar to the 5-year-old me with her plaid frocks and smart shoes – I found myself.