Friday, February 2, 2001,
Chandigarh, India

I N T E R F A C E 

Do you really dress for yourself?
By Aradhika Sekhon
ET no woman delude herself into thinking that she dresses in a particular way to please herself. The fact is that most women, even the high-brow, independent and decisive ones with top-of-the-line jobs, dress the way they do either for or because of a man or men in their lives.

The other side of the clothesline
en say that they too are not unrestricted in the way they choose to dress. There are majorly guided by the women in their lives. 



Do you really dress for yourself?
By Aradhika Sekhon

LET no woman delude herself into thinking that she dresses in a particular way to please herself. The fact is that most women, even the high-brow, independent and decisive ones with top-of-the-line jobs, dress the way they do either for or because of a man or men in their lives.

Husbands and boyfriends are usually vociferous in their likes and dislikes about what they’d like their women to wear. Many a girl has had to bid farewell to her mini in favour of a salwar-kameez because her husband likes it that way! Speaking of her experience, Shailya Bisht, a local girl who got married to a doctor in Bathinda, says: "Before marriage I lived only in shirts and jeans….now I wear nothing but salwar-kurta — it’s just not done to wear trousers in my husband’s family so I’ve had to give all my lovely dresses away"!

The opposite is also true. Dolly Waraich, who hails from a traditional Sikh family where girls were to be seen and not heard, was in for a culture shock when she got married to Dimpy, an army officer. Within a few months, Dolly had changed her look completely. A short-haired (she had had hip-length hair), well-groomed Dolly was more in keeping with the look Dimpy wanted his wife to sport.

If it’s not fathers and husbands, it’s sons who start dictating how their mothers should look. Ritu Khullar, a housewife, had to stop wearing tights because her son did not like to see her in them. When five-year-old Rohit demanded to see what Ritu was going to wear for the ‘parent-teacher’ meeting the next day was the last straw. His instructions were: wear a saree, don’t wear long ear-rings like Himanshu’s mother does and don’t wear that red lipstick. Ritu’s daughter, nine-year-old Neha, incidentally, does not have such hang-ups. "Mummy looks nice in western clothes. She looks like Barbie in tights". Ritu, however, has to walk the tight-rope to please herself and her son!

And that too is not enough. For, if there happens to be a male servant in the house, most women will reach out for the trousers in their wardrobe rather than the shorts they’d like to lounge about in!

If one looks at the colours in fashion over the decade, one finds black, brown, white, beige — traditionally male colours — are finding favour with most women. This dichotomy in a country which naturally leans towards brilliant and flamboyant hues, has come about because male designers at the helm of the fashion industry coupled with a trend towards unisex clothes, have gradually veered women to opt for dull colours. Women designers — Ritu Beri, Ritu Kumar, Nalini, Mona Pali — still go for flowing lines, embroidery and colour in their creations. Male designers — Rohit Bal, Ravi Bajaj, Tarun Tahiliani, Raghuvendra Rathod — favour neutral colours and design for the ramrod-straight, reed-thin boyish frames. Being the leaders in the field, they do train the taste!

At work, women who want to be taken seriously dress either in an extremely sophisticated manner or attempt to "dress down" so that their capacities and not their looks are appreciated by their male colleagues. For women in the former category, the attempt is not to look alluringly beautiful but groomed to that degree of perfection where appearance itself becomes a badge of excellence — the whole look is so highly polished and formidable that it becomes integrated with the profile she presents at work. "To assert herself, the woman usually has to play down her femininity because in most cases she cannot, with equal effect, assert it in the same way as a man asserts his masculinity", says Tanuja Bhatia, who works as a PRO in a multinational company.

"The saree is the most acceptable garment at work", says Harjeet Ghuman, a teacher at St. Soldier International School, "but too much glitz and glitter can definitely raise eyebrows because that’s too feminine to be acceptable. The understated, elegant look is the desired look at work". This is specially true of women working as PROs, managers, executive secretaries, corporate business heads, head mistresses, etc.

The second category of women, those who "dress down", are usually those who are doing a certain amount of field work like social workers and journalists. The emphasis here is on Gurjari or handloom kurtas with churidaars, sensible sandals and a tote bag or haversack over the shoulder in an attempt to tone down their femininity with a look that promises professionalism and competence. A look that says, "See, I’m not glamorous, so now you’ve got to take me seriously". The working woman has had to de-feminise herself in order to mitigate the initial ‘disadvantage’ she starts out with. The men at work have forced her to opt for a look which is acceptable to them.

Thus, the assertion that a woman chooses the way she looks as a means of self-expression is not entirely true. There are too many pressures on her, especially from males at home, at work, on the streets, or — the hardest taskmaster perhaps—her dress designer—to be entirely her own person. Even the ladies in politics—Sushma Swaraj, Margaret Alva, Sonia Gandhi, Uma Bharati are in uniforms, so where does that leave the masses?

Who’s wearing what?

High school and college kids: Jeans, tank tops, camisoles, minis, pajama pants…

The kitty party group: Embroidered suits from boutiques

Fauji wives: Chiffon sarees and pearls

School teachers: Affordable sarees, comfortable suits stitched by tailors or off-the-shelf clothes from less expensive outlets.

Women politicians: Handloom sarees from different states to reflect cultural heritage.

Corporate women: Printed or handloom silks, tussars in winter, Bengali or Gujarati sarees in summer or trouser suits.



The other side of the clothesline

Men say that they too are not unrestricted in the way they choose to dress. There are majorly guided by the women in their lives. "Can you imagine", expostulates Vishal Sharma, an engineering student, "that till the time I was 9-10 months old, my mother dressed me in frocks….to add insult to injury, there are also many photographs of mine, showing me all dolled up….I’m recorded in frocks for posterity!

It’s seldom fathers who choose clothes for their growing sons. Mothers go to the markets, they choose the jeans, sweaters, T- shirts — whatever their sons wear. Boys, not being too fussy, generally wear whatever mama lays out for them till the time they start becoming aware of their surroundings and environment and begin to take interest in girls. Then it’s the peer pressure that dictates the preferred look.

When mothers let go, wives step in. "Rajan has never chosen even socks for himself", says Kajal Puri. Rajan, a Captain in the Merchant Navy, who practically lived in jeans and T-shirts before marriage, has now got used to tailor-made suits and designer shoes!

Guess it works both ways!!




Why do people drive at night with high beam?
— An incensed driver.

Readers respond:

 Such people either have scant regard for others or, perhaps, they are totally unaware of the fact that the blinding high beam can cause fatal accidents. To top it all, they don’t even respond to repeated dipping. 
Wg Cdr B.S. Garewal (54), SAS Nagar.

People drive around with high beam because there is no one to stop them from doing so.
Ramandeep Sandhu (38), a teacher.

There could be three reasons: one, ignorance; two, faulty adjustment of low beam; and three, ‘I damn care’ attitude!
Dr Rajan Chugh(38), Chandigarh

The person driving with high beam thinks he is the king of the road. Driving with low beam is beneath his dignity.
Mohit Bhalla(20), a medical student, Sirhind.

Why don’t parents stop their minor wards from driving two-wheelers and four-wheelers in the sector lanes.
 — An angry mother of a four-year-old who was hurt by one such speeder. 

Readers respond:

Such parents want to show their so-called superior status to others.
Roma Anand(19), a B.Com. student, Ludhiana

Most children just don’t listen to their parents. And parents also don’t take out time to reason things out with their wards. 
Baljinder Kaur, a school lecturer, Chandigarh.

When some parents themselves give fun rides to toddlers by placing them behind the wheel and on their laps ( which is terribly dangerous) then how can you expect them to check their young ones from flouting law and endangering the lives of others around.
Shikha Sharma(32), mother of two.

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