Two weeks ago I changed my bag after what must have been three years.
This information is important because when I say changed my bag, I am referring to the ONLY bag I carry everywhere; from film shoots to meetings to, well, even fashion events (i.e. when I bother carrying a bag to them). I think it must have brought about the most joy to my sister who by now was embarrassed by the threads hanging from my brown satchel.
Over the past year, every time someone asked me why I wouldn’t change my bag, my excuse had always been that I couldn’t find a nice one, which is partly true. The other, bigger reason is that I was bored of fashion. For a long time that brown satchel with threads hanging off it but good functionality represented how I felt.
Being bored of fashion for over two years was a real tragedy for me because I was one of those who really enjoyed it. It constituted a big part of who I was; someone whose single most pressing desire is that of self-expression, fashion served as the most accessible, fun medium.
I used to love planning outfits, making new ones from old pieces, I loved playing dress up, did things like an ode to Ram Leela or Mirziya. I worked on a fashion blog for two years too, attended fashion events, wrote about them; the works!
I was first introduced to fashion by my mother. She would buy a piece of cloth (good cloth and colour being primary parameters), then think over it for days. ‘What shall I make for you? A dress, shorts, tunic? What shall I add to it? A lace trimming, buttons, a bow?,’ she'd ponder. And as we navigated through this process together, with me protesting against bows and the colour baby pink, I suppose I developed a sense of personal style, and more importantly, a sense of me.
I became the girl who wanted to wear red shoes everywhere, regardless of whether or not they belonged with the outfit or the occasion. You see, one, it was super convenient - no thinking was required. And two, because come on, red is such a powerful colour. I had a friend who liked wearing saris at age 7, one who wore the prettiest frocks, and one who wore corduroy pants and boots. We were such a fine bunch, I must say!
I wanted to be un-bored of fashion and find my inspiration again, I also wondered how did I get here? Here being a place where I found fashion dull, uninspiring and insipid.
I grew up mostly in Pakistan, and there was a time when the fashion world was great here. Musarat Nazir was considered just as stylish as Tahira Saeed, as was Madam Noor Jehan. Marina Khan with her cropped hair was every much a style icon as Sahira Kazmi with her long tresses.
Back in college, there was a girl who rocked the short shirt and patyala shalwar, one who rocked skinny jeans, one who wore the hijab in the most stylish way ever. I liked that world.
2010 onward we saw a shift in the local fashion scene. We saw the advent of social media that started with people casually posting photos of themselves to it becoming a professional platform with digital influencers and bloggers. Suddenly everybody had a platform, and what a joyous thing that … could’ve been.
Instead of using it as a platform to celebrate and develop everyone's individuality, our Instagram and fashion sense turned into what looks like the fastest moving assembly line in China, making a dull product, with a craft level so diminutive that elementary robots could run it.
Everyone started looking the same! It is a template really, with a few basic steps to follow:
1) Get your hair dyed yellow. Please make sure it is the “same shade” as hers, might as well go the same hairdresser. Just make sure it matches.
2) Get a blow-dry, with loose curls at the bottom. That shall now be your hairstyle, for today and tomorrow and forever. Ok fine, maybe once in a blue moon, you shall get a high pony too.
3) Wear whatever; as long as it is branded, nobody cares if it looks good or makes you feel comfortable - just focus on it being “IN”. Also, a foolproof method to look fashionable is to show some skin. Like I said, nobody cares what the event or where the bulge in question is, just do it.
4) Conceal, conceal, conceal! Your moles, scars, uneven skin tone that is all very unnatural and shall not be accepted.
5) And in the end, the most important step: your bag! Now listen carefully, unless you carry a designer bag, nobody will want to be your friend. If you are like me and don’t know much about international designers, just get the bag SHE HAS… That cool girl who does it naturally, just zoom into one of her photos and on your next trip to Dubai, get that EXACT SAME bag. Or plan B, find the first copy in Thailand or a third one at Liberty Market; that might do the trick too.
Now that you're all set, pose uncomfortably, place that bag in front of yourself and there you go, you shall now make it to at least five Instagram handles, “looking fabulous”.
That was the world I found myself in. A world where if, God forbid, one person goes and gets a certain experimental haircut, 30 people follow; not out of inspiration but of the incessant need to copy-paste (and the belief that style can be copy-pasted). A world where summer wardrobes are no longer a fun, creative process of designing outfits you like, but a race based on who wears who, first.
I have had the misfortune of knowing someone who boastfully told me: "My maid owns all of last year’s lawn designs" (her charitable self only a garb for “I don’t wear last year’s designs, sister!”). Statements such as, “yeh to sab ne pehn liya hai” or “aik tu mehanga jora hona chahiye” have become so common, people don’t even see what’s wrong with them.
Sadly, it's become a world where fashion journalism too, slipped into a space that lacked both opinion and vocabulary.
Everything is “fabulous” and “amazing” and everyone looks “chic” and “lovely”; I am not saying we should criticise people for their fashion choices, but I am saying, I’d rather you not say anything. If they are looking uncomfortable, if they are all looking more of the same, our praise then only helps to dig the hole deeper.
But before I got bored, much like everyone else, I got confused.
For a bit in the middle, I thought, 'okay so this is the new world order and I must comply to keep up'. So I got the gold highlights, I got the blow-dries, the stilettos and did the awkward poses… some evidence of this phase still exists online and I am glad it does, it is there to forever remind me of what happens when you try and become someone else.
This constant lack of validation exhausted me and I realised I had to take a step back. And so, I sat out two years trying to find that girl again who wore her red shoes everywhere. It helped to surround myself with artists who couldn’t care less if you wore your pajamas to work every day.
I remember feeling underconfident and just plain unhappy, regardless of how much money or effort I put into “my look”. I didn’t look like myself, I didn’t feel like myself, and even if others told me I looked nice, nice is not how I felt within.
This constant lack of validation exhausted me and I realised I had to take a step back. And so, I sat out two years trying to find that girl again who wore her red shoes everywhere. Over two years, as I wore the same clothes over and over, and over again: the same jeans and sneakers, the brown satchel with my uncombed hair... my switch from fashion to films, helped - I was behind the camera and could just be myself.
It helped to surround myself with artists who couldn’t care less if you wore your pajamas to work every day. Sure, some loved ones were concerned about why I would refuse to dress up or put in an effort, but I assured them, all will be well. And slowly, it was.
I figured it really wasn’t even in the clothes so much. Your personal sense of style, if you let it, shines through regardless.
That the point of fashion isn’t social validation, it is finding comfort and strength in how you present yourself to the world. I found out that I am the girl who is okay owning one pair of shoes and wearing them with every outfit. I found out that I don’t like combing my hair, that I don’t particularly enjoy putting on lipstick and I now wear a sports bra under pretty much every outfit.
Some days when I feel like it, I put some sexy clothes on and in my head I’m looking like Beyoncé, but it is my version of sexy. To admire someone’s sense of style doesn’t have to be the same as copying it; because the problem is, you can’t, especially if it’s Beyoncé. Why let fashion become a stressful job of trying to look better? A competitive sport whereas all it is meant to be is ‘means’.
The point of fashion isn’t social validation, it is finding comfort and strength in how you present yourself to the world.
I hate ‘hate pieces,’ this isn’t one. I have nothing against yellow hair or red or green, I also have nothing against designer bags, heck I wish I owned one... (okay no, shoes, Gucci shoes, that’s what I wish for)... I just have a problem with the image of an unhappy, underconfident woman, trying hard to fit in, to stand out.
I just miss my girl gang, where each one had something to say, and said it loud and clear.
Am I getting closer to reclaiming that space? Maybe. As Leandra Medine says: “Fashion is so much more than just clothing for the people who feel they can let it in; it can become the greatest sum of her parts, a megaphone for articulation where words simply will not work. It can be a drug-free boost that makes a terrible day seem slightly better, a reminder through the depths of desperation that even if nothing else is going as I’ve planned, I’m armed."