My mother was my first fashion designer. Pictures from my childhood show me in clothes designed and stitched by her, which meant readymade clothes were a rarity. As someone extremely passionate about stitching, my mother tailored frocks to skirts to fancy looking tops in a wide variety of colours and fabrics on her black-coloured Merritt sewing machine first and later, the more sophisticated motor-enabled, white-coloured Singer ‘Fashion Designer’, on which she would do some great machine embroidery too. I still remember she experimented and came up with one of her first machine embroideries on a purple-coloured kameez of a salwar-kameez set she designed for me for Deepavali when I was a child. She would do some fabulous hand-embroidery too back then – from chain stitch to back stitch to cross stitch to satin stitch. Her books on tailoring and embroidery (published by Readers Digest) which were probably her very first purchases after she got married, still sit proudly and prettily on the bookshelf at my parents’ home.
Over the years though, especially after I moved out of home to do my graduation, the approach to doing my clothes changed. My mother and I would trip down to some popular stores located in Pondy Bazaar and Ranganathan Street, the shopping hubs of Madras. We would buy dress materials and get them stitched from a tailor. This was also the time we learnt what it is to chase down the tailor to deliver your stitched clothes on time – a tailor delivering clothes on the promised date was by and large, a myth! Given my lean frame, it was quite hard to find the perfect-fitting readymade clothes, making stitched salwar kameez the only viable alternative. Every time I would come down home for vacation, I would return to college with a set of three to five new stitched clothes, doing my best not to repeat colours and choosing interesting shades from the available variety. College also meant getting into the sari mode for various occasions. That of course meant picking the best of my mother’s saris and getting blouses stitched to my size.
When I began working, earning power bestowed buying power. If there were two things I really spent my stipends or salaries on, they were books and clothes plus accessories. I had (and still have) a big weakness for finely designed handbags and jewellery. As a student interning in a chip-designing company in Pune, weekends meant heading unfailingly to the ever-bustling Lakshmi market, shopping for salwar-kameez materials and tops from small shops that would entice a prospective customer by displaying their fare on mannequins placed near the entrance of the shop. It also meant shopping for handbags from roadside shops that always made me wonder how the sellers managed to stock up so much material within such small spaces!
When I began working full-time, I was lucky to have worked in two cities that are quite the hubs of fashion. Bangalore and Bombay. When in Bangalore, shopping meant heading to Brigade Road, MG Road or Jayanagar. Malls weren’t still an in-thing back then. In Bombay, it meant heading to Colaba or Bandra for proper roadside shopping! This was also the time my fashion sense expanded. Jeans, formal and casual trousers, tops and skirts began making their way into my wardrobe. I could afford shopping for designer labels now and then, and it was around this time I turned a Fabindia loyalist.
A lot has changed about my sense of fashion and dressing over the years. If I have something to thank for this, it’s the fashion industry that has opened up tremendously and the thriving e-commerce scene that has thrown the doors open to a whole lot of possibilities. I now experiment more with colours too, not always sticking to the traditional greens, reds, blues and browns. Clothes these days come in such exciting colours, a wide range of sizes and the designs are demonstrative of highly-evolved creativity. I am a die-hard online shopper for clothes now and I love keeping track of trends in fashion. The fashion that defines me still tends to be largely Indian and traditional. I love flamboyant anarkalis paired with leggings or churidhar and plain kurtis paired with printed Patiala pants and dupattas. I match up jeans with kurtas or kurtis that spell minimalism and spruce up the look with an ethnic stole. I love wearing long cotton skirts with a lot of flare. I stick to cotton for everyday wear and for special occasions, switch to the rustic look that only a Tussar silk or silk cotton fabric can bring to your attire.
My love for saris remains unabated and in fact, continues to grow exponentially. Cotton sarees are my favourite for the simplicity, sophistication and elegance they bring to my everyday wardrobe. For the special moments, there are the all-time favourite silks and silk cottons. Among my picks for cotton, I am head over heels in love with the Chettinad Cotton. The colour palette on offer when it comes to Chettinad Cotton saris is mind blowing. The motifs that range from flowers, to annapakshi to peacocks to elephants to swastiks to rudraksha to temple design to the archaic mayilkann is a true sari lover’s delight! Their affordable pricing plus the ease of shopping for them online are a bonus! What’s more, the fact that there’s the creative space to experiment on the pairing blouse, usually a printed one, makes engaging with the sari an exciting affair. Choose between the Ajrakh or Kalamkari or Ikkat fabric to stitch up a high-neck, long sleeved blouse or go for a Chinese collared variant or do up a crop top and drape the six-yard elegance around you to make heads turn! Match it up with the ever-elegant Terracotta earrings and neckpieces or black metal jewellery to complete the look. There, I have grown to the point of offering decent fashion tips!
For all the designing talent that my mother possesses, it’s a little unfortunate that I have not inherited the patience and skill to tailor my own clothes. Even today, every now and then, she would fondly admonish me to be in touch with some basic skills – like sewing a button back in its place or doing a bit of hemming. But I continue to be adamantly lazy. I suppose what I have inherited is a taste for picking clothes. So as much as I understand the need to declutter, it remains hard for me to take my eyes off splendidly designed apparel. I wouldn’t mind asking someone who’s willing to buy me a birthday gift, for a new wardrobe. There, I said it. Now that’s some serious internal conflict for someone who has religiously purchased an e-book version of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”! But what do I do? I seem to be fashion-tied! And looks like I’m going to be, for a while…