Opinions

Do I dress only for myself?

I have a doubt on the whole “I dress only for myself and not to impress other people and definitely not men” brigade.

What is the point of fashion or makeup if it is not for other people? If I truly dressed for myself, I should be happy dressing up on a Saturday afternoon to watch reruns of Big Bang Theory on TV, no?   At that time nighties seem to suffice.

If I really don’t care what other people’s opinion of me is, I would probably go to the supermarket dressed like Super Girl and the fish market dressed as Cleopatra.

Why is it that I use my faded old Salwar Kameez to Nilgiris on Saturday morning and slip into a newer outfit if I plan to catch the matinee show?

Why do I, who wears jeans on Fridays wear saris to church?

Why do I not mind wearing torn nighties that are sewn crudely when I am sleeping as long as they are soft and comfortable and wear silk saris to weddings and not the other way around?

For other people.

What is so embarrassing about this?  This does not mean I am a slave for other people’s opinion or that I am begging for approval. It just means that humans are social animals and that I am human.
P.S. This is a thought I came to my mind as a response to a blog post. But I am not going to link it here. I don’t know why, but it seems impolite.

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13 thoughts on “Do I dress only for myself?”

  1. I was reminded of this:
    For my friend who thinks my rose and cardamom perfume smells like chewed betel nut, I wear the vanilla one. For my friend who visits once a year from afar, I wear my long hair in a braid. For my fiercely intelligent friend with whom I write, who wears dresses every day, I shave my legs. Let me paint a picture: two women in sundresses in a garden cafe, earphones in, pounding away at keyboards, stopping for cake and conversation.

    This is an excerpt from Sharanya Manivannan’s essay ‘Karaikal Ammaiyar And Her Closet Of Adornments’.
    http://theladiesfinger.com/karaikal/

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  2. Rahini – nice, thoughtful post, as always. I can see your point. But I also believe that doing things for ourselves, just to feel better, just to feel happy, can also bring a lot of happiness. For instance, I make it a point to clean/clear my car every weekend not because someone looks at it, not because I am an obsessive cleanliness freak but it just is. I just like to enjoy driving a clean car, sans dust and dirt, to work 5 days a week. I know this is unrelated to the issue of dressing up but at least, the mindset is similar, I think…

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  3. I literally laughed out loud about your point for watching a TV series.

    Yes, no matter how much we think that we dont care about other’s opinion, we do dress up to feel good about ourselves in a social setting.

    What was that Tamil proverb about Aal Paadhi, Aadai Padhi.

    Now that I am working from home, my dress mostly only consists of tshirts and workout pants.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I *do* dress only for myself. 🙂 I ensure I’m neatly attired (not dressed up) when I go to work or out in public There’s something about a well-draped sari or a nice skirt or suit that makes you feel confident. Otherwise, I’m usually to be found in kurtas and jeans. Washed, ironed, neat, but my look is definitely casual.

    It is also called dressing for the occasion – you don’t want to be under/over dressed. A silk sari and heavy jewellery would be out of place at work; I can’t imagine hiking in a salwar-kameez, or going to the beach in high heels. (Actually, I can’t imagine wearing high heels – it hurts my back just looking at them!) Neither can I imagine going to a wedding in a short skirt, not because people will talk, but because I get precious few occasions to dress up, and I’m damned if I’m going to give up one. 🙂

    I’m a reasonably attractive person (even if I do say so myself *grin*). There are state occasions when I go the full nine yards, a sari being my usual attire of choice. I accessorise, I carefully apply makeup, and damned if I don’t enjoy the compliments! 🙂 But. I do it for myself even then. I like looking rather decent; I like dressing up once in a while, and I know I carry myself well. If people compliment me, of course I like it. I would be lying if I said it didn’t matter. But. That’s a bonus. I am NOT dressing so I will get those compliments. I’m dressing to please myself. And since I primarily dress for comfort, even when I’m dressed to the hilt, I can safely say that the only people whose opinion matters to me is that of people who love me and who I love. The rest can go hang. Does that make sense? (Or I’m waffling – blame it on the wine I’m drinking!)

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  5. Ram: There are plenty of things we do for ourselves just to feel better and happy. I am not saying EVERYTHING we do is for others. Brushing our teeth is for our teeth’s sake. The appearance is incidental. Even a hermit should brush his/her teeth as bacteria doesn’t give a damn about the sort of person you are. 😀

    Who does Kabali dress for? His wife? To show he is a don? No. To show that he is NOT anyone’s slave. As he says, “Vera ethukku intha soottula coat suit poduvean?” It is a statement that a caucasian male child need not make. It is hardly a comfortable choice.

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  6. Anu Srini: That was a wonderful post you linked. As a person who had lived part of her 20s in Malaysia and part in Chennai, she has faced a lot. I can well understand the annoyance at being told that you can’t wait in the hotel lobby wearing a sari as it looks like you are soliciting and not arrange your hair in public as that is again soliciting. Stupid rules.

    I have been very interested in the Karaikal approach and know those to who adopt it. Start to look as unappealing and asexual as you can and people will take you to be a serious professional. Wear lipstick and they think you will not do your office job as, you know, ummm, such women are the cheerleaders of the organisations. Cheerleaders don’t score. They are the goal.

    But it is not easy being a Karaikal ammaiyaar.

    Step 1: If your sexuality is a problem for other people, desexualise yourself.
    Step 2: If your IQ was a problem for other people, dumb yourself down.
    Step 3: If your money was a problem for other people, give it away.
    Step 4: If your laughter was a problem for other people, don’t think of anything as funny.

    See? Won’t work a bit. If I seem to be contradicting my original post, let me say I am not. Will explain after my thoughts get in queue.

    BTW, I could not stop thinking about Usha Uthup after I read that article as she writes a lot about saris. Usha rocks, doesn’t she? 😀

    Sharanya Manivannan writes and I quote
    ‘For myself ’ is a dishonest answer. I dress up so I can represent my art – which itself is a response to being a woman in my time and place, and the causatum of my choices and circumstances – and I dress up so that I do not shame it. I dress up so I can engage with the world and command attention. I dress up for the compliments. I dress up in order to feel sensuality, and in doing so to transmit it, to attract its natural corollary. ‘For myself ’? If not outrightly dishonest, that answer is at best inadequate.

    Couldn’t put it better myself. Dear Lord, I wish I could be as articulate as that.

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  7. Your comment as always is a separate post by itself.
    I love Sharanya Manivannan’s writing. I read that essay first in an anthology titled Walking Towards Ourselves: Indian Women Tell Their Stories. Was very pleased to find it online today. 🙂
    I agree that we don’t dress for ourselves. We dress for others, for the occasion, but I’d like to think finding our personal style within that is what we do for ourselves.
    Also, Usha Uthup is fabulous. 😀 she enjoys herself so much that her exuberance manages to rub off on me.

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  8. I read the Sharanya Manivanna’s piece with great interest; she has a wonderful written ‘voice’, and I can feel the pain. That said, and without meaning to negate her experiences in now-Chennai, I ran away to then-Madras in the early 90s. At barely 19, I went to work in a garment-export firm knee-length skirts and cotton blouses. My hair was alternately left loose or braided and wound into what I fondly imagined was a sophisticated chignon. I wore trousers or saris or churidars (never salwars!) or skirts depending on my mood of the moment. I brushed my hair in the autos or taxis going to meet our clients, or in the restaurant restrooms before I met them at the table. Not once, in erstwhile Madras, was I gawked at, or shamed or commented upon.

    I have since then regaled friends and acquaintances with how safe the city felt to me, how it embraced me, how working late at office at MEPZ didn’t make me feel afraid at all. I stayed at the Anna Adarsh Working Women’s Hostel in Anna Nagar, and I commuted every single day to my place of work near the Gemini flyover.

    I think fondly back at a young Gujarati lad, Paresh his name was (we only exchanged first names), who was a fellow commuter on my daily bus route, who quietly and without much fanfare inserted himself between me and a pervert who kept trying to feel me up on the bus one day. After that, every day, he would keep a seat for me, and not once did he say anything other than ‘Hi’ or ‘Bye’. For a whole year. Wherever he is, if he remembers the girl he offered an unconditional kindness to, I hope he knows he has my gratitude.

    There are others – the old woman who was most disapproving when my cousin dropped me off at Central Station so I could travel home. Who was he? she wanted to know. Older brother? Younger brother? Husband? Neighbour? – But she was kind to me when I fell ill that night, staying awake to give me water and wipe the sweat off my brow.

    Or the middle-aged man who, when I fainted at the bus stop, yelled at me for not taking care of my health, but bought a lime soda from a nearby shop, and escorted me back to my hostel, scolding, scolding all the way, but oh, so kindly, he made me weep.

    That’s what I remember of Madras. These are my memories. Of a city that took me in and made me feel like I belonged. I didn’t dress for the city, nor for Paresh or the old woman or the man. I dressed for me. In clothes that made me feel good about myself. In clothes that were comfortable to wear.

    I do not negate her experience. I only offer mine in contrast. Neither of our experiences are the limit of reality. There’s much in between.

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  9. “depends on what that ellipsis after the ‘some’ stands for…:) “

    The ellipsis stands for my not being proficient in punctuation. It definitely was meant as a compliment. 🙂

    And regarding the contrasting experiences that you and the blogger Sharanya had in Chennai, I think you can put it down to how people can have wildly differing attitude based on extremely slight differences.

    I had experiences similar to yours when I started out and I never thought Chennai was out to get me. Over the years the way I dress myself has not changed much but the way I look apparently has and the way I am treated. I refused to change my clothes to include long yards of duppatta to hide the fact that I am now a more voluptuous person. Instead of putting people at ease about my body, I have chosen to be at ease at being stared at. It does not bother me that they may have pushed me into slots.

    But though I don’t particularly care if I am in the ‘good girl’ slot or ‘bad girl’ slot, it will bother me if someone placed me in the ‘tasteless clueless idiot’ slot. Not anyone. Only if tasteful sensible dressers whom I admire placed me that slot. 🙂

    Note: I am not against duppattas. I love soft chiffon duppattas. I just will not let it be a garment that is used to shame me for my body type.

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  10. I read Sharanya Mannivannan’s article. It was a beautifully written piece. I started thinking about my mom. Apparently according to all her sisters and everyone else that knew her before her marriage, she was a woman who was very particular about dressing up. She stitched her own blouses and was always introducing new trends in her village.

    After marriage, she moved to Bombay. In a new city, without knowing the language and with a not so attentive husband, she gave up all that. I have remembered her saying she started wearing black blouse for all sarees since she did not where to find a taylor in the city. Also I dont think I remember seeing her enthusiastic about dressing up ever, even though she had such amazing taste and licked up best outfits for us. Circumstances, life events do end up changing how we dress.

    I do wish I had known my mom from her pre-marriage days.

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  11. Rahini, apropos that last comment. I agree whole-heartedly. With one caveat – I still am not treated differently. Or perhaps I’m too blind to see it?

    I’ve always dressed the way I wanted without bothering too much about how people perceived me, so if they now slot me into some particular role, that’s their problem. Equally, it is not my responsibility to make others feel at ease about how I dress, or how I look. I dress tastefully, I dress to complement my body, and I know what I can carry off and what I cannot. If I’m uncomfortable in a dress – whether it be because it is too tight, too revealing, too (insert adjective of choice), then it shows. 🙂 But if I’m wearing something that I like and am comfortable wearing, then I honestly don’t care If someone else thinks my dress is too tight/revealing/adjective of choice.

    But like you, ‘tasteless’ is not an adjective that I want tagged on to me by people whose taste I admire.

    I love dupattas. I own different kinds. But I don’t wear them all that frequently either. In any case, who wears a dupatta to hide their ‘modesty’ any more? Most women wear it hanging down one shoulder. I don’t see how wearing it that way serves any purpose other than decorative. But eh, some women like it, some don’t. It takes up too much mental real estate to bother about what others wear or why they wear it, even when I do notice it.

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