The Silent Statement of Fashion

Fashion is a thriving industry world over. But, do we understand the differences, subtle or otherwise, between fashion, style and brands. Neeti, Asst. Professor in the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), New Delhi, clears the fog. Here’s her introduction to the subject, in her first column, ‘Fashion Funda’. She is our Fashion Guru and shall write a regular column on Fashion, exclusively for Different Truths, every Friday.

I was travelling to work, by the metro, the other day. Usually I drive down, but that day the car decided it won’t start so I had to change my routine! Not that I’m complaining! Every time I travel by public transport it does give me an insight into the thinking of the human mind, which is simply complex!

The ladies compartment was quite crowded but I managed to squeeze in somehow, thanking my stars that at least it was air conditioned, and I avoided the road traffic jams! It is then, that I overheard and interesting conversation (in my defence, the metro was too crowded and they were speaking a bit too loud!) which made me think.

Two women, who must be in their mid-forties, were sitting and passing comments on everyone in the metro. Some snippets: “Look at what the girls of today wear! See this one, wearing a short tank top or crop top, whatever they call it, and showing her bare midriff. So indecent! I’m sure she doesn’t belong to a good family. Just tactics to attract guys. So bold they are,” she scorned. I couldn’t help but notice their bulging and unsightly midriffs playing peek-a- boo through their transparent nylon saris, probably baring more than the two inches of waist visible for those girls!

As I was pushed towards the edge of the compartment, thanks to more crowd, where it kind of merged with the general compartment, I overheard two college boys. “Dude, see those two girls, If you were to date one, which would it be?” The other one laughed and said, “Obviously the one in the jeans and Tee shirt! She seems smart. The other one in salwar-kameez seems so orthodox and boring and I don’t think she would even talk to a guy, let alone date! Ha, ha!” They laughed a hushed laugh, making me ponder again.


Are we Judgemental?

Did these conversations shock you? Or have you witnessed them or at some point commented this way too? Are you also guilty of being judgemental? Be honest, I am not judging you.

Well, if your answer is yes to any of these, all I can say is its human nature to judge a book by its cover. To give labels to people based entirely on their clothing, before even trying to delve deep into their persona.

Why do we do this? Why do we label people as rich, poor, fashionable, outdated, gay, outgoing, dull, bold, and many other adjectives based on their outward appearances? Is it because of the way we have been brought up, always being to give more importance to the cover as life is all about making first impressions?

Well it’s difficult to pinpoint the reason of our judgmental nature, but it does have something to do with this phenomenon called fashion.

Are we speaking a language without words, are we making a statement when we decide to wear a certain type of clothing and create a look?

The Silent Language: Fashion or Style?

What is this silent language that we are speaking? Is it the language of fashion or style?

Fashion. A word many of us breathe and bleed!

It’s a phenomenon, a statement.

Is it all about being accepted or rebelling?

It’s a sociocultural phenomenon which is a reflection of the current times!

Okay, let’s imagine a morning scene when you are in a rush to leave for work. How many of you out there open your wardrobe each morning and feel, “Oh God! I have nothing to wear!”

Well, I’m sure it would be a big percentage! If you think about it, it’s strange right? Your wardrobe is actually full of clothes! In fact, it’s bursting on the seams with those numerous tops, shirts, skirts, jeans, scarves, etc. and you often wonder, did I really shop so much?

You end up tossing and turning every item in that wardrobe, as if you are reinventing the recipe of Caesar’s Salad, or trying a new Ninja fighting move; but nothing works!

The maxi dress suddenly seems too big and the crop top seems too small! That silk printed scarf you bought a month ago after so much haggling from that street vendor, seems so dull and boring today! That pretty embroidered mirror-work kurti seems to have no coordinating salwar! Then you declare, “I need new clothes” and somebody from the background retorts with the million dollar question, “What’s wrong with these? And where are you going to keep them?”

Obsolescence and Fashion Industry

The reason for all this dilemma and contemplation is nothing but this phenomenon called obsolescence, which is most apt for our fashion industry!

Obsolescence literally means: When a fashion product or service is no longer needed or wanted even though it could still be in working order. It generally occurs when a new product has been created to replace an older version.

So there is nothing wrong with that beautiful top, or that torn jeans and your current mobile handset works just fine! But you still want that new phone, you want to own, it possess it, flaunt it! That new shade of lipstick that latest colour denim jeans which is the hot thing in the market! Suddenly, the earlier possessions become obsolescent and all we need is something new to spice it up!

Change is Constant

The only thing constant about fashion, is change! It is this quality which runs the fashion industry, churning out new, innovative items for one and all! It is this quality that gives employment to so many people all over the world. A win-win situation for all!

The careers in this industry are an endless list: from a designer, to stylists, merchandisers, retailers, production managers, graphic designers, fashion journalists, bloggers, models, choreographers, it goes on and on and on!

What’s Fashion?

So this brings us to the question: what is fashion?

What are the words you would associate with fashion? Give yourself a minute and think about it. I’m guessing words like: glamorous, trendy, classy, brands, labels, runway, expensive, exclusive, ahead of times, rebellious, and many more!

Well is there any one definition to this versatile word? It can be summed down to a simple statement, “Fashion is something that’s acceptable by a substantial amount of people, at a particular place and a particular time!”

So it is dated. It is linked to a place and a time and it has to be accepted by a substantial amount of people else it’s not fashion!

What’s Style?

The second question that arises is, is it different from style? Now, what are the words that come in your mind when you think of this word: expression, individualistic, timeless, inclusive, classy, effortless, etc.?

So style is something you are born with. It’s your own individual expression. You could pick up an expensive white top from an international brand and style it with a printed wrap around skirt mirror work you had picked-up from your city’s local thrift market like Janpath! Team these with those hand embroidered juttis you had bought from Jaipur and that stylish scarf with the same shade of pink from the printed skirt. Now, let’s add on some silver jhumkis and bracelet and your look is complete! Of course, how can I forget a pink lip gloss and black kohl eyes to enhance the look to another level! This charming and sensual, gypsy bohemian look could be perfect for a day out with your friends.

Another day you may pair this same white shirt with a sleek black straight skirt and add on a polka dotted white and black silk scarf! Black pumps and matte silver modern jewellery pieces will complete this cool corporate look. Stylish bold sunglasses will add on to the oomph factor!

So it’s important to know about fashion, be aware about latest trends, who’s wearing what! But one must cultivate one’s own style keeping in mind one’s skin tone, body type, budget and occasion!

Fashion, a Constant Battle between ‘Fitting in’ and ‘Standing out’

On one side, we want to be constantly accepted by our peers, be it our colleagues or classmates or the kind of friend circle we move in. We want to ‘fit in’ to be accepted. On the other hand, it is the battle to ‘stand out’ and make a statement of who we are, which is an extension of our persona.

It’s indeed a tough task to strike a balance here and some of us do it naturally and in an effortless way, which others have to work hard towards it! Over time, one does get a knack of it and make a signature style!

What’s Brands?

Now let’s talk about brands!

A white shirt is a white shirt, but why does it become something special when a designer label is put on it? Suddenly its value goes up many folds when a label or brand is stamped on it, making its price shoot up and its demand hit the ceiling in the target market.

Could it be that possessing this brand and flaunting it, is a silent statement to the world, saying we can afford it? We want to draw everyone’s attention to ourselves, being a walking-talking logo endorsement mannequin! When we see someone else wearing the same brand as ours, we somehow feel an instant connect with them. It could also be that we are in a way supporting that brands key philosophy by wearing it as we relate to those principles. For example, maybe we choose that brand selling organic cotton shirts, supporting the cause of no-pesticides and green planet. So once again, it’s a way of silent expression.

Why can’t we be happy with a simple white shirt that is unbranded but may be good quality and good fit? Do we have the courage to mix and match this with other pieces of clothing and create our own ensemble, giving insights to our personality, with our style, without taking the support of that label!

My uncle once made a very apt statement. We often get a carry bag from a brand when we shop, which has its name in bold written all over it. As we move around the mall, and in our colonies, carrying that bag, aren’t we giving this brand free advertising? And it’s not free for us because maybe we did pay that extra ten rupees for that carry bag. Maybe it’s high time we start asking money to carry this bag and do advertising for them. Think about it.

I hope this was enough food for thought. More next time.

Till then, carry on making the silent statements that speak volumes.

©Neeti Banga
Neeti Banga

Neeti Banga

Neeti Banga, a fashion professional, is currently a faculty at her Alma Mater, NIFT, New Delhi. Her poems and short stories have won national and international awards. These are published in various anthologies. Her Poetry anthology, 'The Dewdrops...a journey begins', with two co-poets is a best seller. Wild, nomadic and romantic at heart, her gypsy soul finds solace in expression through painting and writing. She is penning her short story collection and her debut novel.
Neeti Banga

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