The Political Swag: Fashion and I


By Pratishtha Dobhal


I love fashion.

It changes me, adapts to my needs, hides me, and effortlessly drapes me in my myriad moods. My conscious pursuit of it often gets punctuated by a slew of diktats. There are days when I want to be trending as currently as the dress which broke the internet.

Those days are outnumbered by ones which snub viral-ity and marketing. Thank you ‘better sense’—you stop me from being blind-sided.

For those who think fashion is unworthy of the attention it gets, I put down their rejection of it to the tags  that accompany fashion wherever it goes—callous, superficial, presumptuous, extravagant, opulent. Not to forget, excessive and unnecessary.

I mutter: ‘Foolish indifference’.

Fashion, afterall, remains the most expressive, mute, declaration of self. You wear your sensibilities.

Logic remains definitively simple. What I choose to cover my body with is ought to be dictated by political, social, economic, cultural, and emotional choices/necessities. Snubbing a trend and adopting something less acceptable becomes my fashionable anarchy. I alone stand to know my sartorial truth just like the person who chose to disregard my choice.

I feel sorry for those who don’t fully understand all that fashion embodies. ‘They’ (the resistors) sit on the sidelines judging the ones who embrace fashion with a fierceness majority deem as superficial.

Little do the gatekeepers of ‘I don’t care what I wear’ understand about the trappings of the clothes on their bare back… A seasoned aficionado may be able to separate the copy from the original. He/she will know why couture will always be more expensive than pret. The artisan-ship,the root of  those intricate designs weigh heavy with time and history. I travel to a period, with nothing but a change of appearance.

While I remain detached and attached to trends, I remain fascinated by the politics of fashion. Its ability to polarize and instigate remains embedded in fascinating social semantics.

As stereotypes swing, an NGO worker will steer clear of any shimmer or shine, for he/she who works at the grassroots isn’t allowed to sparkle. An Indian politicians would swear by whites, for even if you can’t stay peaceful on Arnab’s fire spewing Newshour, you can atleast steer clear of any colourful alliances in your sparkling whites.

I remember a few years ago when I was working on a DRR (disaster risk reduction) book for an NGO in Chennai, how perturbed one of the participants remained because of me. She would keep a close tab on what I was wearing and report back not on the progress at work, but the ‘look of the day’ to other project members. I was amused by her enthusiasm. However, much later she quizzed me about where I got what I was wearing and took herself shopping. A brief stint at a leftist university wedged the divide between making your own trends as opposed to wearing everything Swadeshi, deeper and more curious. I found manipulation of sartorial interests even there. If you had a jhola and pledged allegiance to austerity you were on to something big. The austere champions remained the ones who had carefully selected their khadi stripes, Che Guevara newsboy cap avec Relaxo slippers, and finished it off with the full bearded look. They were the pioneers of all things hipster, before it was prefixed with a hashtag.

Last year’s Ukrainian Fashion week, held in Kyiv, amidst political turmoil and revolutionary upheaval opened with a silent catwalk, with models draped in blue and yellow—the colours of the Ukrainian flag. The designs on the ramp reflected the mood of the country. Liliya Poustovit’s 2014 Fall/Winter collection in the colours of the flag, sans music, needed little chaos and drama. Fashion spoke.

This year too, despite the unrest, Ukrainian Fashion week was held for eight days instead of the usual five. Unlike last year which was reminiscent of the ongoing struggle, this year the designs and prints spoke of Ukraine’s culture—flowers and wheat fields—looking ahead, staying hopeful.

Like all art that inspires, provokes, outrages, fashion stays committed to gaining reactive momentum.

I judge not those who merely resist it, but those whose shockingly low threshold of tolerance for a garment allows them the liberty to assume what I wear today, cannot be different from what I wear tomorrow. How I feel now, should remain constant.

For those who hate the mere murmur of fashion, I wish you find a go-to piece you commit to, only if briefly. Afterall, you are wearing more than just threadwork.

Image courtesy:


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