As published in the first issue of ‘Smudge- The Social Nudge’
Today, I stepped out wearing a men’s pinstripe dress shirt tucked into high-waisted ankle trousers, underneath which fierce purple gladiators stood their ground. A pair of oversized shades reminiscent of the 70s and a canvas Louis Vuitton tote acted as loyal companions while a single white champa flower added that extra oomph to my updo. Even just visualizing this outfit gives me the warm fuzzies but for most people, it makes them want to scratch their heads and wonder if I dressed in the dark today. They say that being a woman in Pakistan is one of the toughest things to be, I am here to tell you that being a fashionista is even harder.
As I walked across campus, a score of varying reactions greeted me. Puzzled, bewildered looks accompanied by a slight tilt of the head was the most common one; some looked at me with curiousity and intrigue, while most just seemed confused. It was only a rare few who expressed appreciation and a hint of admiration. I was used to such feedback, it was not unusual for me, and I actually enjoy it for the most part. Fashion comprises a huge chunk of my life, I love looking at clothes and imagining different combinations with them. I could spend hours going through collections online and probably about a week in just one shop. I change my outfits around 4 times everyday before finally settling on one, and I have a habit of making sure nothing I wear looks too ‘common’ or ‘ordinary’. It sounds crazy to a lot of people, and maybe it is, but looking good is directly related to feeling good. I dress the way I want to, in the fashion I prefer, because it’s a passion I like to indulge in. I enjoy the creative process involved, but for the majority of people, being ‘fashionable’ means to ‘fit in’. In salons all across Pakistan, aunties flock in for their weekly manicures, monthly botox shots, and almost daily blow dries. I doubt this happens because Nabila’s is suddenly charging cheap-as-chips rates, but more likely because that is just what they need to do to be able to host next month’s much-awaited kitty party.
Women throughout the ages have rallied for more rights, greater recognition and fair treatment irrespective of their gender. They have fought to escape from the cage of a patriarchal society, such as that of Pakistan, yet by their very need to belong and fit in, they chain themselves to a stereotype. The Islamization ruling that women must always have their heads covered on television has simply transformed into another one which dictates that women must always look glamorous, meticulous and gorgeous. Women’s empowerment seems to now be coming from the prestige of the spa they go to and the designer they prefer rather than the university degree they hold or the career goals they have accomplished. Fashion is just another platform now for women to grapple over, rather than one which they can use to further express their independence. I suppose I am not an exception to this rule. On the ‘liberal’ campus of LUMS, I feel relatively comfortable walking around with my calves bare, and my waist heavily emphasized with a cinch belt, but if I were to roam around the streets of Liberty market in the very same outfit, my comfort level would be decimated. I would think twice, not about the fact that I should be able to wear what I want despite being a woman, but that perhaps because I am a woman, I am required to be demure and modest.
We live in an age that thrives on an obsession with perfection. It is fueled by a game of perception and perspective, where the former almost always supersedes the latter. I started expressing myself through the clothes I wear, but in doing so, I’ve created an image for myself that I sometimes feel forced to follow. I adore couture and all its bizarre trends, but sometimes I just want to go out wearing granny slacks and my brother’s old t-shirt. But that nagging idea of perception comes into play, and my perspective shifts so that I start rummaging through my closet for vintage wear again. Similarly, a person often just follow trends and adopt fads because it’s the ‘in’ thing to do; fashion is about communicating your distinct personality, but in following it, many people just end up looking the same. Fashion is not about doing what everyone else is, it is about wearing and liking what appeals just to your own eclectic soul. So go ahead, banish those long, flowing kameezes from your wardrobe which you’ve been wearing even though you hate the expansive hemline, and wear the knee-length shirts again which you’ve been craving for.