East meets West
Dania Aslam incorporating elements of traditional Pakistani style with more western looks
WHEN DANIA ASLAM moved to Hamilton five years ago from Karachi, Pakistan, to attend McMaster University, she took a look around, packed up her custom-tailored shalwar kameez (traditional Pakistani outfit consisting of baggy pants and a long tunic) and bought herself a pile of jeans and Tshirts.
“I went into the Health Sciences program and it was very close knit,” explains Aslam, now 22. “I think I felt the need to conform right away. So I threw away my cultural things that were so beautiful and just kind of tried to fit into the norm.”
But it just wasn’t her, says Aslam. “I didn’t feel like I was really true to who I was.”
Back in Karachi, Aslam was so into fashion, she was designing her own clothing. She loved heading to the markets, selecting her fabrics and trim, and sketching little designs to show her tailor who would bring her creations to life, adding a bit of flare here, a pleat there for a perfect, custom fit.
So in her second year, Aslam began incorporating elements of traditional Pakistani style with more western looks. Tunics or khussas shoes, like the pink ones she wears here, were worn with jeans. A traditional Pakistani scarf brightened up an otherwise all-black outfit.
“People loved it,” she says of the reaction she got from her friends and family to her new, east-meets-west look. “People loved the colour, that it’s something new, that it was outside of the box.”
Pumped by the encouragement she received, Aslam started blogging (daniaaslamshaikh.com) and Instagramming (daniaaslamshaikh) about her transition back to her true style self. She photographed and wrote about her outfits and local finds. And upon completing her undergrad at Mac, she studied makeup application at the International Beauty Institute in Mississauga. In September she’ll begin her MBA, shooting for a career that combines fashion, beauty, science and business.
“I think I do incorporate a lot more (traditional Pakistani dress) now, and with more confidence,” says Aslam. “If I were to step out in this — and this is traditional embroidery, handwork — I’d want to flaunt it as opposed to hide it. And not only wear it because I like it but because I want people to see this is my culture.”
Here she tucks an ivory peplum top from Express into a pair of black pants with ivory hand-stitched embroidery from Pakistan. She wears them under a long, sheer, white overshirt with pleat detail and pearl buttons that she designed.
A statement necklace from Aldo, choker from Topshop and bangles are from Accessorize and a bit of sparkle and her hot pink khussas add a pop of colour.
Most eye catching piece: It’s kind of (a long jacket) like this (one I’m wearing). It’s not jewelled, but it’s embroidered all over and it’s pink and black (mixed with) a lot of colours. It looks very royal … very nice threadwork meets beadwork.
Quirkiest wardrobe item: I love sunglasses and I also love glasses even though I don’t wear glasses … so they’re kind of like lab goggles, but they’re not. And they’re clear plastic, there’s a little bit of gold on the rim. And when I wear them people probably think I’m wearing lab goggles, like a notch up. They’re very retro and very squarish.
Wardrobe must have: I’m all about comfort, so I love a good, comfortable black pant. I think I have more black pants than jeans. And the ones that I like best are really baggy and they’re almost pyjamas but they’re not because you can wear them outside … those are the ones I wear all the time. My wardrobe staple.
Best purchase: A pair of Prada sunglasses — the first ever that I bought and the last. I didn’t feel the need to get a more expensive pair of sunglasses. They’re kind of cat eye, plain black. They elevate any outfit … they add that fierceness that I like and they go with everything.
Regrets buying: When I was going through the whole change of style, before that there was a phase when … I thought I had to wear blazers all the time. And I got a lot of those (button down) Portofino shirts from Express. I bought them in every single colour … I think I have 25 and I have not worn one in the past two years.
Loves to shop at: Zara, Aritzia and Forever 21.
Ridding your closet of: Portofino shirts (from Express). I should get rid of them. I just really hate parting with my clothes. Even if it’s something that I don’t wear anymore, I think it’s just a part of me.
Splurges on: Skincare. Even though I love makeup and did a makeup artist diploma, I really think that you need a good canvas to work off … I don’t usually hold back on skin care.
Beauty item you can’t live without: Moisturizer. Laneige — it’s a Korean beauty brand. It’s water-based and for a dry baby like me, it does wonders because I need that hydration.
Dania Aslam wears black pants with hand-stitched embroidery and a long, sheer ivory jacket, both from her native Pakistan, over an ivory sleeveless top from Express.
Aslam accessorizes with a statement necklace from Aldo, a choker from Topshop, bangles from Accessorize, rings from Pakistan and pink khussas shoes, also from Pakistan.
Upon completing her undergrad at Mac, Aslam studied makeup application at the International Beauty Institute in Mississauga.