You’re Not Wear­iNg that?!

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

IT STARTS SOON af­ter birth. Girl ba­bies must be dressed in pink. Their dresses must have plenty of frills and ruf­fles. A bit of sparkle wouldn’t go amiss. And it doesn’t mat­ter if the poor mite is vir­tu­ally bald, stick a shiny head­band or a shim­mery bar­rette on for good mea­sure.

Girls, you see, must look like girls. If you must dress them in trousers be sure to slip on a flo­ral T-shirt on top. If you put them in shorts rather than skirts, make sure they are wear­ing del­i­cate bal­le­rina shoes, not sturdy sneak­ers. And if they are on the beach or at a swim­ming pool, they must wear proper swim­suits, with a bikini top that cov­ers breasts that they haven’t yet sprouted.

And from then on, the fash­ion mes­sag­ing gets rather re­lent­less. Girls who want to wear jeans and shirts rather than

The fash­ion choices of ur­ban women are rel­a­tively un­re­stricted – but only up to a point (at the end of the day, they are ‘girls’ af­ter all). And so long as their par­ents, broth­ers, hus­bands, in-laws, and larger com­mu­ni­ties are on board.

So col­lege girls in the ma­jor met­ros can, in the­ory, wear dresses, skirts, jeans, shorts or what­ever the hell they please. There’s just one catch. The fash­ion po­lice that pa­rades ev­ery cam­pus, in­deed ev­ery street, in In­dia must ap­prove. And if they think that tight jeans are ‘dis­tract­ing’ or that short skirts are a ‘provo­ca­tion’ well then, they wear that kind of stuff at their own peril.

In fact, as girls grow into women, it is quite amaz­ing just how many fash­ion choices come at­tached with a tag ti­tled ‘Ask­ing For It’. That sleeve­less top tucked into the waist­band of your trousers; that sari blouse tied across your back with a cou­ple of strings; that skirt that rides up your thighs when you sit down or cross your legs; the leg­gings that show off the shape of your pos­te­rior; the dress that re­veals cleav­age when you bend down; or even the oth­er­wise staid sari that shows off your midriff and stom­ach. No mat­ter what your choice of out­fit and which body part it ex­poses (or con­ceals), there is al­ways a good chance that you are ‘ask­ing for it’.

What did you say? What are these women ‘ask­ing for’? Well, that de­pends. It could be any­thing from be­ing cat­called on the street, be­ing fol­lowed home by pu­ta­tive stalk­ers, be­ing groped in buses, mar­ket­places or on the Metro. And that’s if they are lucky. If they aren’t, they could even be ‘ask­ing for’ be­ing mo­lested, or even raped by hap­less men who have been so thor­oughly ‘pro­voked’ that they can’t be held re­spon­si­ble for their ac­tions.

This sce­nario gets even more com­pli­cated if you bring the en­tire world into the mix. You can’t wear biki­nis in Iran. You can’t wear burki­nis in France. You can’t leave your head un­cov­ered in Saudi Ara­bia. You can’t cover your face in Bel­gium. And so on and on and on.

Nor does it get any bet­ter as women get older. They might think that they have now passed the stage of be­ing seen as sex­ual be­ings. And that they can now re­lax and wear what­ever the hell they want. Well if they do, they have an­other thing com­ing.

Once they are in their 40s, the fash­ion ad­vice comes couched in ‘mut­ton dressed as lamb’ terms (some­times from their own daugh­ters who scoff: “Are you re­ally go­ing out in that?”). Any­thing above the knee is a strict no-no. Tight trousers or dresses are seen as a dodgy choice. And bare up­per arms or a dash of cleav­age in­vites ex­hor­ta­tions of “Just put it away, dear!”

Even when women are post-menopausal or well into their 60s and 70s, the gra­tu­itous tips don’t cease. And in In­dia, it gets par­tic­u­larly in­tru­sive if they are wid­ows. Don’t wear bright col­ors. Don’t use so much makeup. And is that bindi re­ally a good idea? In fact, the style rules still ap­ply even when they are dead: a red sari for the pyre if her hus­band sur­vives her; a white one if she is a widow.

As far as dress codes go, there’s none quite as strin­gent as the ones pre­scribed for women: from the mo­ment they en­ter this world to the time they depart it.

This re­ally is a life-long ser­vice. And it mat­ters lit­tle that you didn’t sign up for it.

The story of a woman’s life, re­told through the prism of gra­tu­itous fash­ion ad­vice

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For more SPEC­TA­TOR col­umns by Seema Goswami, log on to hin­dus­tan­times.com/brunch. Fol­low her on Twit­ter at twit­ter.com/seemagoswami

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