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How You Dress : Important Or Not?

Posted: October 23, 2014

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Do you judge people by the way they dress? Don’t judge so quickly; larger stereotypes are at play when it comes to dressing up or dressing down, says this post.

Recently, I had a strange experience. Passing by a building, a girl in a burkha waved wildly at me. For  a moment, I was blank, and then proceeded to wave back rather doubtfully, wondering whether if  it was me that she was waving at or someone else. After a while, I realized that in all this confusion, I did not even know who she was! I am somewhat of an obsessive organizer of thoughts — I get a little worried and upset if I do not know whom I have spoken to…or in this case, waved at— so, I got thinking. Did she not realise that I would not recognise her? Or was she so comfortable  in her garb that she forgot that her face was covered?

This incident got me thinking – do we all think according to the way we dress? Seemed like a weird thing to ponder upon initially, but as I thought more, the more evidence I got that it may be true.

As stereotypes go, from the time I was in school, dressing differentiated the good from the bad girls. Girls who had long hair, slathered with coconut oil, bound into two tight braids, with the uniform ribbon, their skirts hanging a minimum of four inches below their knees, and a bindi were the clan of ‘good’ girls. They were teachers’ pets and were often cited as examples of good “indian culture” to the other  non-conforming set (which  usually included girls with short hair, shorter skirts, and a propensity to make friends who were boys).

Most of us wanted to conform so badly, that we dressed down and behaved in ways which did not make us comfortable at all

Most of us wanted to conform so badly, that we dressed down and behaved in ways which did not make us comfortable at all—all because we wanted to be a part of the approved set. Over a period of time, surprise surprise…some of the girls also started thinking and behaving in stereotypical ways and frowning down upon the other set (not that others  minded in any way!).

After growing up in a small town where dressing was all about covering up as many of your flaws as possible, moving to a big city for my higher education was something of a major shock! There, dressing was all about celebration. Dressing was all about attitude. Flaws (apparent ones… I am one firm believer of the fact that we look best as we were made) were accepted and not given much importance. It was really an eye-opener.

Our dowdy dressing which was held in high esteem back home was now looked at with raised eyebrows, silent laughter, and polite advice about where the best boutiques were. There, I realised that I lacked the confidence to face the world according to my way of thinking. I was defined by what others thought of me. But my friends were fun, confident, and had clear views of what they wanted. Was it because of the way they dressed up and me down? Or vice versa?

Nowadays, we see corporate dressing as power dressing. Pencil skirts, high heels, and a confident stance. These seem to go hand in hand. I am sure not all of the girls who start working in the corporate sector are used to dressing that way. So, why that way of dressing? Is it because it increases their confidence of working, or is it to fit in?

Most Indian soaps show good, docile Indian women as dressed to their nines in grand gaudy sarees dutifully covering their heads, complete with sindoor and loads of jewellery. And the vamps are usually the ones dressed up in so-called “western wear”, with loud make up! So much so, that my three-year old can recognise who is the villain of the piece based on her clothing!

Dressing is personal. I feel that dressing symbolises the way you think, and your attitude to life.

Dressing is personal. I feel that dressing symbolises the way you think, and your attitude to life. Beyond this, it is also an instinct. There are some of us who effortlessly manage to look or dress great anytime, and a few who struggle to get the same effect everytime.

Instead of stereotyping, I think what would matter the most is to not create lasting impressions of people on the basis of their dressing and your mental stereotypes. Because, personally I have met people wearing shorts and tank tops, who are extremely religious and also superstitious; and some who wear salwar kameez but are super promiscuous (belying their modest clothing).

How comfortable you feel in the dress that you have chosen, is how comfortable you should be. Because, unless you are in your comfort zone, work or pleasure cannot be enjoyed to the fullest.

So, here is to all the girls (and boys) who choose to feel comfortable in their skin and clothes, caring two hoots about a judging world! Girl in the burkha, I promise to wave back more enthusiastically next time!

Pic credit: Image of woman deciding what to wear via Shutterstock

I am a psychiatrist by profession, a mother twice over by choice, and a dreamer.

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