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Lakme Fashion Week: Fashion As Protest, A Voice For The Marginalised

The fashion industry has lent itself wonderfully for marginalised identities to express themselves; maybe why so many in this industry are openly queer - both trans and gay?

Former Miss India, Miss Universe and actor Sushmita Sen created headlines – first by suffering a heart attack, then getting back to work weeks after her angioplasty. She was seen as a showstopper at the Lakme Fashion Week, something that is seen as a symbol of luxury and glamour; a rarefied space that we can hardly call marginal.

And yet, fashion has in its own way, been a way for marginalised groups to express themselves. There is a connection, albeit tenuous, between say, a Fashion Week and an observance like the International Transgender Day of Visibility (31 March 2023) – let me explain:

This podcast got me thinking

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I was brought up to believe that fashion was about vanity and frivolity and just an all-round waste but I’ve been questioning the wisdom of that over the years. I like to think that the podcasts that accompany me on my walks and cycle rides are informative and mind expanding; and this episode of the Articles of Interest podcast certainly made me think.

Think about the people that populate the fashion space – there is always the perception that there is a preponderance of LGBTQ people in this flamboyant, creative space. While there may be as many queer people in other professions, the fashion space is perhaps more accepting of people that push the boundaries of what is considered normative and acceptable. These are the people that express themselves via what they wear: women and now increasingly, other marginalised groups.

Fashion beyond frivolity

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Now think of the people who mock and dismiss fashion as frivolous. Fashion can be startling, even shocking and it often makes homophobic people or even just cis-het people uncomfortable. The tattoos, piercings, outré makeup and hair, shoes and clothing that can be considered outlandish and unwearable – it forces us to think in ways beyond what we are conditioned to be accepting of.

It certainly took me time to overcome my own conditioning to start seeing fashion as having artistic worth; to see it as being about more than vanity and superficial glamour. Now there is a lot that I wouldn’t wear – those crazy heelless shoes for instance. However, I can understand the need to create new, original, even bizarre items of fashion (even if they do in this instance have the potential to literally break one’s neck).

Gender identity and fashion

As this Vogue piece pointed out some years back, fashion actually led the way for the trans movement to go mainstream. It gave many the courage to come out as non-binary and to express themselves in ways that would otherwise invite censure and even hostility. This helped people find support and create communities where they could be themselves without judgement, somewhat insulated from the criticism and scorn of the ‘mainstream’.

Fashion has, over the years, blurred the boundaries of what it means to be male and female. It widened the scope of what we consider aesthetic and helped make the world ever more inclusive and diverse. It makes gender nonconformity more visible and acceptable. It gives us interesting ways to expand our minds.

Helping us become more a more inclusive society

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Sushmita Sen always had my heart for being a strong, independent woman living life on her own terms; someone with the courage of her convictions. She plays the role of a transgender woman, activist Gauri Sawant in the upcoming web series Taali. Gauri Sawant came into the headlines for having adopted the daughter of a sex worker; the first transgender person in India to approach the Supreme Court to adopt a child.

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While many criticised Sen being cast in place of a transwoman, Sawant herself claimed to be honoured by this. International Transgender Day of Visibility is on 31st of this month. The fact that we need a day to spread awareness and increase acceptance of the trans community is telling.

If the fashion industry, movies, and individuals like Sen try to boost the process of inclusion and increasing awareness in their own, admittedly imperfect ways, that can only be a good thing, right?

Header image source: Lakme Fashion Week on Twitter

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About the Author

Reena Daruwalla

A former lawyer, now freelance writer, fauji wife, mother, singer, knitter and lover of my own cooking, I have altogether too many opinions and too few convictions. The more I learn the more I am read more...

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