Fashion is a form of expression; hence, they call it a “fashion statement.” However, as much as we want to showcase our personality through our choice of clothing, we simply are unable to. Why? Oh, because of the decade-old fear of hearing what people, regardless of their zero contributions to our lives, would have to say.
We are only a free country until the freedom of speech comes in the street or freedom of choice regarding clothes comes up in society. Then, we’re shackled in the long chain of “Culture” and “Modesty.”
Growing up, my view of fashion was shaped by what I was exposed to. Elderly women donned the traditional saree as their regular outfits, whereas, the younger ones usually wore the salwar kameez. While both were mainly traditional clothing that ought to be worn on special occasions, adopting it as daily wear was enforced on us in the name of modesty. This was something that never settled well with me. Unlike our counterparts, we were burdened with the responsibility of being covered head to toe so that men would have the decency to avert their eyes. My brother had the privilege to wear shorts and tank tops in summer whilst I had to cover myself with a scarf and full-body clothes, under the sultry sun, simply to avoid random males from being over consumed with lust for body parts we both share. All of this is to say that our sense of fashion is not only based on what the popular media wants to sell us. Rather, in our country, it’s an intricate concoction of what we grow up seeing, what we know is wrong and right (depending on the appraisal of people around us) when it comes to making fashion choices, what we really feel comfortable with and what we can only fancy.
For me, the biggest eye-opener was visiting the capital city, Dhaka, during summer break. After a long and tiresome train journey, we immediately went to a restaurant and the scene was not only a cultural shock for me but it made me realize that whatever absurd definition of fashion I was taught was in fact, far from it. In Dhaka, girls could wear tight-fitting jeans and a t-shirt and no one would care, even men could wear leather jeans, have embellished nails, and be applauded for their bravery. No one cared about their body type, what judgmental aunties may be thinking, they were being themselves. In awe of it all, while I know no one really cared about anyone else’s clothing, I felt insecure about my entire outfit. A long Kurti with a shawl- in summer! We have the right to wear what we desire and I decided then, I would say a very sweet farewell to my Orna.
However, during my trip to Puran Dhaka, I also got to learn that the flamboyant fashion that was so common in so-called posh parts of the city like Dhanmondi or Bashundhara City, was not a thing everywhere else in the city. Again, environment and people were the key determinants of fashion in an area.
This whole experience got me thinking about fashion, how unique and personal it is. Fashion is hardly a choice in our society, those who dare to make it a choice are to be praised. It doesn’t matter if I feel comfortable in baggy t-shirts and skinny jeans, I’m pretty sure I won’t be allowed to feel comfortable for a very long time wearing them because of the leering looks thrown at me. So what do we do? While the line between culture and modesty has become a blur, I personally believe that we should express ourselves while still taking our surroundings into consideration. A balance until real change comes along. And isn’t that how we build up our very own fashion statement?