Wearing a whole new attitude

Deccan Herald, 19 February 2011

Why does it matter so much as to whether you wear a sari or a business suit to work? Mita Kapur dissects the politics of power dressing

The debate on sartorial reticence versus exhibitionism is buffered by an annoyingly deep-rooted mental conditioning which makes us look at a woman as an object that must have a certain adherence to appearances.

We must, by sheer force of habit, comment on what so-and-so is wearing and how is she looking, and what should she be wearing instead and how under-dressed or overdone she is!

‘Power dressing’ is a term coined by the fashion industry merely as a marketing gimmick, very happily coinciding with a surge of women breaking out into the work sphere in India.

Be it in politics, fashion, corporate offices or private industries, women have always been talked about. It comes from years of deep-seated insecurities among the male species about the sheer power, resilience, emotional strength and steadfastness displayed by women, to counter which they devised various ways of ‘control freak’ism. Putting down conventions as to how women should dress is just one of them.

Why does it matter so much as to whether Priyanka Gandhi is wearing a churidar-kameez or a sari with a long sleeved blouse?

Power is about perception. So power dressing is about dressing the way others feel the powerful should dress. Therefore, in following norms you actually become powerless.
For me, power dressing is the feeling of being free to dress in colours and fabrics that I want to wear, and what makes me feel comfortable, smart and professional.
Dressing for work also gets guided by what the day’s meetings (if any) are like.

Women have the flexibility of moving between wearing trouser suits, salwar kameez or saris. Most women have themselves pretty much figured out in terms of what suits them the best and how do they carry off a certain outfit.

Why was so much noise made about what Michelle Obama or Hillary Clinton wore on their respective official visits to India? It belittles the purpose and content of the role played by them professionally and also perpetuates stereotypes.

When we have shattered the stereotype of ‘man-works-while-woman-stays-home’, then why are we still harking back to such obsolete ways of thinking?

Power dressing needs to be interpreted in terms of being an effective means of non-verbal communication which is silent but potent.

A lot of women resort to the trouser suit as a way of dressing up in a corporate environment to rework equations – it equalises the office space with co-male workers .
There are wardrobe staples in every person’s life – each one of us, irrespective of gender, has a certain style which symbolises identity, elegance, authority and strength.
Feminism has undoubtedly a large stake in the discussion regarding habits of dressing up (or down) on whether it is empowering or disempowering but as of now it’s easier and less complicated to stick to androgynous ways of presenting ourselves.

Although, in many cases, women do choose apparel to deflect the male gaze (dupattas are worn to cover the chest completely or sari blouses have high necks and long sleeves) yet we get talked about!

Self-esteem and dignity not being sacrificed, it’s best to disregard any comments being passed.

It’s easier said than done. To shake off ugly stares following your every movement as you walk cross the hall in a sleek skirt is a despicable thought and the desire to strangle the staring hormonal freak is very real. But mostly let us adopt a superior stance of pitying such people!

A large number of women working in India are actually the ones who tend to their fields, farming and tending to crops and you see them mostly in their lehngas, odhnis and saris tucked between their knees, heads covered to shield them from the sun. How come no one comments on their ways of dressing? Or don’t they wield enough power, so to say?

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