What you wear can change your life or someone else’s!
By Fareeha Qayoom
Image matters! A lot, apparently. It’s even more important than your personality or character. It might be shallow way of looking at things but we are a shallow society.
Unfortunately, it takes a lot of work to maintain appearances, especially, since there are too many strikes against you. Juggling work, family and your social life, not to mention, hobbies and chores, today’s lifestyle is hectic for your average Jane. (Besides, the same clothes that you donned in the morning may have to do double duty for the evening as well…you may not have time to keep changing your clothes for every occasion or event lined up in your average day). All these activities could take up your whole time, leaving you with no time to work on your appearance or image! You need specialized personal care products for grooming, gym membership and a personal trainer for full body workout and unlimited money to buy clothes, not to mention time, (one to three hours minimum devoted to yourself, for grooming, wardrobe organization and your work out routine). Who has that kind of time or indeed money? Only socialites who have to look good to compete with each other at the their coffee parties…your average woman is size 12 or 14 and above, juggling home, work and kids and doesn’t have time or money to spend on herself.
Everything you wear communicates something apparently. It may not be communicating what you want it to communicate though! It’s Murphy’s Law for wardrobe all over again – “anything that can be misunderstood by your personal style will be misunderstood!”
For example, if you are overweight – according to psychologists, you have low self esteem… It’s beside the point that you could be basically lazy, or too busy, or too well to do and can probably afford home help, or sedentary because you work all day at some desk bound job and need a major work out every day to maintain your ideal weight based on your height or you may not have enough time to yourself or you may simply like junk food or have a sweet tooth, or you may have slow metabolic rate because of your genetic makeup, or you may be in high-stress work or home environment, heck, it could be anything…but it apparently communicates only low self esteem – hmmm.
If you are an older Pakistani woman and you prefer jeans and t-shirt to any other type of clothes – it apparently communicates that (a) you are not God fearing or indeed a Muslim apparently, or (b) you are a modern Muslim of the world since oh, you pray too, or c) you are a case of arrested development because apparently only teenagers wear jeans and t-shirts or (d) you are so rich that you can afford imported branded apparel for every day wear or (e) you wear it for its snob appeal (you have a branded apparel fetish!) or indeed (f) you are so out of touch with reality that you don’t realize this is Pakistan, however, it doesn’t apparently communicate (g) you are confident, gutsy and non-conformist woman who doesn’t care about peer pressure or society pressures and are self centered enough to wear what you like and find convenient, or (h) you are lazy or (i) you basically don’t have time or unlimited money to put together a decent wardrobe! Or indeed (j) you can’t find a good tailor for your un-proportional/problem figure and may have to rely on imported brands for the right fit in Ready-to-wear (RTW) or well made clothes in nice fabrics! So the right message may not go across to your peer- group/society at large in spite of your best efforts or no efforts at all depending on your situation.
By the way, I am not trying to communicate any of the above even if some of those things may apply to me also (points b and g to j). I just like jeans! And I don’t plan giving them up for anybody. They are comfortable, easy to care for, low maintenance, long term wardrobe staple that can be dressed up or down depending on the situation with the right top and accessories. They can take you from day to evening and still look fresh and unwrinkled.
On top of it, if you are working for some multinational or local company with no or business casual dress code, (even if you are in management) –you can get away with flat shoes, dark jeans and tees or Polo shirts on routine days and when you have customers or vendor meetings, you can change over to chino’s or dark jeans with button down shirt and 2 inch heels and voila – its business casual in summer. In winters, you can add a leather jacket or twill jacket on top and you are all set. No excessive ironing, folding, hanging or extensive shopping trips required. You can get ready in five to ten minutes flat in the morning and do not need excessive decision making, you will never catch yourself thinking what do I wear today question – I don’t have to dither over my work or play clothes – I take out a pair of jeans – (I have 13 pairs so far- that I can rotate with ease as they are all a great fit and are bought for comfort and style and durability – I just decide what color of top to team with it and which shoe and I keep my wardrobe fresh and happening. I don’t get bored because there are hundreds of variations if you are working with separates. If you wear a different pair of accessories with it, the look changes entirely even if you have teamed up the same tee and pair of jeans a few times…so I have fun and no hassles – what’s the big deal about that?
I have never been subjected to even mild harassment, naw; I am not having you on. Besides, clothes don’t stop them from being flirtatious if they are bent on a flirtation with some (female) colleague, you have to be receptive or girly or young or giggly or dumb or something for them to try it on with you because I have never had to deal with that sort of problem ever, even when I was young, impressionable and somewhat pretty, because I have been wearing jeans to work since day one, only in those days I used to confine them to casual Fridays – one (female) colleague told me once commenting on this that that the men don’t try it with me because its just different – I am a senior manager and the only woman manager so that’s why…but like I said, I didn’t start at a senior position, I went up the ranks slowly and gradually, sometimes, I was the only woman manager…anyway, I have to tell you this, I had a colleague who wears an Abaya to work and is covered from head to toe in black and still gets offers to go steady or start a beautiful friendship with some (male) colleague all the time! Hmmm. My point, its not your clothes – it’s not even your demeanor which sets the tone with your (male) colleagues – its je ne sais quoi. Western or eastern style of dress doesn’t matter; it’s your rank which will set the tone if you are to believe my (female) colleague! Whatever, I never had to deal with the bad stuff ever because of my jeans – thank God! 🙂 Surprisingly, like I said, it’s only women who have a problem with my wardrobe and not all women – only some of them.
Women who are 29 plus, married, comparatively overweight like me and think they have no right to a good fit or nice cuts or interesting fabrics or jewelry and accessories to go with their whole look or western silhouettes because they are overweight and older and think they can’t get away with it because of peer pressure or society pressures or whatever and they hate my guts because I am getting away with it because I simply don’t care and they do and they can’t…hmmm.
Incidentally, after a little resentment, they settle down and start by buying a few pairs of jeans too, in fact, one colleague went so far to ask for my help with her jeans selection and started wearing them to work! 😀
My younger colleagues take it as a permission to take out their weekend/play clothes and wear them to work on casual Fridays and sometimes on weekdays too…yes, you guessed it jeans, blouses and ts and button down shirts. Pretty soon it’s a mix bag – a nice blend of eastern and western clothes show up at my current workplace no matter what their respective size…it starts all over again when I show up at a new workplace – hence, I felt compelled to document this phenomena on paper…it gets kind of tiring after a while – live and let live women! If you can’t, free your mind! You get this one life and clothes are just clothes – enjoy. Why complicate everything with weird encrypted code?
As for the totally conservative element out there in Pakistan– I have only one thing to say – how come the men in our society started wearing western cuts as wardrobe staples almost two hundred years ago and they were not considered non-Muslim, or less God fearing or promiscuous because of their clothes? Our national hero’s like Jinnah or Iqbal all wore western clothes. Their religion or their morals were never in question but today’s women’s are and funnily enough by women!? Who builds this perception and weird stereotypes in our society anyway?
Their standard comment when they are airing their negative views to me is – what am I going to do if Taliban take over Pakistan? My answer – nothing, I will go an as before, only I will probably start wearing even low cut, sleeve less, short knit tops, and Capri pants and clam diggers in public since I would be wearing an Abaya on top. God asked us to take more coverage for when we go out on street for our protection (so we are not teased as available or women of loose morals or something like that), the dress code was not imposed on us to restrict us, or to censor us or to make us lose all our aesthetics, sense of proportion or dress sense. We are women. Celebrate the fact. Who said, an Abaya has to be all black anyway?
…Another thing, a Muslim woman would still look different from her western counterparts even if she doesn’t wear an Abaya as an outer covering because only minimum skin would be on show, clothes would be comparatively loose fit and her top would be at least tunic length. Some of them would even have a scarf on as an accessory or a head covering! While her western sister would be wearing low cut, sleeve less or short sleeve short fitted knit or woven top with her jeans. So the Muslim woman would still stand out as a modest woman in a crowd – won’t she? So, what’s your problem?
You have my permission to be yourself and enjoy clothes for the clothes sake’s too even if you are overweight or older than a teen ager! Not dressing well is a sign of low self esteem. Trying to look nice, no matter what your size or age is liberating and actually denotes positive self esteem. Besides, Islam only teaches you to show no extra skin and wear loose fitting clothes, it doesn’t tell you to wear Arab or Pakistani clothes– there is no such thing as Islamic dress, because Islam is universal and is for all regions and climates, so go on, give yourself permission to be yourself and wear anything you want and enjoy the whole experience and please stop resenting people like me, we just wear jeans because we like them, its nothing more complicated or simpler than that…
While you digest that, I have one question for Pakistani designers – Why don’t you and the RTW retailers make it easier for women of Pakistan by providing them more choices in well fitted nice separates in local and international silhouettes? Why don’t you provide us with nice fabrics and a good fit based on our size grade charts and demographics? Are you going to keep on churning bad clothes, stocking them at 10-Q, calling them RTW and couture? They would not pass the quality grade, especially at the prices points that are being merchandised at…anywhere else in the world, only in Pakistan!