Monideepa Sahu

The first earth-shaking news on my mobile newsfeed Friday morning was Samantha’s bold transparent shirt. Samantha’s 23.1 million Instagram followers were setting cyberspace afire with passionate commentaries. And horror of horrors, I had no clue who she was! Humbled by my ignorance, I scrolled further and learnt that Samantha is a South Indian film star. According to the news item, "Samantha has always attracted the attention of people not only with her acting, but also with her stylish looks. Fans are desperate to know everything related to her…"

Inspired by such glorious trendsetters, ordinary people like us spend much time, energy and money on choosing the 'perfect' clothes for special functions and even for daily activities. We too aspire to grab attention. Even if we can’t be famous for our merits and achievements, at least we can gain the admiration of neighbours by wearing fancy clothes. No wonder clothes and fashion have such importance for many of us. Don’t we all know ladies, and men too, who have cupboards stuffed with clothes but 'nothing' to wear to the party tonight? 

The way we dress helps us to express who we are, and project an image to world; which leads us to that eternal question - do clothes make the man or woman? Of course they don’t! Looks can lie and clothes are a superficial covering which cannot change the deeper nature and character of a person. Why then, does fashion dominate our time, thought, newsprint and airwaves? Is all the noise about women’s clothing also because garments can be used to control them? We know how clothes can be designed to make women daring attention grabbers, or cover them into drab bundles to smother their femininity and curb their freedom.

Reports of extremists and militants browbeating women into covering up from head to toe in drab, shapeless drapes, is old hat. Society has always used clothes as a tool to place people in slots. Uniforms and dress codes are routinely applied by educational institutions, military authorities and corporate employers to set their own kind apart from the rest. As children, how proud we were to flaunt our school uniforms. The gun-toting soldier dressed in military fatigues, the policeman, nurses and doctors, the pilots and cabin crew of the flights we boarded; clothes have always helped us instantly identify people and treat them appropriately. 

We Indians can pride ourselves on being free and easy about dress restrictions for women and men. Lord Jagannath, with infinite love, welcomes everyone to his Srimandir. Men and women freely come wearing jeans and tees, shorts, sarees, dhotis or sparkly party dresses.

As for many Indian workplaces, male employees of all levels turn up in jeans and sneakers, skin tight pants, half-buttoned shirts hanging out, or open slippers. Ladies are spoilt with even more choices. Perhaps in a more egalitarian future, sleeping suits and nightgowns will also be accepted as office wear. 

Discussing fashion and trends can be good, clean fun, keeping impressionable and emotionally vulnerable people busy and out of serious trouble. After all, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Everyone can enjoy experimenting with clothes and styles, safely killing idle time and filling empty spaces between the ears. 

Fashion is a god send for the mass media. When deadlines are tight, pages need to be filled and air time fed programs 24x7, fashion related stories and non-stories are evergreen favourites. Much sound and fury is spent on reporting and predicting the latest trends. Fashion is far more entertaining than the antics of unscrupulous netas or stories of wars, pandemics, crime and lawlessness.

Fashion is a flourishing industry, generating incredible volumes of economic activity. Up to the minute fashions create employment and fill the wallets of everyone from textile mill and garment factory workers to style gurus, models and designers. The benefits of fashion trickle down to everyone from high end boutiques and malls to footpath vendors. Brilliant ad-men can make money out of selling fashion, as glibly as the best of them can sell sand to the Arabs. 

By fuelling new trends by the minute, the fashion industry facilitates equitable distribution of wealth by offering endless options to the rich to spend their money. Sequins, designer labels and premium accessories can transform even Australopithecus into prince or princess charming for a high society party. Sporting latest and jazziest fashions allow people to buy their way into taste and class and feel one up on everyone else.

We obsess over clothes because they are our chosen statement of who we are and who we aspire to be. They reflect the way we wish to be perceived by others. Clothes can’t transform us into something beyond our inherent capabilities. But fashion has mass appeal because simply dressing for a role is easier than struggling to live up to our ideals. So what if it’s tough to improve ourselves? We can skip the hard work and revamp our wardrobes for a feel-good illusion of progress. 

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. The author can be reached at

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