The substance of style: wearing what suits you

Seema Goswami

As you may have noticed, last week HT City gave out its annual Style Awards. The list was eclectic as always, ranging from artists (Anjolie Ela Menon), politicians (Jay Panda and his wife, Jaggi), television producers (Ekta Kapoor), TV anchors (Shereen Bhan), advertising professionals (Swapan Seth), film stars (Akshay Kumar, Sharmila Tagore) to a police officer (Hargovinder ‘Harry’ Singh Dhaliwal). But what united all of the recipients was one single theme: none of them could understand why he/she had been chosen for a style award in the first place!

All of them expressed themselves with varying degrees of bemusement (and some bewilderment). I don’t even possess a single designer garment, said one. I never ever go shopping for clothes; my mother does all my shopping for me, said another. I live in my jeans; my clothes are made by my local darzi; I wear chappals all the time; the disclaimers came loud and fast, tripping over one another as each awardee tried to explain why they didn’t deserve a style award (but were very happy to receive it all the same).
As I sat listening, all I could think of was that these modest denials showed such a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes style.

But first off, let’s establish what style is most assuredly not about:

Deepika Padukone (right) wears her clothes rather than allowing them to wear her and Shah Rukh Khan (left) can even make man cleavage work. Photo: Getty Images

1. It is not about wearing designer clothes. Any idiot can walk into a designer store and buy up everything in sight (and alas, too many do just that) in the hope that it will make them look stylish. It won’t. They will just look like people who have too much money and not enough confidence in their own taste (hence the top-to-toe designer labels).
2.It is not about being a slave to the seasonal diktats of high fashion. All that establishes is that you have money to burn and time to spare. After all, how else could you update your wardrobe every three-four months, changing your look as often as shops change their window dressing? But remaining au fait with the trends is not all it takes to remain trendy. 
3.It is not about buying expensive things. You can buy the latest It Bag, pile on the jewellery, slip into the priciest shoes in the market, flaunt the flashiest sunglasses. But unless you have a good eye and a good idea of what works for you, style will always escape you. You may look fashionable but you won’t look stylish.

So, what does style consist of? What makes a person truly stylish? Well, let me count the ways.
Meryl Streep has cracked the code of how an actress of a certain age should dress. Photo: New York Times
The confidence to be completely comfortable in his/her own skin. We all know people like this in our own lives. They can slip on a simple white kurta-pyjama and an indigo-dyed dupatta, accessorise with Kolhapuri chappals and a jhola, and look more perfectly put together than that woman in a designer salwar kameez and a Louis Vuitton bag. These are the kind of people who can rock a pair of blue jeans, exude glamour in a simple cotton sari, and look as elegant in sportswear as they do in formal togs.
2.The ability to ignore fashion when it is doing you no favours. Jeggings may be all the rage, but if your legs are not your best feature, you may be better off in a crinkled skirt. Crop tops may be ‘in’ but if your stomach is ‘out’ it may be wise to step away from that shelf. If in doubt, try it on and stand in front of the mirror. If the question, “Does my bum/stomach look big in this?” pops into your head, the outfit is not for you.

3. The knowledge of what works for you; and to work with it.

4..The talent to create a strong individual look, and stick with it through thick and thin.

So, who qualifies as stylish in accordance with the criteria listed above? Or, to put it another way, who would win the Style Award if I were the only one making the decisions?

Well, the entire list is too long to fit here but these are some names that would surely feature: Meryl Streep, who has cracked the code of how an actress of a certain age should dress; Christina Hendricks, who makes the most of her curves without worrying about what the stick insects of the fashion world are up to; Deepika Padukone, who wears her clothes rather than allowing them to wear her; Shah Rukh Khan, who can even make man cleavage work; Omar Abdullah, who can look beyond the usual politician staple of khadi kurta-pyjama. And how could I forget my own personal favourite: Arvind Kejriwal, who has single-handedly popularised the Gandhi-topi-and-muffler look. Long may his version of air-hostess chic rule!

From HT Brunch, April 27
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