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What your clothes say about your life...

Or as that old saying goes: clothes maketh the man (and the woman)

brunch Updated: Apr 01, 2017 21:32 IST
There is no denying that our clothes say a lot about us: who we are, what we believe in, where we come from, and sometimes, even what we do
There is no denying that our clothes say a lot about us: who we are, what we believe in, where we come from, and sometimes, even what we do(Shutterstock)

We’ve all heard that old chestnut: clothes make the man. The proverb was first recorded in English in the 15th century (though there is an earlier saying in Greece that roughly translates as ‘the man is his clothing’). The idea duly turned up in William Shakespeare’s writings (as things tend to do) with Polonius declaiming, “For the apparel oft proclaims the man” in Hamlet. And more recently, Mark Twain proclaimed, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

Well, that may well be the case. But certainly there is no denying that our clothes say a lot about us: who we are, what we believe in, where we come from, and sometimes, even what we do.

There is the obvious stuff, of course. The hijab, for instance, which is now as much a religious injunction as it is a political statement. There are women in certain parts of the globe who are fighting for their right to throw it off because they see it as a symbol of female subjugation. And then there are those in other regions of the globe who are fighting for the right to keep it on to assert their adherence to the Islamic faith. But whether you are in Tehran or Paris, whichever side of the divide you are on, the hijab is always a highly visible marker of identity.

In India, we now have a chief minister – Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh – who wears saffron, traditionally the colour of renunciation in the Hindu faith (yes, the irony is not lost on me either), as he goes about the task of running his state. And even though he makes all the right noises about not discriminating against any faith, his clothes proclaim quite proudly where his heart lies.

So, while clothes may not necessarily make the man or woman, they nonetheless tell us a lot about them. And that applies not just to overtly religious markers, but also to more, shall we say, ‘secular’ choices.

Take a walk through your neighbourhood market or mall. Or just sit in a cafe or restaurant and do some people watching. You can tell a lot about those passing just by looking at what they are wearing, because even though we often don’t realise it, all of us inadvertently send out signals about who we are by the way we dress.

There are the yummy mummies having a quick bite while their kids are at school. They sport oversized diamonds on their fingers and in their ears, each one carefully calibrated to show off the size of their husband’s annual bonuses. Their designer bags are either ‘this season’ or old enough to qualify as ‘vintage’. Their hair is all high-maintenance highlights and super-sleek blow-dries. And their pastel clothes and high heels a sign that they never ever need to take public transport as they go about their ‘ladies who lunch’ lifestyle.

Their husbands, meanwhile, only do business lunches. They wear beautifully tailored, made-to-measure shirts, but leave off the ties to indicate that they are not middle management. Their accessory of note is an oversized designer watch, that they glance at ever so often to indicate just how important their time is. If they are meeting with bureaucrats, it is easy to tell the government servants apart. They are the ones with the cheaper looking suits and expressions of grave condescension.

And that’s just the five-star hotels. If you go a little downmarket – or even mid-market – you can play the ‘tell the journo apart from the NGO wallah’ game. It’s a little bit tricky because both sets prize themselves on being slightly scruffy. But while the media guys pair their faded jeans with shirts and T-shirts, the NGO brigade sticks to Fabindia kurtas and cloth jholas. But it is easy to get this wrong because some journos pride themselves on their ‘ethnic chic’ too (think tie-dyed saris, handloom kurtis or even Ikat shirts).

The ones who are dead easy to pick out are the start-up guys and girls. They are the ones looking self-important as they sit in the corner of a cafe they have colonised to hold meetings, tapping away distractedly on their laptops or tablets, dressed in their uniform of designer jeans and T-shirts that are always one size too tight and accessorised with lots of facial hair and black-rimmed glasses to add gravitas to their look.

Politicians are equally easy to identify, with their penchant for white-kurta pyjamas, paired with a waistcoat or a tricolour scarf. Off duty, they try to blend in with the rest of us by wearing ‘civilian’ clothing. But more often than not, their air of entitlement – not to mention the bristling security guards – gives them away.

You can tell fashion designers (or even fashion journalists, for that matter) by their self-consciously trendy, even eccentric, mode of dressing. They will be the ones wearing dhoti trousers with a singlet, tweed skirts with lace camisoles, onesies with giant pink pigs embroidered all over them and so on (and so weird). Pearls and chiffon saris (especially with the head covered) is the patented look of feudals and erstwhile royals (most often spotted at the polo). While anyone who is wearing an old-school tie is guaranteed to be a bit of a saloon bar bore (I exaggerate, of course, but only a little).

And thus it goes. So, what do your clothes say about you? Or would you rather not say?

From HT Brunch, April 2, 2017

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