When I was a three-year-old, a friend of my mother commented, "Your daughter has got her dad's features and your complexion." To this, I innocently added, "And I have got my sister's frock."
It was, indeed, very common in those days for younger siblings to grow up wearing the older one's clothes. No one bothered about pinks and blues and it was commonplace to see infant boys dressed in pretty pink dresses!
Clothes were bought for their practical utility. Even bridal outfits were prepared, keeping in mind how these could be 'played down' and utilised later after the ceremonies. These days, even middle-class families spend close to Rs 1 lakh on a wedding outfit which, in most cases, is a 'one-time' wear, thereafter stored as a family heirloom!
Nowadays, we buy clothes for the moment; every occasion demands an appropriate outfit. So, a basic wardrobe must have both Indian and Western formals, cocktail dresses, lounge suits, club outfits, outfit for your morning walk, gym outfit, kitty party dresses, in addition to casuals and office wear. Superimpose upon these our seasonal requirements: winter, spring, summer and monsoon.
Consequently, we have wardrobes overflowing with clothes, not to forget matching shoes and handbags. All my friends always talk about their wardrobe woes, largely related to the storage problem.
Ironically, despite the resolutions against buying more clothes, we women still throng malls to shop for clothes. We buy clothes because we do not want to miss out on good bargains during a sale. We go shopping again when fresh stocks have hit the stores.
A mini survey among my friends revealed that each one owned 40 to 50 wearable outfits.
So, why do we go on buying clothes when we already own a whole lot of perfectly good ones? Because, as one of my friends puts it, "I would not be seen dead wearing them." Take, for example, American industrialist and philanthropist Benjamin Guggenheim, who was among the well-heeled passengers aboard the ill-fated Titanic. After giving his life jacket to a female passenger, Guggenheim donned white tie and tails in order to die 'like a gentleman'.
A proper dress code is immensely important for those in high society. Otherwise, why should newspapers have a page three? Professionals in other fields are also expected to conform to a dress code. After the successful launch of SLV-3, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi expressed a desire to meet mission director Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. Dr Kalam, who was in slippers that day, was a little apprehensive about the meeting as he felt that by any standards of etiquette he was dressed too casually to meet the PM. However, then chairman of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) Dr Satish Dhawan convinced him not to worry about his dress, saying, "You are beautifully clothed in your success."
Albert Einstein's wife often nagged him to dress more professionally when he headed off to work. "Why should I?" he would invariably argue, "Everyone knows me there." When the time came for Einstein to attend his first major conference, she begged him to dress up a bit. "Why should I?" said Einstein, "No one knows me there."
As far as I am concerned, I'm beginning to appreciate the Gandhian philosophy of keeping material needs (especially the wardrobe) to a minimum because the problem of 'what to wear' remains unchanged whether you have too many or too few clothes.
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