Celebrating the women who found style by forgetting fashion
Is it just me, or has the fashion world gotten completely out of hand? Every four months or so, we are presented with a new look and asked, in all seriousness, to overhaul our entire wardrobes if we want to stay on trend. I am sorry, but who has the money, the time, the inclination, or even the energy to do this sort of thing, year in and year out?
Ah, yes, of course, the professional fashionistas. You know the kind of women I mean, don’t you? The ones who dutifully ditch their skinny jeans when ‘boyfriend’ jeans come back into fashion. Who go monochrome when the catwalk does, and rush out to buy animal prints when the glossy magazines sternly instruct them to update their look. Who strap on the stilettoes when they are in fashion, slip on the ballet flats (heaving a sigh of relief, I imagine) when they come back into vogue, and veer between platforms, wedges, kitten heels, and God alone knows what else, depending on what’s ‘in’.
Speaking for myself, I can’t think of a bigger waste of time, energy and money. If something works for you, then surely, it makes sense to stick with it, no matter what the fashion world is currently salivating over. But given how women are beginning to dress like identikit versions of one another, right down to matching handbags, I guess it requires courage, and even a certain bloody-mindedness, to ignore the ‘latest’ fashions and stick to the same wardrobe year after year.
Which is why I can’t help but admire those ladies who resist the tyranny of fashion, ignore all its diktats, find their own style, and then stick to it, come bell-bottoms or high heels. As that old cliché goes, fashions may change every season but style is eternal. So here, in no particular order of importance, is my list of stylistas, who, in my reckoning, out-class the fashionistas in our midst, without even trying!
• Vidya Balan: Come rain or shine, Cannes or Kanpur, you can depend on Vidya to roll up in a sari, with three-quarter sleeve blouses, and her hair cascading down in unruly curls. You can call her a behenji or an aunty – and many people do – but does she care? Not a jot. And more power to her.
• Sonia Gandhi: You may disagree with her politics but her styling is always impeccable. Handloom saris (many of them hand-me-downs from her redoubtable mother-in-law, Indira) impeccably draped and pinned into place, sensible shoes, and no handbag, ever. This is pared-down dressing at its best, and it works like a charm.
• Rekha: The original diva. Her Kanjeevarams are the stuff of legend, the bright slash of sindoor is flaunted like a red rag to the media bulls and is a perfect match to the matte lipstick, and when it comes to jewellery, this actress clearly believes that nothing glitters quite like gold.
• Naina Lal Kidwai: The boring uniform of a black trouser suit is not for this financial powerhouse. She prefers the soft drape of a sari to camouflage those killer business instincts, her version of the iron fist in a velvet glove.
• Michelle Obama: Fashion designers from across the world may be lining up to dress the First Lady of the United States but they have to work with her own aesthetic. That means no sleeves (to show off those toned arms); empire waists to emphasise the thinnest part of her body, and hems that hover around the knee.
• Harsimrat Kaur: There is a certain charming insouciance to a modern Sikh woman whose public persona is built around a wardrobe of salwar-kameezes, with a dupatta draped firmly over her head. Stereotype her at your own peril.
And no, I don’t think it is a coincidence that all these stylistas are women of a certain age. Rare is the woman in her teens and twenties who can summon up the courage to go her own way when it comes to fashion. You need the confidence and self-knowledge that comes with age to make your own rules and stick to them, no matter what the world may say. And to know that style trumps fashion every time.