Tracing your life story through fashion can be both fun and traumatic…
You know you are getting on when a ‘period film’ is set in a period you remember all too clearly. Well, at least that’s how I felt when I watched The Wolf of Wall Street, set in the late 80s to mid 90s. Yes, I know. I am a bit late to this, but all those reviews about the debauchery and drug taking kind of put me off the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio notwithstanding. But when I finally got to it last week, it wasn’t the drugs and sex – not to mention the midget throwing (don’t ask!) that got me. It was the clothes.
There they were, the fashions of the late 80s and early 90s on display in all their power-shouldered wonder. Double-breasted suits worn with loud, wildly-patterned ties. Polo shirts paired with high-waisted linen trousers. Ruffles and padded shoulders for the women. This was Giorgio Armani and Chanel, all right. But not as we know it.
Except, of course, that I knew it all too well. This was the period when I came of age. The decade when I left college, began my first job, and began earning my own money, which I could spend on the fashions of the day. But now that it was being paraded before me, two decades later, all the outfits looked clunky and clumsy, over the top, and sometimes downright vulgar. Had we really dressed like that in the 80s and early 90s? What on earth were we thinking?
Well, now that you ask, we thought we looked pretty darn good. We loved the exaggerated silhouettes, the loud colours. The brash exuberance of that decade was perfectly articulated in the clothes. And we embraced those fashions with all the wit and style at our command. Those padded shoulders were our armour of choice as we set out to conquer the world – until Armani gave unto us the deconstructed jacket.
It is only in hindsight that the fashions of the period appear a tad absurd. When I pull out my photographs of that period, I can’t help but giggle at some of the images. But at the time, they looked perfectly stylish. And who knows, they may well be back in vogue in another 20 years, just like the 60s fashions that saw a revival in the early 21st century.
It is all too easy to trace our lives in fashion by picking out just one outfit from every decade we have lived through. And my suspicion is that if we store these in the back of our closets for long enough, it won’t be long before each outfit comes back into fashion.
In my case, this has already happened. The leggings and T-shirt/ sweater combination that I lived in during my college days and my first few years as a working journalist have now become trendy once again. Patiala salwars have seen a revival as have dhoti pants. Flared jeans had a brief time in the sun before giving way to jeggings. The platform heel and the wedge have stomped back into fashion. Even the humble handloom sari – which had been cast into oblivion because of our obsession with Western styles – is experiencing a new wave of popularity.
And that is good news for a world-class hoarder like me. I can pull out clothes that haven’t had an airing in years and look completely on-trend in them (if you ignore the suspicious whiff of mothballs). And what is even more fun is that I can see my life flash before me in all the fashions of that particular decade.
The 70s come to life in the flared trousers I wore to a school picnic, inspired by Zeenat Aman in Hare Rama Hare Krishna; the shiny garara-set I donned for a family wedding based on all those ‘Muslim socials’ that were a staple of Hindi cinema in those days; and the floppy hats and oversized sunglasses that were all the rage in those days, and turn up in almost every photograph of that time.
The 80s are universally known as the decade style forgot. And my picture albums certainly seem to bear that out: flounced skirts, pedal pushers, flowery trousers, padded shoulders, all of it accessorized with big-hair (think Joan Collins in Dynasty) and much too much eye make-up. I can hardly bear to look at the photos without cringing and wondering how I dared to go out in public dressed like that.
The 90s were rescued for me by Donna Karan and her easy-to-wear aesthetic and I still have her ‘body suits’ (T-shirts and shirts that were designed like swimwear so that you had no ‘bunching’ when you wore them with trousers) nestling safely in my wardrobe. That was also the decade when I discovered Anokhi and the pleasures of vegetable-dye, indigo and block printing.
The start of the 21st century in fashion terms, for me at least, was all about two names: Abraham and Thakore. And even ten or more years later I still swear by their understated, pared-down and sophisticated aesthetic sense. Those elegant linen trouser suits, the silk tunics and skirts, the long kurtas with delicate embellishment, and the beautifully-designed saris: these are the looks that will last the ages.
Well, at least, I think so. But should you really trust a woman who dressed in pedal pushers back in the day? Probably not!