Traditionally, one of the signs of a woman growing older was when she traded in her short skirts for dresses or trousers for saris. Contemporary jewellery gave way to pearl strands and fuchsia was replaced by burgundy. But now, when skinny jeans are worn at 50 and leggings at 40, does the concept of age-appropriate dressing still exist? Actor Simi Garewal discarded off-shoulder, ostrich feather-embellished dresses for elegant pantsuits, while socialite and grandmother of three, Monica Vazirali, loves to wear shorts to Page 3 dos. The two ladies step out of the closet about their style strategy.
When I first came to India from England, I had a Westernized style of dressing. It didn’t go down well with the film industry which, on the surface, was very conservative. For them, only vamps dressed in Western clothes (I think a lot changed when Sharmila Tagore wore a bikini inAn Evening in Paris). But since I wanted to belong, I tried to change my dressing style and, in fact, my personality. I grew my hair long, and wore saris and those tight churidar-kurtas only. I was miserable!
Garewal in an ostrich feather-detail dress in the 1970s. (Photograph courtesy Simi Garewal)
But you need to have enough self-confidence before you can evolve your own sense of style. Your style is really a reflection of your individuality. Soon, I was back to who I was—to strapless, off-shoulder dresses. I wore chiffon saris with small strapless tops (the way they wear them now), and even though I was the only one wearing them at the time—and people thought it was “very bold”—it suddenly didn’t matter. I had reclaimed myself.
I have always gone for a style that is “classic”. If I see myself in a photograph 10 years later, I shouldn’t look outdated, and cringe with embarrassment. I have never followed the diktats of fashion blindly—only absorbed and incorporated what suits me from the latest trends. Beyond this, I haven’t made any fundamental changes to my style. I found that whenever I wore a white outfit, I felt very good, so I wore it more often, and for the last 20 years, I’ve been wearing it all the time.
In terms of fits and cuts, I love Armani and the sheer simplicity and elegance of his designs. From India, I go for Shahab Durazi’s classic elegance. Among new designers, Nikhil-Shantanu made some outfits for me recently, and I think they are very versatile. Then, Narendra Kumar, a Lounge columnist, is ubiquitous—for both men and women. I love Rohit Bal’s creations—perhaps the most creative and innovative designer today. I used to wear his designs a lot earlier, not so much in recent times. Many years ago, Rohit did not deliver a promised dress for an important function in time and Tarun Tahiliani stepped in and made it for me overnight. It was stunning—and we became friends forever.
I think it’s great if VJs and DJs show skin. They’re young, and they work hard on their bodies. So why not flaunt it? But once women reach their 40s, I think it’s not the time to compete with girls half their age. They end up looking absurd. Dressing like a teeny-bopper isn’t going to make anyone think you are 17—they’ll just think you’re desperate to look younger. It’s equally abhorrent when little girls wear high heels and grown-up clothes.
Men and women, whether in corporate or social life, are judged constantly by their appearances. So dressing according to the occasion, status, age and the shape you are in is the key to a well-groomed look. It’s not aesthetic to see rolls of fat emerging from under women’s blouses. Cover them up! Indian women are lucky they have kurtas, kurtis, saris and le hengas to choose from, compared to Western women, whose only options are dresses and pants.
I do follow trends in terms of the- length of jeans, the flare, pencil or boot-cuts. But I draw the line at the low-cut hipster jeans. They look good only on, maybe, Kareena Kapoor. They make women’s legs look squat and disproportionate to the body —very unflattering.
Anything I have not worn for more than a year or so, I throw away, unless it’s a real classic. The point is to keep updating yourself, to know your flaws and work around them. Maturity gives you the confidence to make your own style statement. So, the first commandment is: Know thyself. Second: How do you want to be perceived? And finally: Let your clothes express your personality.
I have always worn whatever I like. That’s my style mantra. If something is in fashion and it appeals to me, I wear it, age notwithstanding. It really depends on what you can get away with. Of course, it’s very important to have a fit body so you can carry off whatever you like.
The way I dress has been consistent through the years. I’ve been a sportsperson and have always had a fit body. As a young woman, I used to wear a lot of short dresses. The only time I changed my dressing style slightly was when I became a mother in my 20s because that’s when my body changed. But I got back to swimming and walking, and worked hard to shape up so I would be able to wear what I liked.
In sync: Vazirali thinks that the wrong kind of clothes can add years to one’s appearance. ( Photo by Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint)
I’m usually travelling a lot and, therefore, am exposed to the latest in fashion around the world. I pick up things for myself from wherever I travel. I love fashion and it’s too hard to resist the fabulous things on offer.
Some Indian designers, too, are coming up with great stuff. Manish Arora is one of my favourite designers.
I love saris. They are very sensuous. In fact, if I’m confused what to wear on a night out, I always fall back on the sari. But I don’t like churidar-kurtas.
Down the years, though I haven’t changed my style of dressing much, I do avoid halters and bikinis now. Age has brought about changes to my body and I have to accept them. But I don’t miss wearing them. I do have a couple of stylish shorts that I wear on evenings out. Otherwise, I like to wear well-fitting clothes; cleavage in sari blouses is also acceptable.
Wrong clothes can add years to your appearance. It’s not necessary to stick to boring colours or conservative cuts. There are so many things that are available to us these days. We can choose whatever we are comfortable in. There’s no need to limit yourself just because you are ageing. I love colours and wear all of them.
People ask me all the time why I don’t dye my hair. Everyone seems to think it’ll take a few years off me. But I think that’s a part of ageing, and my grey hair has become a part of my personality. Also, I don’t have the time to spend on the constant maintenance that colouring requires.
My make-up is always minimal—no foundation, just lipstick, eye-liner and blush. But I love to accessorize—matching funky bags with clothes, putting things together. I have a lot of fashion jewellery and I like to team Western clothes with Indian jewellery.
My children sometimes say I dress a little flamboyantly, but I tell them that’s my personality and my style reflects it. I have always kept myself up-to-date with the latest trends and fads—it has been like this through the years and I don’t see why I should change now.