Ever since I scripted and hosted a TV show on fashion, I have been accosted by people on the street (both men and women) who want a quick fix on style. I find it funny because, in my own eyes, I am a bit of a bespectacled geek, with a penchant for throwing odd bits of clothing together in the name of “eclectic chic”, when all I was doing was escaping the agony of staring at my wardrobe for a perfect makeover. I perhaps gave some of the worst tips as I found myself packing my “advice” with phrases such as “build your confidence and style will follow”, or “groom your intellect and fashion will follow you”, when all they wanted to hear was whether polka dots were still in and if the bubble dress could indeed hide child-bearing hips.
But today I am less afraid of being a fool, so I can be truthful about what I think of a weighty subject (did I hear oil politics? Nah!)—style.
Look around you, the person you consider stylish is probably always in mismatched clothes —a mismatch of styles and colours. There are trendy people, and then there are stylish people; the latter always dare to be creatively eccentric. Men who are a bit inventive about wearing jackets with eccentric lapels, linen jackets in pastel shades, tapered pants and crisp white Indian cottons are certainly fashion-forward, and usually in great spirits, too.
I think coordinating colours is so tiring. I like people who think beyond matching shoes-bags, top-bottom and even nail polish (but men, brown shoes means brown belt, not black).
As for women, “sexy” shouldn’t be the only adjective for the wardrobe. Some of the most stylish women choose deconstructed dresses over second-skin cocktail dresses; experimenting with cuts and silhouettes is having fun with clothes. You can’t want to highlight your S curve every single time. Just read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Woolf and get real.
Look at designer Anamika Khanna. Her mix of Indian and European sensibilities results in organic, layered and muted designs, which don’t compromise on impact. She epitomizes global chic.
If you are truly stylish, you don’t wear fakes. If you can’t afford designer labels, then make do with the variety of choices that our indigenous market offers—organic fabrics, brocades and silks that even a neighbourhood tailor can work magic with. This is where you hone your personal style because you can pick the fabrics, customize them and add the quirky details. You are the custodian of your own image. How effortlessly chic is that!
Perennially cool people have two other great qualities. One, whether big or small, they work around, not against, their bodies. When you wear clothes that fit your size, you exude a sense of well-being and positivity about how you feel about yourself. Two, they dress their age. When I see glamorous Parsi ladies at the Willingdon Club in bouffants, muted saris, arched eyebrows and ruby lips, I look forward to growing old. When I see men tying their belt a few inches higher to hide the belly (can someone explain the reasoning behind this?) or women breathless in lycra, I look away.
This combination of skirt and skinny tie by Jean Paul Gaultier is girlie but in an experimentative, combat mode.
Good shoes (for men and women) are always a good thing. And wearing third-grade briefs under a great suit is a disservice you do to yourself. It says: You are only what you see.
Accessorize. It’s the easiest way to up the fashion ante. There’s a lot of choice in real and artificial beads and baubles. But go easy on the plastic ones. The synonym for “plastic” is “synthetic”. You don’t want that word to always be associated with you. Invest in Chanel beads or Cartier bracelets. Wear them as many times as you want, with a variety of clothes, without what I call “guilt of repetition”. This shows the value of a brand where classic outlasts trend.
The same applies to clothes. A classic Tarun Tahiliani sari will always be appropriate at a sit-down dinner anywhere in the world. Choose colours that will survive the season and be discerning. Love of colour is one thing; being colour-blind is chromatic hara-kiri. When women at weddings walk around with jewellery on jewellery, make-up on make-up, rani pink offset by jungle green, they’re lost in this cacophony. Indian skin looks deliciously sensual in crimson red or mother-of-pearl white. Keep it simple and chic.
Choose embellishments that highlight, not hide, your personality. We found old Rajput maharanis elegant because they relied on French chiffons, stylized hair and pearls to exude an air of très chic.
That doesn’t mean you always have to look all dolled up, with not a single hair out of place. Rough up the look. Dishevelled chic is in. A great example is Shilpa Shetty. She’s amazingly fit. But if she wants to be a globetrotting stylissimo, she needs to run her long fingers through her hair and shake out those darn waves. It’s ok not to have the perfect hairdo. One look at super-stylish Parisian Lou Doillon and you know what I mean. Feminine also doesn’t mean looking like a wilted daisy. Women are natural chameleons and you shouldn’t be embarrassed to come up with surprises too. Giving a touch of goth, street, 1940s or 1990s influences means you know your fashion; and certainly know the impact that clothes have in our life.
And men, if you feel overdressed in suits, it isn’t tough to loosen up. Swing the jacket on your shoulder, loosen a few buttons, a la Tom Ford, whose inimitable style has women the world over swooning for him. If you land up looking like a field of zari paisley in ornate sherwanis for your friend’s wedding, don’t expect too much attention. Instead, opt for Rajesh Pratap Singh, Ashish Soni or Raghuvendra Rathore’s minimalist wedding ensembles. Clean lines in greys and midnight blues are better than the done-to-death burgundy and gold kurtas. Let the Nehru collar be the decorative element in your sherwani, not ornate appliqués.
Lastly, remember the times we live in. Support fashion that does not harm the environment. Think eco-friendly fabrics. All in all, you can choose to be a conspicuous consumer or a conscious consumer. Your style barometer is really indicative of the choice you make.
(The writer, Bandana Tewari, is fashion features editor, Vogue India)