Life | Gucci or Gauche?

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Gucci or Gauche?
Text by Gouri Dange and Illustration by Farzana Cooper
Published: Volume 16, Issue 10, October, 2008

Between the two sartorial extremes of the super-chic and the hopelessly-gone-wrong dresser lies a sizeable population of shrinkers and shirkers with a wardrobe that reeks of mediocrity. Self-admittedly one of this in-between tribe herself, Gouri Dange analyses the trials and tribulations of her ilk

We’ve all met or seen plenty of best-dressed women. At any given time there’s always at least one in your immediate circle and at least one who is the icon of your neighbourhood/city/country. Remember in nursery school, when you somehow always had that one sock (and undies too) with the elastic gone slack? (Yes, that’s right, blame it on your mommy). And there was always at least one little girl with some beauteous name like Bela whose socks sat snugly, whose panties never threatened to give up, and whose school-uniform pleats covered her cute little tush just perfectly. She got off the school bus looking neat and pretty, and she got back onto it after four hours of crayons, clay modelling, PT, napping and lunch, looking just the same. She definitely went on to join the ranks of the best-dressed – whether she was power-lunching somewhere, dropping her equally well-dressed kids to school, celebrating something, sweating it out elegantly in the gym or vacationing in the Bahamas. The kind whose tasteful and always appropriate wardrobe, make-up and hair colour updates itself imperceptibly as she ages. They make elegant corpses too, on their last day here, and go on to pick just the right things from that Great Wardrobe in the Sky, for eternity.

Then there’s also the woman at the other end of the spectrum. The worst-dressed. You know her – in kindergarten, her compass box, tiffin box and water bottle were impossibly gaudy; she wore lurid, florid prints and love-in-Tokyo beads on free-dress day; she wore the ghastliest sari to the farewell dinner, and she went on to be featured in various newspapers and magazines wearing dhoti-pants, high-heels and nau vaaris with hair done up in a bouffant, and suchlike, smiling gauchely into the camera, with glitter on her teeth, for God’s sake. Ageing does not impact her dressing at all. She just keeps adding on more jingling stuff for every wrinkle that she acquires. And on her last day, people look upon her lying there overdressed and overpainted and wag their heads fondly.

I may laugh at her, snigger and look skywards, but here’s the truth: I envy them both. The best-turned out beauty as well as the worst-dressed weird one. You see, while they seem to be at two ends of the spectrum, they have at least one sterling quality in common. Both kinds of women know what they want to wear, spend good time, energy and money on their wardrobes, and most importantly, they’re happy women. Totally comfortable in their own shoes – Gucci or Gauche.

And then there’s us. A sizeable population of shrinkers and shirkers that has a wardrobe full of clothes so indistinguishable from one another, I wonder why we even bother. Look into our cupboards and you’ll find our guiding principle seems to be: quick, hide, don’t get noticed. So we have six trousers in the same cut in black, blacker, blackest, and variations on this theme. This is the result of reading somewhere that dark colours make some body parts invisible. For the upper body, when we think we’re on to a good, safe thing, we buy in multiple shades – so our wardrobe contains a small pile of kurtis in khaki, olive, army, moss, henna green, and on a daring day, lime. We pride ourselves on our sobriety and quiet taste, but those are kind words for yawn-makingly-boring. A whole slew of clothing choices we reject because certain embargos and injunctions have stuck in our anxious little heads: ‘too busy’, ‘too young’, ‘too old’, ‘too wannabe’ ‘too giddy’ ‘too loud’...

Oddly, all wound up with our guiding principle of ‘hide, don’t get noticed’, is the need to make at least some sort of ‘fashion statement’. Here’s when the scarf/stole comes to our rescue. We own alarming numbers of this accessory, which hides the neck (or its absence thereof), interrupts the khaki and black combo and signals to the world (or at least we believe) that we too are a little sophisticated and dashing rolled into one. Only other scarf/stole wearers know that this obliging piece of cloth hides more than it reveals about us. Nora Ephron’s written a book titled I Feel Bad about my Neck. I bought it instantly. She’s definitely one of us.

This is how we function. I was recently invited to be on TV. Sundry stylish nieces instantly warned me not to show up there in T-shirt and track pants. As if I would. I pulled out my best black trousers and olive kurti, and went out shopping for yet another scarf/stole. However, once I sat opposite the interviewer and noticed cameras at angles that hit below the chin (much worse than being hit below the belt), I asked if I could go change into a shirt with a large button up collar (a la Dev Anand, God bless him), plus the stole, plus some decoy chain and pendant. A friend watching on suggested with a straight face that she could run out and buy me a burkha, or I could wear a well-cut paper bag over myself. Oh, how I wish. Finally, I went through the interview with a nice tall collar shielding my neck from the camera behind me, and a pendant as big as a plate firmly distracting the camera in front of me. However, in a fit of flamboyance, I wore beige, yes beige pants. You only live once.

It was all very taxing, though. Now I’m safely back home, planning even better camouflage. Perhaps a line of clothing with paw prints all over it, so that I merge with the flooring, sofas and dhurries of my three-dog home. You’d only know I was there if I chose to blink.

But sometimes, a little exuberance crawls out from under the weight of all this solemnity, and makes itself known to the world – in the form of turquoise blue chappals, gold-chilli earrings, a crimson watch, a tangerine shirt, a beetroot handbag - not all worn at the same time, of course!

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