DESI DRESS CODES are PISSING ME OFF- POLITICS of EXCLUSION in the PUBLIC SPHERE

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Fashion plays a huge role in Desi life everywhere. Even though one might not necessarily be wearing the latest thing off the run-way, every item that one wears at any time in any place in India triggers off class signals. The class-o-meter is always ticking and wherever you go people are slotting one another into social categories. And in a fashion capital like Delhi one would hardly expect otherwise, but lately there have been some subtle changes that are really getting to me.

After having been studying outside of India, I returned to Delhi and went with my husband to meet an old friend at a nice pub in Saket. When my husband and I arrived it was happy hour so no one bothered too much with what we were wearing and we hung around listening to classic jazz and downing mohitos. But soon the yuppies started to arrive in droves with their fresh haircuts, rolex watches, stilettos and radiating colognes. Well it was fine and even though the music had changed to more mainstream music we were all having a good time. The friend we were meeting gave us as missed message and I went out to pick him up and bring him to our table. I was shocked to find a bouncer blocking our path when we tried to get back inside. He was standing next to a sign that said “we reserve the rights to admission. No geeks allowed.” It took a good deal of convincing to let this hulk step aside and he only did this because my husband was waiting inside and we hadn’t yet paid our bill.

Well there are certainly hotels and elite clubs where the dress code is clear, but now places that were formerly tolerant zones for various fashion sensibilities have become hostile to laid back student types. More and more places have become unfriendly to people like my friend, who dresses like most left wing activist intellectual types; Fab India kurta, worn jeans, sandals, and a bag. So what? Now he can’t walk into a pub for a drink? When did Delhi become so reactionary?

Then, yesterday I go to see a film at a local Chandigarh mall “Fun Republic”, with my brother-in-law and some other family, and the security guard wont even let him into the shopping complex because he is wearing Bata chapels. We pointed out that others among us were also wearing chapels, although they were of more expensive brands and made of leather. But no- the guard had explicit instructions to monitor the feet of the customers and prevent anyone wearing Bata chapels from entering. If this was a question of decorum then it would exclude all people wearing chapals and sandals, which would be an absurd proposition in India. But this exclusionary clause is aimed at class; Bata chapals are worn only by the lower classes, or only by elites at home while they are in the bathroom. And its not just the Bata chapals….its the long hair…the bohemian attire…the wrong brand of cigarette…This is just a part of the same kind of conservative, reactionary, long-hair-hating, hippie-hatred that flourished in the U.S. and the U.K. in the 60’s and 70’s. India is becoming obsessed with producing sterile little meat-packages of insipid yuppie brand identity and now public places are conspiring to turn leisure time into a bloody brand parade.

Has this kind of thing happened to you?

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1 Comment

  1. I personally love retro anything including retro fashion. Thanks for the post.


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