Of Clothes and Culture

Of late, people are learning and attempting to express themselves through their clothes. These days, clothes are more than mere covers for our body. They express people’s personality, determine their status, and also define their authority. For some people, clothes also reflect their state of mind.

But there was a time when people din’t have as many choices as we do now. For example, my grandmother would have been able to choose from a pattu paavadai, a dhavani, or a saree.  Chudidars and jeans were of course off limits. During those years, clothes reflected one’s culture and region. Ever since people have adopted the clothing styles of other countries, there have been major issues relating it to the loss of our culture and values, especially when it comes to women’s clothing.

I have heard a lot of people complain about how people wearing western clothes have corrupted our Indian culture and disrespected our values. I liked to dismiss those thoughts as ramblings of immature minds. But, as these accusations increase and spread, I wonder if these people actually understand the Indian values themselves.

Our culture is prided for our family system, the way we love and cherish our families. Children are taught to respect their elders; siblings are taught to stand by each other at all times; parents are expected to teach their children about love, affection, forgiveness; and children are expected to take care of their elderly parents. To me, these are some of the important values of our Indian culture. Our culture focuses more on teaching us to be better children, siblings, and parents, i.e, better humans.

So to all the people out there criticizing those who wear western clothes, I ask this: When do we really fear we have lost our culture?

When a father buys a pair of jeans for his daughter or when a father rapes his own daughter?

When a wife buys a drink for her husband or when a wife divorces her husband because he met with an accident and can no longer earn?

When a boy does not mind what his girlfriend wears or when a boy judges a girl only by what she wears?

When a father and son shop together for a pair of dashing leather pants or when the son kicks his father out because the father is an additional liability?

When a woman chooses to wear a saree because she likes it or when the woman chooses a saree because the men on the road are less likely to tease her in it?

When a girl returns home early from a cocktail party so that she can tell her mom all about the party or when she returns home early because she is wearing a short dress and her city is unsafe after dusk?

When a brother picks up his sister from college because he genuinely cares for her or when he has to pick her up as she can’t travel in a bus wearing a tight-fitting jeans and t-shirt?

We have been so focused on the external beauty of things that we have forgotten what it really means to be Indian. We have little time for our family; we teach our children to score better, earn better; we tell our parents to find themselves a good old-age home; we judge our women on what they wear; we tease the men who dress traditionally; we scoff when someone talks about our culture; and we praise anything that is not Indian.

Our issue is that we have begun to associate clothes with one’s personality. Is a women respectable only when she wears a saree or chidudhar? What if she prefers to wear jeans because they are convenient during travel? What if a boy goes out wearing shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt with headphones around his neck? Is he obviously a rich man’s pampered son?

Why can’t we understand that clothes speak only so much about our culture? Why don’t we understand that we as individuals have changed, our principles have changed, the things that matter to us have changed? When there is so much wrong with a society, I guess its easier to blame the lamest and the easiest factor- the changing clothes.