Cover Art by Misha Farhana
By Eman Ahmad
Last Sunday when I was helping my mother clean the store room, I came across several photo albums carefully curated over the years. The albums were nothing like we have these days, those hardback thick books with digitally printed pictures on them. They were rectangular paperback diaries, with a woman’s face on the cover, possessing my entire childhood inside their plastic pockets. Later that evening, I delved into one of the albums and asked my mother, “Where is this dress?” pointing at a picture.
It was a purple velvet frock that I wore on my first birthday. A day I don’t remember much about except the highlights repeated by my family. A little sleeveless dress with organza ruffle around the waistline. My mother told me that she gave it away because I grew out of it. As a woman, much of my childhood and adolescence had been an act of letting go, of giving things away, sometimes out of shame and sometimes out of fear.
As I grew up and womanhood took refuge inside my body, many other things departed from it including honesty and innocence. Especially honesty and innocence. Every new year of age came like a season bringing new colors but also new diseases. Every year taught me new things that I could do but also taught me things “not to do” because I was too old for them. Too old or too white, too short or too fat. As a woman, I have always been too much and yet never enough.
Today, as I begin to write about fashion and what it means to me, I can hardly think of a precise statement. Because fashion, for me, has been fluid. Ever-changing and distinctive, just like my experiences with it.
Draping a chiffon dupatta as a saree, I would walk around the wooden dresser trying to catch a glance of myself in the mirror. Heavy metal necklaces dangled around my pale neck as I would smack my lips after carefully applying my mother’s Medora lipstick in plum shade. Fashion for me, at the tender age of six, was silk and shimmer. It was rings, too loose and heels, too long. Fashion was all things pink and pretty. It was having a matching bag with every outfit. Fashion was a dream. Fashion was a desire.
Just when I became familiar with it, Fashion told me that it was time to take leave. When the sleeves on my shirts began to grow longer and every short dress disappeared from my closet, I realized that Fashion was never a friend. It was a guest, who came in, made itself at home, had a cup of tea with me and then left, leaving the door open.
Fashion visited me again, years later. We would meet in the washrooms of my school, sharing our ideas of rebellion. I had grown taller and it had changed as well. Fashion was no more naïve or gullible. It was angry and rude, at times unnecessarily. Fashion was folding sleeves of your uniform and wearing colored sweaters on it despite knowing it was against the school dress code. Fashion was applying subtle makeup before school. Fashion was black nail paint and dyed hair. Fashion was a secret. Fashion was a sin.
Fashion has been a competition. It has been a conflict. Fashion has been the reason behind arguments with my mother, fashion is also behind my fear of running into a relative when I am with my friends. For me, like many other women, fashion has also been the degree to determine my consent. It has been a scale to measure how decent I am.
Among all these things, though for very brief moments, fashion has also been mine and mine only. It has been there when I try on low cut tops in locked rooms. It has been there when I stride with payals on my bare ankles. It has been there when I step out without dabbing my red lips on a tissue paper.
Today as I write about fashion and fail to find a definite word that describes what it means to me, I write for the love of floral kurtis with pockets and pashmina shawls instead. I write for Liberty bazaar and chunnari dupattas. I write for sleeveless tops under baggy T-shirts. I write for ripped jeans and leather khusaas. I write for Fashion; who taught me how to love my body and admire it, even if it’s behind locked rooms or beneath long chaadars.
Bio: Eman is a literature major from Lahore.