But baring your body to beat the heat is not without its minuses. Women feel that “provocative dressing” is part of modern times, reflecting trends in fashion and thinking. Freedom of expression, they say, includes the way women want to clothe themselves. Modernity is all about broad-mindedness, the right to wear what one wants to.
But social perceptions differ and vary. There is a hidden camera in every community that quietly censors how women dress, analysing the fine line between tradition and innovation. And, often innovation is synonymous with Western wear. Most Indian designers create and improvise on the Western line of clothing. In any case, there is nothing much to create out of a sari. Yes, there is some room for creativity in salwars and kameezes, but these are, in most cases, redesigned to resemble Western silhouettes.
Unfortunately, Western attire is considered not just provocative, but, in some cases, scandalous. Unbelievable, but true, at least to a large extent. That, in short, is the Indian mind set.
Somewhere along, Western clothes came to be identified with a vampish woman with wayward ways. Remember those sexy dances of Helen in Bollywood cinema, where she wore revealing attire (usually short dresses) and danced to seduction and sound! The poor woman was the vamp, projected as an anti-thesis to the heroine, an epitome of virtue and goodness, and her costumes signified this in all their class, elegance and modesty.
In recent years, television serials have been promoting this view with great aggressiveness. Santosh Desai, president of McCann Erickson, says, “Just look at how the daily soaps make a clear demarcation between good and bad. The vamp has a more strident appearance – makeup, skimpy Western clothes and even the big bind – indicating aroused and awakened sexuality”.
Though Western wear may be common in India’s metros, women are still diffident about how far they can go in them. A woman may liberally bare her midriff by sporting a pair of low-waist jeans and a very short top at a party. But she may not be as daring when she walks on the streets or is out buying groceries.
Yet, designer Sonia Singh quips that “I get a lot of orders for tube tops, miniskirts and suits with fancy necklines and plunging backs. My clients give references from movies and television serials”.
All this sounds great, but the right to dress as one pleases must be exercised with the right dose of caution. As much as women may want to attire provocatively, they must understand appropriateness. I remember how a friend of mine was asked to step out of a church in Rome because she was not dressed for the solemnity of the occasion or place.
In the final analysis, this is what it is: appropriateness. Can one sport a bikini in a bar? Can one pull up a mini skirt to walk into a temple? Can one a wear body suit to a court of law? The answer in each case is a firm no. So dress, dress up or dress down, but use the power of discretion to make sensible choices.
(Webposted May 15 2007)