For someone born, bred, living and thriving on the throb of Kolkata, moving to Chicago meant more than travelling the few thousand miles. It meant leaving my job, my friends, family to stay here alone with my husband. I don’t know whether that is supposed to be pathetic or romantic, or both, but that’s the way the die has been cast. And you can dye the die to make it change either colour or course.
But talking of colour and leaving things behind, let’s talk this week about clothes — more specifically, how I am trying to fit in. Now, you see, it didn’t take knowledge of rocket science to realise that I had to forget about anything resembling Indian wear here, and that includes my trusted cotton tops from South City as well.
Now, get me the handkerchief. Okay, since you cannot locate it, I’ll soldier on and explain why I mentioned that place. You see, in dear old Kolkata there are three proper, easily accessible malls: South City in South Kolkata, Forum in proper Kolkata, and City Centre where you go for long drives. So what stopped me from getting my cotton tops here, you ask? The weather here, I reply.
Coming from perhaps India’s most humid city, I am a cotton fanatic. But here in Chicago, or America’s “Windy City” to give the cliché some space, I can gleefully wear polyester and not sweat like a pig.
But back to my suitcase in Kolkata, which was open out and metamorphose into my wardrobe in Chicago: so frilly, lacy cotton tops were out. My favourite kurta-salwar combo was out as well. And, definitely no saris. I recently had to wear a lot of them before, during and post-wedding and though I loved them and I think they make me look the best — in fact, I think they make every woman look her best — that is a tale to be told another day.
So all I got to bring were my denims, knit tops and some of the dresses I had bought from my previous visit to the US. They were the best clothes in my wardrobe back in Kolkata — they were smart, colourful and I thought I was all set.
I was so not!
First things first: dressing in the US means dressing in “non-colored” clothes. It’s like E = MC²; a formula that people in most big cities here take for granted. I really do not get it. Why would people want to wear only shades of black, blue and browns? Maybe because they mix with the weather, my friend suggested.
But how dumb is that? Why would you want to mix with your background? I have always thought you would want to stand out. (I mean I did: I have found myself standing outside the class a zillion times, but that’s, as they say, a tale for a better weather day!) All my life I have heard how lucky I am. And why is that? Because of that simple Indian notion that I am fair skinned, and can wear all sorts of bright colours.
I think they need to hear this more here in the US.
Colour? That’s for Hawaii
Colours here are for teenagers, which brings me to the bigger point: they have specific dress codes for every age group here. On second thought, not exactly unlike India, where young girls are allowed to wear denims and tees but as soon as they are married they graduate to the “grown-up” section and should wear sarees or kameezes. And if they wear anything different, they come from a more open-minded set of people — peppered with a liberal dose of the term liberal. Lucky them!
But there I go again, deviating. The point, you see, is to stick to the point, and the trick to wear things right here is anything dark and lots of make-up (please no colour here as well) and heels. That is your made-up look.
The “very casual” look is denim — people do not wear skin-fitted denim here, unless they have the body to show it off, but since I do not care I wear whatever I used to in Kolkata — and tee and sneakers. I think if you have enough of these few items, and in varying shades of dark colours, then Al Capone, sorry Chicago, is calling you.
Coming back to poor me, I have this really smart purple top which is a little balloon-shaped. Till coming here, I really liked that top and wore it quite a bit with a jegging, which by now everybody knows in India.
The first time my husband saw it here, out came the straight-faced comment, “You look like a block of wood.”
Lesson: they consider such tops shapeless here.
I did try to work up a bit of rage — he is an engineer working in IT and I have a degree in fashion from NIFT, so what would he know of fashion, I told myself — but even I knew it was inane to fight age-old ideas with rage, especially rage of a “block of wood”! So out it went.
Mind you, however, I did get compliments on my attire back at my office in Kolkata, where I worked for a reputed fashion designer, who will remain anonymous here. So, I knew my attire could not be that bad, but apparently my husband, and locals here, thought otherwise.
I should have ideally teamed it with a slightly darker shade of purple tee, which fits me from my top to bottom with a bell-bottom denim and sneakers.
See, I know I can say in a few words that Americans are the worst dressers and be done with it. But then they are not: they dress according to their body type. They dress more for convenience rather than fashion. They usually wear these kinds of tees because they need to wear a thick sweater or a jacket on top and it will look really silly if they have something balloon like underneath that.
They wear dark colours because… remember basic science theory? Black attracts more sunlight and white doesn’t? So that’s the long and short of it: they tend to wear darker colours to feel warmer.
Obviously they will not invest so much to buy brighter colours for only two months of summer — and even then it rains most of the time. To give them more credit, some people still do: they buy shorts and pair them with nice little colourful tops. But you can only wear them during the day because by sunset it becomes chilly again.
Trust me, I have gone through the same problem.
Fashion, though, depends to a large extent on the city you are based in. New York, for instance, has more people who dress up and accessorise their outfit with nice little belts, shoes or bags. In Chicago also people who live downtown, or move around there, dress a lot more differently than in the suburbs.
Bit getting back to the point about retaining focus on your point, whatever you do, do not forget the two basics: fitted clothes and denims as per your body type, or else just be like me. And give a damn to what others think, including your partner.