Image description: Identitical outfits are hung on a clothes’ rack
Fashion is a crucial part of anyone’s life, but students in particular revel in the ability to shapeshift with scraps of fabrics and bands of metal. It’s no secret that platforms such as Instagram and Tik Tok mould and master trends nowadays using a combination of increased consumption of social media and collaboration across platforms that resurrect old styles and innovate new ones. These ‘resurrectors’ and innovators tend to represent one section of society: the conventionally attractive white section. The overwhelming feeling of ‘outsiderism’ and obscurity that comes with being a person of colour in a majority white society creeps into every facet of life, which for me, includes the items of clothing I pick out of my wardrobe every morning.
It is difficult to fully describe the process of taking in fashion trends and makeup styles, attempting to replicate them, and deciding that the absence of whiteness in your skin precludes you from entertaining the vision you had. Perhaps trivial compared to the myriad of other issues people of colour face, this is surely one of the more insidious ones. This impact of racist structures appears particularly evil to me because it is contingent upon me making choices about my own life and existence- choices whose consequences are private. I’m lucky to have a circle of friends who are incredibly expressive and fashion plays a big role in the outpouring of that expression. This is a double-edged sword because there is a constant awareness of the fact—or what to me is fact—that none of it is made for me.
These ‘resurrectors’ and innovators tend to represent one section of society: the conventionally attractive white section.
Intersectionality plays a huge role in my life and its different cross-sections are relevant to different aspects of my existence. Existing as a plus-size woman of colour in a complex of fashion that dominates not only Western society but the entire world, makes it challenging to ever feel comfortable in a conversation about clothes, so much so, that even the act of browsing clothes’ racks leads me to be uncharacteristically quiet. It’s a blunt fact that in the fashion industry slim, white women are the ones who simultaneously produce and conform to societal standards of beauty. If one doesn’t mirror these features, it becomes difficult to reflect the style as well. This sentiment of only visiting the edifice of fashion and never becoming a permanent resident has tinged my choices since I was fourteen, and at twenty, it’s heartening to see the progress in the industry. But a sense of belonging still evades me.
It’s a blunt fact that in the fashion industry slim, white women are the ones who simultaneously produce and conform to societal standards of beauty.
I acknowledge that these sentiments are my own conceptions of fashion, based on the media that I consume, but contemporary culture makes it impossible to avoid such influences. Being a student in one’s late teens and early twenties is conditional upon a social media addiction, and circumstances of the past year have not made this relationship easier. The pandemic has created an environment where we are compelled to build our own world since the one we knew before has temporarily shut down. Together with social media—a limiting but widespread resource—this compulsion has reignited the exclusivity of fashion, easy enough to witness with the recommendations on ‘For You’ and ‘Explore’ pages that edge out other content from the matrix. Such online spaces may have replaced catwalks and runways but those who are spotlighted remain the same.
I have a fine line to walk each morning when deciding what to wear for the day. Part of me is addicted to gaudy clothing and wants to look like a walking, talking patchwork-quilt, but another part of me feels the need to slip into the shadows, and divert any attention away from my skin colour in an environment where it already sticks out enough. Being South Asian adds its own beautiful complexity to my relationship with fashion. The de-sexualisation of South Asian people, the pop-culture trope of categorising us as nothing but the pitiful sidekick, and the consistent cultural appropriation makes me want to give up the dream of ever stepping out in a look that truly emulates anything about me.
Despite the pessimism of the foregoing words, I am hopeful that fashion will become less of a constructed box to climb into and more of a serious means of expressing the individual. Reflecting on the past few years of my life, particularly the transition from sixth form to University, it has become clear to me that feeling comfortable enough to disrupt the socially-manufactured persona given to me on a silver platter is crucial to separating my skin colour from my clothes.
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