If our longing for something is kindled only when someone else sees worth in it, and our choices need constant validation, where is there any room left for individuality?
My relationship with clothes is instinctive — almost emotional. Ever since I was a little girl, clothes have been an integral part of what makes me. Being someone who is slightly reticent, I don’t talk a lot: I let my clothes do the talking for me.
A couple of years ago, during one of my family’s routine Sunday clean-ups, as my mother was sifting through some baksas that had her old sarees, I spotted a florid bottle green fabric tucked somewhere under the pile of 6-yard beauties.“What’s this?”, I asked. “Oh, this. This is a Kashmiri robe that your father used to wear many years ago”, my mother replied.
“I’m keeping it”, I said. And I did.
I have had that slightly ragged robe for three years now, and it has travelled with me everywhere I have gone since. I have worn it on several occasions, and have gotten extreme reactions to it ranging from “Wow, this is fabulous” to “Oh, so you decided to swap personalities with Daler Mehndi today, huh?” All reactions aside, to me, what truly matters is that this piece of garment is one-of-a-kind. It sets me apart and lets me speak a visual language that is my own. It belonged to my dad several years ago and it belongs to me now. That’s precious, at least to me.
Today, the way we view the world and how the world views us has changed. I call it the Age of Instagram, because, really, the influence this photo-sharing platform has had on everything — from our vocabulary to our aesthetic, is mind-boggling. Although I sincerely love it and believe that it’s a remarkable source of inspiration and creative stimulation, I also think that the platform has given rise to a herd mentality. People looking the same, dressing the same, travelling to the same places, curating the same visual stories and saying the same things in the same manner, sometimes often for the sake of Instagrammability.
I won’t lie, I have conformed to the unspoken rules of Instagram expression as well. Umpteen number of times.
An opinion piece by fashion journalist Katherine Ormerod in Harper’s Bazaar presents an interesting perspective on this. Ormerod speaks about the ‘homogenisation of Instagram happiness’ — a set formula for what constitutes a happy and successful life, a life that is likeable (on social media). Ormerod has, on several platforms, shared experiences of when her life was far from perfect, but her Instagram feed needed to be.
Perhaps one of the reasons we tend to stick to formulaic ways of visual communication today, especially on social media, is because conforming is safer (and easier) than standing out. Maybe we fear not being ‘liked’ for our actual self. In this quest to be liked and validated, it’s easy for us to lose sight of who we really are and what makes us different.
One of my favourite fashion figures, Iris Apfel — the 97-year-old “Rare Bird of Fashion” who’s known for her uninhibited and eccentric sense of style, rose to global prominence only in the last decade or so, owing to the burgeoning power of internet technology.
Not a fan of the digital medium herself, however, Apfel attributes people’s addiction to digital tools for their restricted ability to think and to get to know themselves.
Earlier this year, CNN Style posted an article and video featuring Apfel where the luminary talked about the growing lack of individuality in fashion. “The world is becoming so homogenised. It’s very boring. I think difference is what’s so interesting.”, she said.
In the world of fashion, where visuals are key, this growing culture of sameness is hampering creativity at both ends of the spectrum — the consumer as well as the creator. Instagram accounts like Diet Prada are doing excellent work towards documenting and reporting increasingly rampant plagiarism in fashion.
In an interview that I did last year with Geraldine Wharry, a London-based trend forecaster, she complained that a creative block had hit the industry like never before.“I feel there’s a real crisis of creativity in fashion right now. There are often these phrases like ‘future proof’ thrown around and it’s all very anxious. Brands are constantly chasing their consumers and looking at what everyone else is doing. I know this sounds like a bit of a paradox coming from a trend forecaster, but maybe trend forecasting needs to change as well.”, she said.
As an avid (read obsessive) user of Instagram, I understand that the platform can be a huge influence in shaping our ideas, without us even realising it. However, if our ideas are constantly fuelled by what our network is doing, and our network’s by what their network is doing, won’t we all get stuck in a pit of banality? Where will there be any place for authenticity or magic?
On days when I feel stuck in a rut, I find immense pleasure and comfort in opening boxes and drawers in my house and discovering something of my past; my family’s past. It makes me feel closer to myself and my roots. It reminds me of my journey and what makes me unique. It triggers a wonderful creative energy within. This is what my father’s old Kashmiri robe does for me.
I truly believe each one of you has something that’s as important to you. Something that can make your dreary days, meaningful and special. Something that will show you the way when you feel lost. Find what that is, and keep it close. It’s yours and yours alone.8