Growing up in India, I use to call them ‘frocks’. For a large part of my childhood, these were hand-stitched by my mother. Summers called for ones made of cotton and mul (muslin), but my mother also made them in ‘synthetic materials,’ a term she used for all materials that weren’t cotton, or silk. I don’t think I ever had frocks made of pure silk.
My kaka (a term Gujaratis use for their father’s brother) had a garment factory in Dar-es-Salaam, and he would often get some swatches of synthetic fabrics. My mother would fashion these into frocks, curtains, covers for my writing desk…Sometimes my dress and desk cover would be from the same swatch of fabric.
I had no idea when I was a teenager or even later that dresses can be, and should be categorised into day dresses, evening wear, summer wear, formal dresses or such.
I just loved them, and perhaps this love of dresses came from watching Tina Munim, the yesteryear Indian actress, sport some lovely ones in her movies, or for the fact that I simply loved the shape of them.
Once I started earning I would give into my indulgence and pick a dress or two from exhibitions or small, independent retail stores. These weren’t expensive; I was always a budget buyer. But the ones I picked up for myself were certainly beautiful (or so I thought) and a far cry from the ones my mother made for me. Once, I remember, she had made a dress using an old pressure cooker gasket, and on the front of my homemade dress was this large upright flower made of lace and a covered-in-fabric upcycled cooker rubber gasket.
This past month, I took a small trip with my girlfriends here in Ireland. As I picked up dresses to pack, I reached out for a black and white number. I had bought it in 2013 from a place that a friend had recommended – it sort of merged all kind of brands and non-brands together for really dirt-cheap prices. It had cost me Rs 350 in Bangalore then – something akin to 4 or 5 Euros. I was so thrilled then, and I promptly wore it on Women’s Day to a flea market. I remember hopping from one stall to another on that day, buying a graphic portrait of Marilyn Monroe, a handloom bedsheet, and feeling all brand new in what I thought was a bargain buy! It’s still a prized and much-loved part of my wardrobe, and in Ireland I often wear it with a pair of tights.
There seems to be little or no wear and tear, though I have certainly filled the dress in as I steadily put on weight over the years.
Back from the trip, as I did the laundry, I realised that there are so many ‘dresses/’frocks’ in my wardrobe, some that date back to a decade or more. There was this one dress that I had picked up from a trip to Mumbai. After delighting me for well over a decade, it has happily found a new owner now. A family friend’s daughter is the same size as me and she was very glad to receive it.
I distinctly remember how I had chanced upon that particular dress. I was with my friend Swati (who’s also the co-founder of The Good Story Project) and she had taken me to the Lokhandwala complex in Andheri. A brown dress in a floral pattern and delicate lace hung from the facade of a stall, calling out to me like a siren. I wanted to rein in my buying impulses and turned away from the dress, and its alluring ways, only to have Swati say, “Prerna, buy this one. I have a feeling you will look like Priyanka Chopra in this.”
I don’t think either of us were a fan of Chopra (an Indian actress), but I bought the dress nevertheless.
I am happy that it has found a new home, with a woman who seems to love it just as much as I did, but the memory of Swati’s Priyanka Chopra comment still stays with me and makes me laugh.
Then there’s a more recent purchase. Dating back to about three years ago. I was in India, and was shopping for a dress that I could wear at a wedding registry ceremony of a niece in London. I zeroed upon two dresses – one in pale green, and another a sexy number in deep purple, full of machine-made lace. Purple is my favourite colour but I was torn. I loved the pista green of the other dress; for some reason that colour and the fall of the dress made me feel like it was something a Parsi lady would wear. (Parsis whose name means “Persians,” are descendants from Persian Zoroastrians who emigrated to India, and I love the way their women carry themselves; their distinct sense of style and fashion.)
I sent photographs of both dresses to two friends in Reading, and though they said the purple number was very elegant, I came home with the pista green. I wore this dress recently on the girls trip and all the memories came flooding back to me. Do all women do this? Taking dresses in the tiny cubicles of trial rooms, and calling up their friends for a consult and advice?
Then there was a red dress; I don’t have it now but I remember a cousin had rebuked me for buying that one; she said that the red was too bold and not something that looked good on a 30-year-old. Somehow, whenever I look at the pic (I have two pics in the dress, both with my niece), I am reminded of that comment.
Does it happen to you too? Every piece of clothing you own has a memory, a story behind it? Something that you remember every time you take it off the hanger and put it on?