How do you organise your wardrobe? Perhaps you have summer and winter clothes which get packed away appropriately. Or maybe you have work-wear sectioned off from your weekend clothes. Most people have some kind of a system, however loosely organised it is. If you’re South Asian you’ll most likely have, in addition to all this, a whole other section or wardrobe- your Indian outfits. All those lenghas, saris, shalwars… And then there’s all the jewellery, usually colour coordinated, and usually lots of it. And what with all the weddings, religious festivals, family functions and did I say weddings that we Asians go to, you’ve probably amassed quite a collection over the years.
But how often do you actually wear your Asian clothes, other than for special occasions? Have you ever worn a lengha to work?! No probably not, unless you work in the Asian fashion or retail industry. And yet, this aspect- the ‘Asian part’, is arguably a very significant part of who we are. However fashion conscious you may or may not be, no one can deny that the way we dress is an expression of who we are. So are we expressing the ‘British’ part of our identity first, while the ‘Asian’ only comes out at special occasions and when we’re around family?
Well clearly identity isn’t that cut and dry. But it is funny how, for British Asians, our wardrobes are almost like metaphor for our identities. We do keep the two worlds separate simply because that’s practical and functional: most of us dress in a manner that is appropriate to the community and workplaces that we are a part of.
But then again, there is also a third space: that place where the lines of British and Asian are blurred, where the two cultures meet and hopefully blend. Bindis, choorae and mehndi can acceptably be worn with jeans. A long khameez top can be worn with leggings…and so the fusion wardrobe is born. There’s one Asian mum who I see at the school gates, who often beautifully combines a kurta top with smart jeans. I happen to know she often rushes between meetings and the school run, so this is actually her work wear too.
However loosely you identify with your South Asian heritage, it is still a defining part of who we are, so it should be incorporated. There are lots of ways to do this, even if it’s just a subtle hint or nod at being Desi. How about adopting some of the current high street trends which are a ‘bit Asian’? This season, the kurta top hit the British high street thanks to Zara as did Asian jackets, as sported by Kendall Jenner, available in River Island.
We don’t need to wait for our fashion to go mainstream before we adopt it. However you choose to do it, fashion is a great way to express identity. We should celebrate our South Asian heritage, rather than pack it away until the next family party.