Origins of Fashion

by Falaknaz Chranya

Photography courtesy of Noor Nasser

Clothing has long been one of the most powerful tools in how people express themselves: black for an edgy vibe, navy blue for something sleek, pearl white for a classy, elegant look, hot pink for something fun and flirty. However, clothing and accessories can tell an individual’s tale even before he, she or they decide what to wear as they sleepily stare into their closets. The story begins something like “Once upon a time,” and sometimes includes “long ago”—maybe even “in a faraway land.” The story explains how and why this individual became the owner of specific pieces in his or her wardrobe.

Sure, it is sometimes better to take art at face value without assigning meaning to every miniscule detail, like whether Barbie pink or fuchsia have different meanings in terms of expression, but other times, what engenders appreciation for someone’s style or an article from their closet is learning the personal connection or backstory behind the piece.

Chitra Jagannathan (CFA ’21) bought a denim jacket from Goodwill in West Campus. She sat with friends one day, while watching Halloween movies, and embellished it with gold detailing and rose patches. The jacket has large, gold safety pins making X’s in a horizontal line along the back; underneath that on the left side are patches of rose embroidery, sewed by hand. She said whenever she wears it, she not only remembers the “good time [she] had with [her] friends,” but also loves how many people compliment her and tell her they want to try something similar.

Avsar Rana’s (CAS ’20) favorite item in his wardrobe is a watch that has been in the family for years. After “secretly saving up for a year while they were broke,” his mom bought the watch for his dad. He was pleasantly grateful; a generation later, Avsar owns this watch, given to him as a gift from his dad. As much as his father loved the sentiment, Avsar can now bring that memory to life as he remembers the story every time he wears the watch.

Another piece that has traveled through generations is Kavya Raghunathan’s (CAS ’17) black, vintage button down top. It goes so far back in time to her grandfather, who bought it for his daughter “when she first moved to America.” Not only is it a reminder of her grandfather but it is also an embodiment of all the emotions her mother felt during this transition.

A jacket, watch or top may be more than it seems on the surface. These pieces would not necessarily be found at any retail store today; they came from somewhere much more personal, and the story of their origins now becomes a part of the individual’s story. By learning the piece’s backstory, others are better able to understand what the individual seeks to project to the world with his or her own fashion. However, the most beautiful part of the story may be that a “the end” has not been determined.