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Wednesday 17 August 2011

The Power of Clothes

Much to the surprise of friends, family and colleagues I decided to embark on an experiment where I was dressed in the opposite to what I normally wear, for an article that appears in the September issue of Psychologies magazine (out now!). I hold strong beliefs that one should never be told how to dress. We are all individuals perfectly capable of deciding what we like wearing. Some people market themselves as 'experts' in knowing how to dress, something I find very odd. There's no right or wrong answers to fashion. I do understand that not everyone has the time to think about what to wear but I would never agree that a person doesn't possess the 'creativity' to dress themselves. Knowing I would have to wear black clothes for a day filled me with fear, it's something I've never done. It signifies formality, rules and regulations (just stand upstairs at a train station during rush hour and look down on the hundreds of ant like people going about their business in the same shade), it's so suffocating. Then there are girls who wear black because they think it makes them slimmer. I find this really sad, there are so many ways to make your body look good without the need to resort to wearing black.
This is me in the 'before the makeover' photo, looking normal; mixing and matching colours, patterns and textures. It's the kind of outfit that makes me feel full of positive energy. And just to prove it wasn't something I put together for the magazine article I wanted to show you my wardrobe and some photos of me taken over the last decade.
My wardrobe
To tell you the truth, I actually have two wardrobes, this is just one of them. I find it useful to display all my garments, footwear and accessories in one place as it helps visualise outfit combinations. There's no point having stuff tucked away in drawers, they get forgotten about. You can read more about where I source my clothes in a previous blog post of mine and see more about my wardrobe in a V&A Museum book called British Asian Fashion, which was published last year. It is a gorgeous book, especially the cover!
Crafting at home 2002
Looking back at photos of my student days is always really exciting though like most folk I experience pangs of jealously about wishing I could return to such a carefree life. When I wasn't studying for my geography degree I was generally busying myself crafting and looking for fabulous clothes. I made the skirt (and canvas) from fabric bought in Ikea, though sadly as it was made to measure the 21 year old me, it no longer fits : (
University of Sussex graduation 2003
On graduation day I was the only student not wearing black and white and I remember my tutors being extremely excited about it and telling me afterwards now happy Richard Attenborough (his eyes popped out apparently) was when he saw me on stage (I was lucky enough to be handed my certificate by the man himself!) My only regret was when I received my main photograph. The arm clutching my scroll also has a plastic lovehearts watch on, which looked really tacky, but in time I've grown to appreciate this as even though it was a prestigious and traditional occasion, it still captured my style, and who I was aged 22.
Out in the country
When some people go into the country they like to wear colours that blend in to the background like khaki barbour coats or dark trousers - not me! This was taken some years ago on a random visit to the sussex coast where even though it was a long outdoor walk I'm still clutching an Anna Sui handbag.
Glamour puss look 2006
My first book launch in 2006 gave me an excuse to treat myself to a proper Asian outfit. I have always loved them but they are very pricey and out of my budget. I found this gorgeous shalwar kameez in Southall. It shimmers and shines in every direction and is detailed with tiny rainbow coloured sequins.
Weekend attire 2005
At weekends I like to dress comfortably whilst exploring the streets, events and activities of Londinium; this is me in my casual attire. It's the most dressed down I normally get...
At home/just woken up look! 2007
Apart from at home where I tend to live in my dressing gown! This is also a lesser spotted photo of me with no make up on (well I had just woken up!) but that's potentially a subject for a future blog post!
At work 2008
When I'm teaching crafts (one of my jobs!) I like to represent what I'm teaching. This was a fashion course so I dressed accordingly - I'm a strong believer in dressing for the occasion.
The article
So that was just a snapshot of my clothes, (it's always fun looking back at old photos). And now back to the article which is called 'Can what you wear change your identity?'. I am in 100% agreement that the answer is yes. I won't go into repeating what the article says (you'll have to pick up a copy to read that), but wearing something you don't normally wear is proof of that. Being in black made me feel so ordinary and invisible which in turn made me loose my confidence and my smile (though clearly I am smiling below but that was more to do with the 'moment' of being the subject of a photoshoot!)
My 'Make Under'
Afterwards we were given the clothes that we had been styled in to keep but I couldn't face wearing any of them ever again. They symbolised complete oppression, as though they were a 'uniform' so I gave them all away. Maybe I have too much emotional attachment with clothes and maybe other people don't feel this way, they can wear anything and feel completely normal? I actually think most people stay safe by choosing a particular theme to their clothing whether that's smart, casual or vintage; they find their look and stick to it. I've never considered myself to have a theme, but maybe I do, my theme is basically to feel happy and for me that comes through wearing colour. There's is no doubt that clothes are a powerful medium in which to express yourself, but you won't truly feel that until you start experimenting.


  1. Wow Momtaz, love this post. I've been following you for a while on twitter because I love your sense of self that is portrayed in what you do and how you 'wear yourself'. I actually read that article in Psychologies. Can't believe you decided to do it - but just holds that the stylist had no idea how to represent your true personality or work ethic/culture.
    I do remember thinking you looked great in both photos. I say claim yourself be you. Love your grad photo where your all in pink. Continue standing out.

  2. Thanks for your kind words Roisin! We were actually given a graduation handbook that said you can only wear 'black & white' or 'traditional' dress so I went for 'traditionally me.' Your blog looks great btw, I look forward to exploring it further.