stuff that should be mainstream but isn’t: part 2

Apologies for running away mid-post. I was felled by a vicious sneezestorm (thanks, Spring!) that called for medication. Having popped an Allegra the size of a small tiffin box and rid myself of all sneezes- even the sneaky baby ones- I had to channel my well-ness into academics. Now that that’s over, let’s get back to business.

3. The Hero Belt

The belt is a true outfit-saver, a silhouette-salvager. I’d go so far as to pit it against Spanx, a sartorial drug that’s got a lot of women hooked for life. Except that Spanx is forever doomed to stay under wraps and therefore inspire guilt, shame and maybe even self-loathing in the wearer, whereas the Belt is free to sun itself and show off its amazing circus skills. Worn under the bust, it endows you with la volupté. Worn at the waist, it gives you the gift of proportion, lengthening your lower half. Worn at the hip, it lends definition, yet allowing for breathing room and a food baby. So why aren’t we celebrating the belt? Why is the belt a mere functional necessity, and not the hero of the ensemble?

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Things looked good for the belt when Michelle Obama arrived. She often mixed- and still does- haute couture and high street and used her belt to bring it all together, reconcile high and low. The belt became the focal point of her outfits and outshone every other aspect. Especially ‘that’ Alaia belt, worn so often and with such aplomb that you began to wonder if she wore it to bed, over her PJ’s.

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In Himachal, where I come from, the women of a mountain tribe called the Gaddis wear a black wool belt around their waists, except it’s not the sort of belt you and I have hanging in our almirahs.  These mean-ass belts are black, ropey, and so long (over 50 metres) that they must be wound tightly around the waist for manageability. The women call it ‘Dora’, don’t mind the weight (nearly 2 kilos) and use it to tie and herd their cattle, lift and carry firewood, and negotiate tricky mountain faces. They also claim that it keeps their spines in superb order, which I don’t doubt for a moment, because the oldest, wrinkliest Gaddi woman can lift a grown person with ease (and cackle in a good natured witch-y way for good measure). The Dora is their version of the hero belt.

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anushka khanna

abrathakore

And then there’s the belt-over-sari, a very promising runway trend born in 2009 that hasn’t seen many off-runway takers. It began with Tarun Tahiliani and Anamika Khanna, and has surfaced with the likes of Anushka Khanna and Nikhil Thampi. Whether thin, pliable leather, embellished cloth, or burnished metal, the belt cinches the sari at the waist, instantly transforming the garment into something edgier, more contemporary, and definitely more global in its echo of the classic Graeco-Roman silhouette. The sari pictures above, top to bottom, are Anamika Khanna, Anushka Khanna, and Abraham & Thakore. Of course the belt-over-sari isn’t all new; the bejwelled kamarbandh (or the cummerbund for Brown Sahibs) is part of the bridal trousseau of many Indian women. But it is worn loose and serves no purpose other than making you look vaguely like Goddess Lakshmi, She Of The Agarbatti Calendar.

I don’t own many belts- my priciest is a two thousand rupee tan from Zara, and my cheapest (the pride of my possessions) is a broad printed cloth belt with a tie at each end, scored at the ridiculous price of rupees one-fifty from a sale. Both are well-worn and over five years old, but do not compare with the worn out-est, a long, pencil-thin grey strip of suede that came with a Benetton shirt, but has outlived its friend by helping me structure my many floaty shirt dresses over entire summers. It goes with everything. I just wind it twice around my waist and tie it in a big rabbit’s-ears bow off-centre, and I’m set.

4. The Brooch

Why isn’t everyone wearing one? A brooch can be a clever statement, a witty  accessory and a fail proof conversation starter, and yet, people gad about wearing t-shirts printed with unsubtle pickup lines and lewd visual puns. Gah! I do not want to take you home, Girl Wearing A ‘i’m lost will u take me home’ Tee. On the other hand, if you were wearing a brooch that was a forlorn hedgehog holding an umbrella and looking weepy, I’d gladly adopt you, no questions asked. I’m discerning that way.

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The brooch had its moment of glory parading proudly at the breast of former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a woman who let her pins do most of the talking. Here’s a fascinating excerpt from her interview with Megan Gambino for Smithsonian Magazine:

When did you first use jewelry as a diplomatic accessory?
It all began when I was at the United Nations. It was right after the Gulf War and the United States was pressing for resolutions sanctioning Iraq. During that time I had something dreadful to say about Saddam Hussein on a daily basis, which he deserved because he had invaded Kuwait. The government-controlled Iraqi media then compared me to an “unparalleled serpent.” I happened to have a snake pin, and wore it to my next meeting on Iraq. When the press asked me about it, I thought, “Well, this is fun.” I was the only woman on the Security Council, and I decided to get some more costume jewelry. On good days, I wore flowers and butterflies and balloons, and on bad days, all kinds of bugs and carnivorous animals. I saw it as an additional way of expressing what I was saying, a visual way to deliver a message.

What other messages did you deliver?
I had an arrow pin that looked like a missile, and when we were negotiating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Russians, the Russian foreign minister asked, “Is that one of your missile interceptors you’re wearing?” And I responded, “Yes. We make them very small. Let’s negotiate.” Or, after we found that the Russians had planted a listening device—a “bug”—into a conference room near my office in the State Department, the next time I saw the Russians, I wore this huge bug. They got the message.

So non-verbal communication is one of your diplomatic tactics?
Yes, it’s complementary to the verbal. It’s an icebreaker, an opener.

Did a pin ever land you in hot water?
Definitely. When I went to Russia with President Bill Clinton for a summit, I wore a pin with the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no evil monkeys, because the Russians never would talk about what was really going on during their conflict with Chechnya. President Vladimir Putin asked why I was wearing those monkeys. I said, because of your Chechnya policy. He was not amused. I probably went too far.

I think I’ve established how awesome brooches are. If you’re working at an office filled with jerks, or have been drugged into meeting the obnoxious parents of a Suitor, you can use them to deliver sly and well-timed punches on the nose of Patriarchy. Case closed. Go get yours at Biigii’s Little Shop, run by good friend, fellow feminist and talented crafter Bhuvi Gupta, who puts a lot of love into each one. Each handcrafted piece comes with its own backstory and the ability to elevate both your spirit and your outfit several notches. I’ve worn mine pinned to a favourite felt hat as an ornament, and to the collar of an oversize moss-green jacket. Here’s my haul:

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And here’s my wish list. Bhuvi, are you listening? 🙂

a. a hedgehog in a hat. Because hedgehogs

b. a miniature Baba Yaga. For when I’m nostalgic about childhood

c. a tiny spoon. For when I’m on a dessert safari. (dessert safari. see what I did there? *pats self on back, sprains arm, regrets shady pun*)

d. a wasp. For when I’m meeting my Worst Enemy, whoever they are

e. a ladybug. For when I’m preparing to set the house on fire, not literally of course. Referring perhaps to a big public speech, high stakes presentation, or Important Announcement I may be making

f. a tiny glass heart filled with Real Indestructible Chocolate. To remind me of my Beloved and the seedy cafeteria where we bonded over chocolate edibles

g. a boy with floppy Beatles hair and glasses. To remind me of my Favorite Boy

That’s all for today. Phew! This might take a few more posts to cover. Please stay tuned, and many thanks for visiting!

Gaddan image via Glimpses and Impulses: From A Detached Materialist at blogspot.com

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