I am not showing you my bare back without reason. I promise there is a story. Many moons ago, when I was a little girl, sleeveless blouses were revolutionary and scandalous. In my middle class upbringing, the idea of women showing their bare arms or wearing the saree in a way that the midriff shows was a big taboo. So what did my gorgeous mother do, despite the hushed whispers and raised eyebrows? She bought and wore sleeveless blouses. She wore it with style and grace laughing at all the snickers and criticism.
I, however, never ventured to wear sleeveless anything because my arms were like two thin sticks growing up. Also I was timid and conformist despite my firebrand mom constantly urging me to be confident. When I wore a saree for a special occasion, I always wore blouses with “airhostess sleeves”. When we went to get blouses tailored in my childhood/youth, the tailor invariably asked if we wanted airhostess hata (sleeves). That style was adopted by the stewards of Air India, the only international government airlines of the country. The sleeves of this particular style of blouse were long, the back was severe and covered. A saree, which is 6 yards of fabric, with an airhostess style blouse, if properly donned, could cover every inch of the woman’s skin. It was all very propah, professional and may I say, severe? When I left India in the mid nineties, I came away with that one style of blouse in my head and in my suitcase. I knew no other.
Unbeknownst to me, India burst into the fashion world with its textiles, talented designers, bold cuts, fusion designs and subsequently blouses for sarees saw tremendous improvement in terms of variety and cut. I was completely unaware of all the changes, being far removed from any kind of fashion. One year, I went back home and needed to get a couple of blouses stitched. I sought the help of my fashionista cousin sister. My little cousin took me under her wings like she always has since we were children when it came to fashion. She is a gorgeous woman who really knows clothes and style. Since she was probably 4 years old she had a pronounced sense of fashion and make up which only improved with age. She was tireless in her efforts to bring me up to snuff with make up and fashion. “Didi, wear your hair this way.” “Apply the kajol that way, it will showcase your eyes better.” “Use brown liner instead of black for a natural look.”… so on and so forth. She always urged me to color my hair to hide the white that are getting prominent each day. Except last year, when I went home and she saw my silver highlights, she approved. These silver strands in black hair is the popular trend, I was told. I felt elated to finally have her approval in matter of fashion!! My reluctance to learn how to apply make up did not deter her from trying, bless her heart!
Anyway, she took me to this tailoring shop called Senorita near Hazra road in Kolkata, gave them instructions on the type of blouse she wants for me, sat in a chair and started her scrutiny. The attendant listened to her directions and called the tailor to take measurements. The tailor who walked in was a man. I gulped! A man will be taking my measurements for a short, tight-fitting blouse? After the first few seconds of unease, I relaxed. He was a professional and knew what he was doing without making me feel uncomfortable. Then I yelped! I felt his measuring tape going way down my back, seeking permission from my sister where to stop, which meant how deep the cut of the back of the blouse was going to be.
As his tape went further down my back, I exclaimed, “No, no! Not that much! That is too much exposed. Stop!”
Now, I wear short dresses, shorts and I often wore my sarees in the past to show off my midriff and flat stomach (also a thing of the past). I have no inhibitions about showing my legs so why not the back? You have to understand, someone who wore severe blouses all her life and covered every inch of her back, this deep cut was indeed scandalous. I don’t know why such inhibitions (prudery?) about showing my back while I show my bare legs with no qualms.
Both my cousin and the attendant of the shop, however, paid no heed to my protests, promising me the cut at the back was classy and just right, very fashionable and not exposing any extra flesh that does not need to be exposed. I gave in. And you see the result.