Dressing with a Twist CULTURE & FASHION MASHIN’ By Manaswi Prabhu Sawkar
Updated: Dec 26, 2020
Gone are the days of being made fun of for wearing cultural clothing. Culture is - and should always have been - in.
Growing up “Different”
Growing up in America as an Indian girl, I always felt forced to hide important aspects of who I was. Being Desi (a term used to describe a person of South Asian culture), I quickly realized how different growing up in the United States was compared to growing up in India. I felt skeptical bringing my own homemade lunches to elementary school, because all the other kids would point out how different my food was from the regular cardboard pizzas that the school offered. I remember telling my mom I didn’t want to bring my own food to school anymore so I could avoid feeling different.
My middle school had “Cultural Days” which ended with me being made fun of for wearing a bindi and “weird, colorful clothing.” It seemed as if cultural diversity was looked down upon by the people around me - until fairly recently, as South Asian creatives have decided to embrace our cultural backgrounds and use them to our advantage.
Culture through Tiktok
TikTok has spiraled into a huge platform for creativity and expressiveness within the younger generations. The viral app has followed in the footsteps of Vine - which was the talk of the world in 2014. As the world began to hibernate due to COVID-19, many fashion influencers were able to focus on switching up their style - that’s also the reason why sewing machines made a big comeback this year, too!
Being a Brown Creative
It all started when a cultural fashion trend was born on TikTok. Instagram and Tiktok influencer Milan Mathew (TikTokemail@example.com) ran with an already viral trend, allowing it to transform into millions of TikToks of people sharing their culture through their traditional clothing. In the viral TikTok, Milan featured the sound “Hot Seat” by Billies Baby to appear in Western clothes at the beginning of the video, and then quickly transformed (in sync with the song) into an elegant pink lehenga adorned with beautiful South Asian jewelry.
Milan Mathew has always incorporated Indian clothing and fashion in her daily life. Milan, however, isn’t the only South Asian influencer that uses her background and culture to her advantage.
Sruthi Jayadevan is another South Indian creative content maker whose Instagram page is adorned with bits and pieces of her culture. Her choice of incorporating bindis with every single outfit that she wears - even Western clothes - serves as representation for all of us young brown girls that never saw someone else who looked like us in any form of popular media or fashion trends.
Sruthi also has various TikToks on her page on how to dress up cultural fashion (such as saris and ghagras in Western wear) often choosing to pair loose palazzo pants from Indian dresses with cute crop tops, large traditional jhumkas, and of course, her bindi. I admire Sruthi for embracing her own culture, because up until my second year of college, I wasn’t able to see how beautiful my cultural background truly is. Thus, important aspects of Indian culture are not lost just because we don’t live in our home countries.
Another South Asian influencer I found myself looking up to is Hamel Patel. Like all her other counterparts, she chooses to display her culture by setting up DIY projects and photoshoots. One of my favorite photoshoots she has done featured her utilizing yet another slept-on aspect of Brown culture: our food. As mentioned earlier, many young South Asians were not given a chance while they were growing up to show those outside of their culture how beautiful it truly is. In her photoshoot, Hamel set up a pani puri thali on a picnic blanket. This photoshoot of hers empowered me, as I remember how I used to shy away from the tiniest aspects of my culture, preventing myself from being individualistic as I felt more pressured to fit in.
The Importance of Inclusivity and Representation
When I was younger, I shied away from wanting to dress up like someone from my own background, and I thought sarees and ghagras were only for cultural events. As I grow up now, I have found many amazing women of my culture online who are supportive of their backgrounds, and are not afraid to show everyone how gorgeous our culture is. Because of this, I have been able to spend quarantine exploring the culture I so blatantly ignored for the first few years of my life.