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Kurta Vs Dresses: Why Must My Clothes Decide If I Am Modern Or Not?

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Putting on printed cotton kurta over denim, I walked out of my room to kick start an important day. Just then, my mother stopped me in my tracks and said, “Why don’t you dress smartly like other women?” I told her that I feel confident wearing a kurta. Yes, my mother wants me to wear dresses rather than kurta to look smart. Some would say that my mother is a modern woman and oh how lucky I am as she wants me to wear dresses that most women aren’t allowed to wear. But the definition of freedom can be different for each one of us. It is my personal choice to prefer kurta over anything else, and so wearing a kurta and not a dress is what counts as freedom to me. No doubt that I have a progressive mom. But does being modern mean to dress in short clothes, or to dress as you please? Is modernity a trend one has to follow?

Perhaps all my mother wants is to see me as a smart, confident woman of today but she needs to unlearn these stereotypical beliefs.

I have always tried to analyze why my mother wants me to wear dresses and shorts. This often takes me back to my childhood when I was made to believe that wearing kurta and bindis makes me look “girlish” (demure). Often womanhood is correlated to fragility in our society. But all I wanted was to be a strong person and hence tried to look like one. How, you ask? I tried to dress up like a boy. In fact, I remember having shopped from the boy’s section at a mall and found some kind of validation in announcing to my friends that I am wearing a “boys’ jeans”.

Also Read : What Women Leaders Wear To Parliament Is The Least Of Our Concerns

I think in a similar way today many of us correlate modernity to dresses and short skirts. Or at least my mother does. Because when I asked her why she insisted that I wore more dresses, she said that while there was a time when a woman in her twenties was expected to fill her wardrobe with salwar kurta and dupattas, today, “the more dresses a woman wears, the more modern she is!”

Eventually, a woman remains divested of the freedom to decide whatever she wants to wear or think. She is left grappling with the question of whether she should dress up for herself or for society?

How can the knee-length kurta or a short dress decide a woman’s modernity? But what boggles me more us our society’s hypocrisy and its tendency to label a woman no matter what she wears. Usually, when a woman wears a kurta she is labelled a submissive and dependent “behenji” as opposed to the “modern” woman who wears dresses. She doesn’t even have to open her mouth to speak up because the label will find its way to her even before that. On the other hand, when a woman is raped, it is the same modern sense of dressing that she is victim-blamed and shamed for. The solution to put an end to the increasing rape cases then is that women should wear “decent” clothes like salwar, dupatta and burkha which apparently make her submissive and sanskaari-just the kind that our society approves.

Eventually, a woman remains divested of the freedom to decide whatever she wants to wear or think. She is left grappling with the question of whether she should dress up for herself or for society?

Also Read : To Wear Sari Or Not: Only Women Have The Power To Decide

Who should I dress up for?

I think my mother has internalized that kurta makes a woman look weak and old-fashioned. True, my mother is evolving with time and the fact that she considers western clothes and ideas as the new normal for women proves it. But in the race to cope up with the modernity and make her daughter independent, she prioritising social validation over her daughter’s individuality. It is the society that decides whether a woman is confident, submissive or defiant enough to be assaulted. Perhaps all my mother wants is to see me as a smart, confident woman of today but she needs to unlearn these stereotypical beliefs. Only then will she realise that the fact that I wear what I like reflects my sense of agency and confidence. I don’t need a dress to do that for me.