You should not design your own clothes unless you are a fashion designer or Victoria Beckham, if then.
I am reminded of this through my current international travel foray (is that a tautology? Perhaps I should just say “my current international foray,” but then that spoils the next bit of idiomatic wossname, platiitude,) which broadens the mind. Let us hope, then, that exposure to the diverse style standards of us jetsetters serendipitously broadens the mind of the ingenues and arrivistes at international hubs like Dubai. Yes, I’m people watching in the DXB lounge again but after last April’s panic, I have made sure to set my watch to Dubai time to avoid the unnecessary rush lest I miss my Gatwick flight.
I first caught sight of him in lounge at the new Mumbai international airport, named after the Maratha hero Shivaji. It was the shininess of his shirt that first caught my eye combined with the telltale creases that proclaimed to the world that this was a new shirt that he had not first put through a wash. Schoolboy error, you might think, but this look is surprisingly common among the clueless. How full of pride he must have been at selecting the shiny white silk satin! How the boxy cut would cover his ample curves! I’m only sorry I did not manage to whip my iPhone out and take a picture of him to show you. You’d realise immediately what I meant.
The man was sitting in front of me on the flight to Dubai so I had plenty of opportunity to study his cinnabar red, individually gold edged, (monogrammed?) shirt buttons. How chunkily befitting a man of such stature! He cast such a disdainful scowl at me in my purple dress and white denim jacket. I am obviously a style pygmy, and not just because I’m only 5′ tall.
I managed another eyeful when he waddling alighted from the plane. I was directly behind him and, power walking past him, managed to get a good view of the back of his trousers. Black satin and flowing. I kid you not. I’m sure in his mind he is Hrithik Roshan just as I am Angelina Jolie-Wolie in mine, and the thought will never once have crossed his mind that perhaps his attire (in Indian English: attires) might not be taken for appropriate buisnesswear. Mate, you’re trying to close a deal wearing flowing silk pyjamas. I’m just flying home.
There is a reason why clothes that are commercially available, or indeed available as couture, are designed by proper designers with talent and qualifications and skills and that. It is because they know what will look good and what will decidedly not look good. Unless they’re exceptionally skilled, amateurs will always get this wrong.
When I worked trying to sell hugely expensive industrial materials to the Chinese I flew in and out of Hong Kong, then another crossroads of the world. It probably still is but I haven’t been there since 1990. I remember being able to spot from a fairly long way away the difference between the Hong Kong Chinese and the newly enriched Taiwanese travellers. The Hong Kongers were so beautifully willowy and stylish in their casual cotton Giordano and Crocodile polo shirts and Levis, stylish spectacles, the latest electronic accessories (in those days this was the micro boom box) and Fendi baguette bags and Gucci loafers. How pulled together they all were.
In contrast, the Taiwanese tourists at the airport were a ramshackle homespun bunch of clashing colours and manmade fibres. Badly cut trousers, sweatshirts with meaningless logos; trainers and those large plastic bags with stuff sticking out of them. You get the picture. This is the look all too often seen in India now.
I ascribe this to the availability of local tailors. We often have an idea of what we like but maybe not what suits us or what’s current. Giving our ideas to local tailors is disastrous. I’m not impugning their skill, more that few of us know exactly what we should be wearing to flatter, fit and fit in. And we are calling the tune for the tailor. I used them myself as a student in China and managed to cook up some real sartorial horrors for them to make up. Often they weren’t even very skilled.
Here in the Gulf states they have it easy. The men all wear flowing white robes with matching headdresses and there seems no variation, although up close I’m willing to bet that there’s a Dior version of the thobe. Who knows what the women are wearing under their black abayas, sometimes embellished at the cuffs, often accompanied by black gloves and full face masks. How hot this must make them. At least, though, their fashion disasters are not on show to everyone.
To be fair, it took me 40 years to reach the point of being aware of the appropriateness of what I was wearing. As an ingenue sales person and interpreter; then a management consultant I became aware of being appropriately dressed. But living in Paris was the real eye opener. One faux pas with the clothing and one was liable to incur the wrath of 12 million Franciliens. It was a lesson that has stood me in good stead.
He was quite an eyeful, the man in the silk pyjamas. I wonder what he’s up to now.