“No one over the age of 40 should wear a mini-skirt,” self-proclaimed fashionistas mock me through their blogs, “Unless you want to look like mutton dressed as lamb.”
I read the words, horrified that a fashion blog is comparing me to a piece of meat. On further reading I learn that by definition a mini falls around mid-thigh. On the other hand, a skirt falling two-three inches above the knees qualifies as a short skirt, and can safely be worn by women of all ages.
I rush to find my inch-tape, and note, with some consolation, that most of my skirts qualify as short, not minis. Just as I heave a sigh of relief, I notice, tucked away in a corner of my closet, the single mini-skirt I still possess. I haven’t worn it in years. I pull it out and decide to wear it at once because, while I don’t mean to brag, I have great legs. Legs for days. And as I hit my mid-forties, this much is clear: my great legs are on their last legs.
Excitedly I pull it on and when I try to button it up, I realise I have put on a few inches since I last wore it. I suck in my belly, tighten the button, and feel like I’m going to explode.
“Not bad,” I tell myself, scarcely daring to breathe, and step into the bedroom. My husband looks up from the computer.
“You’re wearing that?” he asks.
“Why? What’s the problem?”
“Oh, nothing,” he clears his throat. “Are you sure it, er, matches?”
I get the hint, squirm out of the tiny fabric and my belly bounces back with a boing. In a final acknowledgement of my age, I hand it over to my daughter, who pounces on it gleefully.
“Enjoy wearing it,” I tell her, thinking back to my own childhood, hopeful that she wouldn’t face the same judgement I did at her age.
I had been wearing short skirts and dresses for as long as I can remember. The only times I would put them away would be during my summer holidays, which were invariably spent in Delhi. My adorable but very punjabi aunts would look at my legs, horrified, and turn to my mother. “You’ve become very westernised, living in Bombay.”
Mother would look startled, mumble something about how I’ve shot up in height even as she’d shoot me dirty looks, and would subsequently insist I change my outfit to cover my knees.
“I don’t have anything longer,” I would whine.
Then, in that Delhi heat, they would pull out the one pair of jeans I was carrying and force me to wear it for the duration of the summer, or until I magically found a suitable alternative in my suitcase. As I sulked through the holidays, they’d attempt to console me.
“Look at Lady Diana,” they would say. “Look at Queen Elizabeth. Knees covered.”
I could look only at them, mouth open in disbelief.
“If you wanted me to dress like royalty, maybe you should have ensured you were royals yourself. Giving me birth in this red-blooded family and wanting me to dress like blue-blood is asking for too much.”
Needless to say, they failed to see the logic in my vastly superior reasoning.
Years passed, and as I grew older, apart from scant references to Indian culture, there was little anyone could say to change my mind. Short skirts won a permanent place in my wardrobe. Although my tastes changed over time, I never outgrew my love affair with this garment. Most of the ones I currently possess stop short just above the knees, not because of websites shaming me into wearing them by showing me unflattering pictures of women of a ‘certain age’ in tiny skirts, but because they are what I am comfortable wearing.
Then last year, when Priyanka Chopra wore a modest dress and met PM Modi in Berlin, boy did she give the trolls something to talk about! So many jobless people suddenly got the fabulous opportunity to lament about the lack of Indian culture in someone who has achieved success on an international scale.
“This is not indian culture,” someone chastised her. “Cover your legs.”
Now where had I heard that before?
Thirty years, and nothing has changed. Maybe it’s time for guardians of Indian culture to grow up and measure women by their achievements, by the lives they touch positively, by the good they do and the talents they bring forth, and not by the length of their skirts.
Leave that to the fashion bloggers.
An abridged version was published in the Deccan Herald on September 12, 2017.