PHOTOGRAPHER Victor Gutierrez
ALL CLOTHES thrift store finds
My model, Kiran, is a perfect example of a lady who can maintain her poise while connecting to the many influences of contemporary life. She comes from a traditional South Asian family, but is a first generation American. She recognizes the need to honor her family's cultural traditions; surrounding herself with textiles and tapestries with ethnic distinction and ancient spiritual references, and maintaining much of her mother's traditional cooking as a major part of her diet.
Yet she also wants to create her own path. She's influenced by the American society around her, where women have taken on new, powerful roles in the many relationships in their lives. She regularly re-evaluates where her traditional and modern values clash to create harmony within herself. As she likes to put it, she's "expressing her diverse cultural identity: to be both South Asian and American... one culture does not have to negate the other."
Kiran works as a teacher, where she's confronted daily by the newest generation of students. In her attempt to encourage her students' interest in learning, her work requires her to embrace the culture of a new generation. She also needs to keep the students' and her own emotional states in check and her classroom in order. She needs to be - and appear to be - a professional, authoritative figure. Her personal interests can often diverge from this classroom persona. In the classroom, she generally wears heels and professional separates, while her weekend appearance, with it's ethnic-hippie flavorings, might jar her students who look to her expecting stability and sobriety. Thus there are times when she feels her clothes are at odds with her complete being, giving her a bit of a wardrobe identity crisis.
I offered to help Kiran address this issue, creating Spring looks that express her personal interests and passions using color, textiles, and accessories, while mixing in structured, tailored silhouettes to address her professional need to look stately, mature, and polished. I see no reason why the two can't be in harmony all week long if approached the right way. I suggested that she ask a couple of questions when she got dressed for school: Do I look like a caricature of one of my high school teachers? On the weekend: Do I look too New Age-y in these combinations? Do I look like too typically "Indian" in this outfit? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, I suggested she follow up with: What item is pushing this outfit too far in the direction of either stereotype? Once the troubling item is pinpointed, trade it out for something from the opposite side - if leaning toward school marm, throw on a colorful batik scarf. If leaning toward hippie, throw on a blazer. Mix it up so no one theme overwhelms any other. After all, there's no one obvious theme resonating within most people's being.
She may not be wearing tie-dyed tights to class anytime soon, but I hope that our experiment encouraged a new way for her to look at dressing for work and life. There's no reason why anyone should ever feel disconnected from themselves while they're trying to keep up with other people's expectations. The more in line your appearance is with your heart, mind, and soul, the better the universe will know how to receive you in an appropriate manner.