Being on trend sartorially speaking has been a priority for most of us except for the few who proclaim that they couldn’t be bothered to keep up with everyone else. Usually this minority comprises those whose fashion sense is way off the mark.
But the unsung heroes or heroines are the ones who stitch clothes and help present people in the best light. When we were young, we didn’t have the luxury of buying ready-made garments.
My mother was an accomplished seamstress and made all our clothes. The cloth trader came to our door back then and unfolded bolts of material for our inspection. The choice was limited, but we were happy to be able to pick what we liked. Sometimes our decision was overruled if there was too much squabbling over who got to pick what. In a fit of exasperation, my mum would simply choose one print and buy in bulk. This meant that we three sisters had to put up with having identical dresses, which we hated. Seeing the expression on our faces, my mum would make one small concession. We could choose the colours to make for some variety. The steely glint in her eyes meant that we did have a choice — take it or leave it.
As we entered our teens, we became very fussy creatures and our mum could no longer cope with our demands and fastidiousness. This ushered the advent of the tailor. This was someone who would actually listen to our requests and try his best to duplicate that picture of the dress or blouse carefully cut out from a magazine. But we had to put up with late delivery or some finer details being missed out altogether by the tailor who believed in having the last word.
I have had my fair share of interaction with these tailors, often referred to us by friends. There was a tailor for western wear and another for sari-blouses. I remember one in the latter group who was determined to preserve my modesty whether or not I liked it. Once I had asked him to sew a blouse with a halter top, which was all the rage those days. Imagine my shock when he shook his head and said he would not do it. When I asked why, I was told that such a garment would be much too revealing. We argued back and forth but, eventually, he had his way. The only reason I gave in was because he was good at his work and such tailors were hard to find.
Six yards of cloth
Knowing how important these workers are, I was pleasantly surprised to read that labels or clothes brands have begun giving them their due. One brand stitches the name of the tailor and the weaver on each piece of clothing. It also did a shoot with tailors. Another shares pictures of its workers on its Instagram page and its website.
Co-optex, from the state of Tamil Nadu, attaches a card with each sari which lists the name of the weaver, his location and the time taken to weave the six yards of cloth.
In some cases, the craftsmen have been able to pursue their dreams of educating their children — thanks to the recognition they have received. Some have recounted their experience of being shown greater respect and gaining more negotiating power in their respective villages after their pictures and work were shared on social media.
Such initiatives to give this valuable group of workers their due is commendable. Although the industry is dominated by fast fashion brands, every small step such as this should be encouraged and supported.
I salute the brigade of tailors who have helped me along the path of fashion.
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.