Contre-mode - Issue 01

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Issue 01 April 2022

Fashion is a way to express yourself. I think it’s cool that the clothing we wear can make people understand who you are without having to talk to you or know you yet–it’s a good way to represent what you like. What you wear can say so much about you. For me, fashion is a reflection of how I want the people around me to perceive me and what I represent. An example is when I got my haircut awhile back and asked for a “shag style” (long mullet), my hairdresser immediately knew that I was into retro aesthetics; she could see it just from my outfit. Growing up, I was trying to blend in, and people were always telling me what to wear, especially coming from a conservative background. The idea of standing out, especially as a plus size person, was out of the question. It was always “don’t show off your stomach”, “always wear loose clothing so that it doesn’t show your curves”. That took a toll on me. Fashion was my saviour, because through it I started gaining confidence and started really representing who I am. When I first got into fashion, I was mostly into the style from the 1950s and 1960s. It was very hard because that era relies highly on the portrayal of thinner women with even thinner waists. For example, Twiggy was a major icon of the time and was incredibly skinny. I feel like I belong more with the late 1960s, and then the 1970s to the 1990s, because that was when plus size women were becoming more accepted in society.

When I lacked confidence, my fashion lacked expression. I didn’t have my own identity, it was almost like a “loss of identity”. When you feel that you look good and that you’re expressing yourself, it builds so much confidence. It was a whole process for me to become that way, and not being told what to do and being more independent played a large role in it. To acquire the pieces I want, I mostly go to thrift stores or online shop; UK based stores such as ASOS and ModCloth, I love what they offer for Plus size women. Montreal, where I’m currently based, is really not a good space for me to find clothing in my size. I still remember when I bought my prom dress, I absolutely hated it. I used to go shopping with friends and they’d go to stores like Zara, and I remember being with them and yearning for pieces that would fit me. I felt left out and I’d get stares from the workers that said “what is she doing here? We don’t accommodate her size”, and it made me feel so uncomfortable.

Fashion Beyond Numbers

I watched a lot of movies from the 1950s years ago – at least 300 classic films a year. Naturally, growing up, I was really inspired by Audrey Hepburn (and still am). She’s definitely my muse. But you don’t see a lot of plus size representation in the media, and if there is, it’s usually the stereotypical side character, the nerd or lazy kid. Pop culture definitely plays a big role in the negative portrayal of plus-sized people. In fact, I can’t even think of a singular plus-sized public figure that I look up to; most of the people that influence me are thin models.

The barriers that I face with fashion – there are so many that I don’t even know where to begin. I think that it’s so frustrating to look at online stores I love that perfectly encapsulate the style I want, but they don’t offer my size. It always has me thinking “oh if I were thin I could wear so many things, I could go even crazier”! I also realized just how expensive plus size clothing is, and when I go thrifting for cheaper alternatives, a lot of people tend to buy the plus-sized items to get the oversized look. All I could think is that there are plus-sized people out there that could actually wear these pieces! It just breaks my heart when I find items I’m in love with and they’re not my size at all. I think that’s one of the reasons why I really want to learn how to sew and just get my own fabric, or even design my own patterns. I know my body more than companies know my body. It would be amazing to have more plus-sized people working within the fashion industry, to represent not just themselves but others like themselves. Also, seeing more advertisements targeted towards our body types, rather than constantly being bombarded with the idealized thinner model body, would have a very significant impact. Rather than representing this main idealized culture, I think it’s really important to represent the subcultures around fashion. If a store is offering sizes 1-12, then why can’t they just offer more sizing? Offer all the sizes? Why stop at 12? In a way, they’re limiting themselves too, not just us. If you can do up to a size 12, you can add on more sizes I’m sure. I also just hate the idea of numbering – we always talk about thinking outside of the box... so why are we limiting ourselves? We’re numbered for everything, we always have this label that is meant to depict who we are. But at the end of the day, it’s all subjective. We need to think outside of the box and be more inclusive.

When I was a kid, I really hated being dressed up. My mom would style me up for parties and would put me in dresses and I would hate it. I didn’t like the silhouettes and I didn’t like the colours; I wanted to run around, preferably in pants or shorts, so I found dresses to be very impractical. I was like, “this is not for me”. I always felt safer in pants, and when I started choosing my own clothes, I went for dark colours, which I think was Avril Lavigne’s fault. And Miley Cyrus, who had just hit her emo era. And who else, Paramore? I was constantly looking at all these girls who were very emo, but who were also very boyish in the way that they were dressing. None of them wore dresses, or at the very least were not girly at all in the way that they presented themselves–I never looked up to the people that were.


How I grew up, femininity and “being a girl” were very linked to the way that you dressed. “Pretty girls” were expected to keep clean and wear dresses, and if you were out at like one of the little kids’ parties, the girls wouldn’t play the games to their full capacity because they didn’t want to get dirty. If we wanted to play a game of tag, they’d never run hard enough to actually make sense of the game, because they didn’t want to fall, or mess up their shoes, or whatever. I was the complete opposite, so to me it made sense that I’d dress in more boyish clothing. I also didn’t have any specific purpose to be donning such frilly, expensive attire; I was never particularly uptight over how I looked, I didn’t really care.

collective perception

of femininity has definitely changed, even for me, now that I’m way older. We’ve all been made aware of androgynous fashion, and how dressing in a feminine way is a choice and doesn’t equate to any signal of gender. It doesn’t make you any less of a woman to dress in pants, or wear darker colours, or being more “masculine”.

The Feminine Logique

To me, fashion was a lot about practicality and what I felt comfortable with at the time, but it’s definitely been a struggle, especially in my early teens. I always felt very insecure in my body, it would waver because I was a dancer, so I was always very aware of how everything looked on me and the way my own body moved. The dancing brought me confidence but at the same time made me overly selfconscious about what I looked like, so it was a love-hate relationship.

I hope we’re leaning towards a more androgynous way to present ourselves because I feel like that’s more comfortable for everybody–nobody feels obligated to dress in a certain way to be perceived how they’d like to. I think most people are still very much leaning towards the idea of a girl wanting to appear pretty and desirable, because it’s all linked to the aspect of patriarchy and misogyny that’s so deeply embedded in our society. When you’re looking for a partner, if you want to be pretty, or seen as attractive, you must look a certain way. I feel like masculine looking girls aren’t as attractive to men, straight men specifically, because of all the beauty standards. Obviously, it’s not a strict rule, and there are definitely exceptions, but for the most part I’ve found that most men are attracted to feminine looking women. If you want to go out or go on a date, you tend to put on a more girly outfit, without even thinking about it. For the most part, I feel people still accommodate those traditional masculine vs feminine ways of dressing, especially in those environments. Hopefully we’ll go towards a more androgynous route; I feel like it’s definitely more accepted nowadays, especially around younger people. If a girl is more masculine, or a boy is wearing a skirt, no one will really say anything, despite most people still dressing masculine if they identify as men, and feminine if they identify as women.

The way I grew up, being feminine was perceived as being a sort of weakness, in the sense that people would use it against you. If you dressed really femininely, chances are you were going to get harassed. That’s just how it was for me. Going out in a skirt meant you were probably going to get groped. This was the way I rationalized it and came to terms with the idea of dressing more masculine. Billie Eilish has spoken out about this as well – when she was a minor, she didn’t want to get harassed or receive any comments on her body, which is why she always wore such baggy clothing. It’s the same situation for me when I go out with friends. Of course, I’m going to get ready because I want to feel and look good, but I’m not going to wear clothes that I know will raise the chances of me getting harassed. If I’m going to shake my ass at a club or concert, it’s going to be in pants, not in a skirt. I don’t want to be around a bunch strange straight men in a skirt. For me, that is just a reason to be paranoid and I just don’t feel comfortable. Also, at least in pants I feel like you can fight back and have more range of motion. It’s a lot about safety and that aspect to me, which is messed up when you think about it. I guess that tells you a lot more about society than it does me. It’s the own patriarchal society’s fault, the whole binary gender, toxic masculinity vs femininity thing that we’ve created. It’s something we made up that otherwise doesn’t really exist – when people say everything is a lie, I’m starting to believe it.

Editor’s Note: The greatest thing about the fashion world is that it is constantly evolving and moving forward; as our world views and technology progresses, we are introduced to new ways of approaching, representing and creating fashion. How can ‘what’s to come’ benefit us?

Vrinda Patel User: Vrinda Patel Location: Tkaronto Pronouns: She/Her Occupation: Multidisciplinary designer

I have health issues that make me get bloated, and when I’m bloated, I don’t feel good mentally, it just makes me really self-conscious. Because I’m busy, I don’t have time to focus on those feelings, and so I find the best way of doing that is to wear a silhouette that’s very loose; oftentimes I’ll pair leggings with an oversized tee shirt, or pair a very fitted crop top with more of a looser bottom. Having that symmetry makes it fashionably relevant, while still accommodating my comfort. It’s definitely been a process of trial and error to figure out what works and what I like.

When I was younger, I wasn’t a very fashion aware person. I would kind of dress however my mom dressed me, and I really did not care about what I looked like. My parents, when they bought clothes for me, they weren’t aware of the significance of boy clothes versus girl clothes, they would just buy whatever was cheap and affordable. As a result, I would have boy clothes and since I was super young, I didn’t know the difference and just saw the clothes for what they were. Once I got into high school, I shifted my mentality to “oh, I have to follow the trend in order to be accepted”. In my later teens and early adulthood, it then became all about comfort, especially considering that I was going through a lot of physical and mental changes. Being comfortable, being able to move freely and having soft fabrics and silhouettes that weren’t too restrictive was the most important. And now I think it’s still that, but there’s an added layer of selfexpression; now, fashion wise, I want things that represent my personality but are still very comfortable - things that I can move in and don’t make me feel self-conscious.

“Do what makes you happy, but be responsible.” OK

Inspiration For inspiration, I have a Pinterest board. I have a Tumblr. I also get a lot of inspiration from TV shows. I remember when Vampire Diaries was a thing, I looked at the fashion of from there a lot. I loved Elena’s style, she had the fitted long sleeves with tank tops underneath and the bell bottom jeans – very of her time. I loved the style and I think that that’s how I got into trying to figure out what I liked, through TV. Follow

Fashion 101

As I grew up, I started to think I needed to be more girly, but I also didn’t like it. I’m getting more comfortable wearing dresses now, but it was never something I really enjoyed. It’s weird, as a kid I had boy clothes I didn’t want, and now I love buying men’s clothing - I feel like I’ve come full circle. I have a lot of sweaters, flannels and tees from the men’s section; I really like that “rock n roll” and grunge style and find that it’s better portrayed in men’s clothing.

Polyvore was also such an important tool at the time. That was the first tool that I had to understand how fashion worked. I would learn how to style various pieces and it helped me understand how you put an outfit together. I feel like now there are so many different platforms, but I still stick to the things I used to like in high school. I still really like the “dark academia” aesthetic, it’s having a revival now and I love it just as much. I’m also inspired a lot by what male characters wear, which is why I really like the whole “e-boy” look and even men’s business suits.

I guess we can segue into classism for a second, because I didn’t have money to really try different things. I couldn’t go “oh I want to buy this because I like it right now”, everything had to be very well thought out and that’s why I have a Pinterest Board to keep track of my taste even now. Even if I have the money to spend, I’m still very careful and conscious of what I purchase, so I don’t want to spend it on trends. Instead, I want to spend it on things that work with my style – and that takes a lot of time to curate. Having a Pinterest board has really allowed me to be to organize all these looks, and you kind of get to vicariously live through the digital process.

What’s nice about having a digital space like that to explore is that you get to do as much as you want with no consequences. My theory is that when you create a board, you’re living the shopping experience without spending. It’s just like going on a website and filling your cart without buying anything from the site. Pinterest has the same effect where you get to curate a closet without having to actually make a purchase. However, I want that effort to translate into a tangible thing, so I’m at a place where I want to make sure I’m applying my inspiration into the purchases that I make. For example, I have a whole inspiration board that’s dedicated to dark academia, so I know that I’d want a brown sweater, and I’m not going to go out of my way to buy a pink skirt even if I like it. Even if it fits me really well, it doesn’t work with what I’ve been curating for myself for the past decade. This is a rule I follow especially nowadays, because shopping is so overwhelming. There are so many options. I feel like if you have a guide then it makes it easier to navigate. There are a lot of things about the fashion industry that I’m iffy about, but I feel like at the end of the day, it’s all about self expression. Everyone has their own take on it, one person could prioritize comfort another utility, and another expression. So do whatever you want, but also, be responsible. My biggest takeaway is if you’re going to buy something, make sure you’re going to wear it. I think textiles are one of the biggest producers of waste in the world, so that’s something that people have to be mindful of. Hypothetically speaking, if the world were ending and we all had to give up something, fashion would probably be one of the first things to go. There’s a lot of futuristic conversations that predict that we’re all going to be wearing boring ass uniforms 50 years from now, because that’s what’s going to be most sustainable, you know? So I try to think of it as an opportunity that I get to be expressive through my clothing, but I’m still going to make the choice to be conscientious about it and shop responsibly.

Dark Academia

I definitely have a good relationship with fashion. I love clothing and it dictates a lot of my life; what I wear changes my mood significantly. I realized that when I was younger, I struggled to wear tight clothing. I’m very sensitive to the fabric on my skin, and as a kid, my mom would buy me a lot of feminine clothes, or pieces the other children would wear, and I just couldn’t do it. Honestly, I couldn’t wear a pair of jeans until I was in 10th grade and came to terms with having the fabric on me and learned to mask the discomfort. I think creating clothing for people with autism and/or sensory issues should be looked into more. School uniforms were particularly a problem for me; I hated putting them on every morning because it meant I had to spend the rest of the day in an itchy shirt, and a pinafore and socks that dug into my skin. Wearing loose clothing may be looked at as more masculine, but for me it was more for the idea of comfort. As I’ve grown older, I’ve gotten more into wearing fitted clothing, and I’m not sure if it’s a result of me learning how to “act normal”. I wouldn’t call my current style particularly feminine, as it oscillates day to day, but the strive for comfort is still there.

Back to the Basics

Up until 3rd grade, I was in a very conventional and conservative school in India where we’d wear a white shirt, a pinafore that had to be ironed, white socks with black shoes with hair that had to be braided and oiled. I despised it so much. All the layers and having to wear such hard fabric in a tropical country was terrible. By the 3rd grade, my parents moved to a Waldorf school, which is not as conventional and follows a German curriculum that teaches children through art. We wore a kurta–which is a type of Indian tunic that comes in a bunch of different colours– and then any bottoms that we wanted. There were still rules around things such as nail polish, for example, but there was also a lot of freedom in me being able to wear the shoes and pants I wanted; around this time is when I started figuring out the clothing that I wanted. However, a lot of was dictated by what my peers wore in an academic environment. It’s only now that I’m living a more individualistic lifestyle in university that I’ve started to have more of a personal style; and even then, I’m not sure it’s entirely my own as we are so subconciously influenced through social media and what’s trendy. I don’t know if we can ever say that we’ve chosen piece just for yourself. I left the Waldorf school in 9th grade and started at an IB school. Their uniform was less uncomfortable, but the ugliest one I’ve ever seen in my whole life. It was a yellow plaid skirt, cream coloured shirt with a yellow plaid collar and green embroidery. They never fit properly and the fabric was so uncomfortable and itchy, but it wasn’t as bad as some of the previous ones I’d had. We also had a PE uniform–that was one of my better ones.

When I moved to Canada, I went to a private school and the rules around uniforms were much different in comparison to Indian schools. In India’s school system, we couldn’t wear makeup or do our hair in the way we wanted, nor could we wear the shoes we liked, but in Canada, we had the liberties to do so. I remember being so shocked that girls wore makeup and jewelry to school, and it felt amazing to be able to express myself even if it were just through a pair of earrings. Something about being able to have your own items in a school system, that can sometimes feel like a prison, makes them 10x better. Eating a chocolate you have at school is 10x better than having it at home; it was the same idea for what I wore, having a sliver of a choice that I can make in the morning over what I looked like. Over here, the uniforms were SO expensive, and there was definitely some classism in that. I was on a partial scholarship and was definitely not as wealthy as most people in my class. I could not afford to spend 100$ on a white shirt so for the 2 years I was there, I had probably 3 shirts and 2 skirts. My mom would wash them for me overnight just so I could wear them again the next day. They were also very uncomfortable. Once I had transitioned into university, it felt weird having to get in touch with all the freedom we had around what we wore and figuring out how to express yourself. For a while, I imitated my peers and wore things I’d never actually like, like Lululemon leggings. I would’ve never worn that if I were being true to myself, but it was what everyone else did. There’s definitely a gradual process to becoming comfortable with your identity; that’s why I find a lot of older people express so much through their clothing, because they’ve not been part of an institution for a long time and are able to progress and build their own personal sense of self. In India, a lot of Westernized clothing aren’t easily available; we had Forever 21 and it was the one store everyone would go to to buy more Western things. Everyone would be dressed as each other, and the people who were wealthier and could travel abroad would get clothes from America which seemed like such a huge deal. In terms of traditional wear, there was definitely more of a market. Also, in India, it’s easy and affordable to get your clothing tailored, so we’d get our own clothing made and got to choose the fabric we wanted, which I feel you can’t do as much here. In Western countries, there’s a scary abundance where you’re spoiled with choice – I don’t know if this helps us. In India I’d casually wear traditional clothes, but if I wear a kurta here, people always think I’m trying to make a statement. It’s funny because I’m not, it’s just a very normal thing where I’m from.

Overall, I think clothing needs to be more customizable. This ready to wear aspect is bad in so many ways also because it promotes over consumption, without the consumer ever getting what they really want. Clothing isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” because everybody is so unique, and so are our needs. I do think people should be able to pick their fabric, the looseness of the piece, and how the silhouette fits. I also think that we should all be open to people wearing whatever they want and being empathetic without judgement. While we should have empathy in general, this really applies for clothing. We should give people the freedom to sport whatever they want, because we never know the reason behind it.

I went through a phase where I’d only wear printed button downs, which I think had something to do with gender, because it was the one silhouette that didn’t feel too masculine or feminine. A major part of fast fashion is that we have the urge to consume. If we’re being realistic, you can’t fight the urge all the time, but investing in basics will give you the wardrobe you want. Basic pieces are so underrated yet so necessary. I have to get rid of so many clothes I bought when I was younger, because what was I thinking?! I had no guidance, so I didn’t always make the best decisions with my purchases. The uniform aspect played a large role in this, because I never had to dress myself. So, how would I know? Even though I don’t like to admit it, I think my mother has subconsciously influenced my style a lot. Growing up, my mother always wore a pressed white shirt and blue jeans. If she were going to a formal place, the white shirt would be of a thicker fabric, and if it were casual, the white shirt would be linen. I think seeing a woman navigate not having an abundance of clothing, yet still thriving, taught me early on that you don’t need too much to look a certain way. And that repeating is never bad, because there’s a multitude of possibilities you can create with even just two items. A large part of my style inspiration is not owning too much, because it can be overwhelming to me. If you end up taking more care of the clothing, than the clothing takes care of you, then it’s not right – the pieces are meant to exist for me. They’re meant to aid me and make my life a little easier, not the other way around.

I don’t feel that I have any particular relationship with fashion anymore. I used to be very stylish and trendy when I was younger, especially being a working woman in Morocco. Working in Rabat, we were highly influenced by the trends in France and Spain (that’s the effects of colonization for you!), and I’d dress up in the European style of the 80s and 90s, which was a very elegant yet daily look. When I moved to Canada, I feel like I lost that fashionable side of me. Here, people were very casual all the time, and I quickly learned that a pair of jeans and simple shirt would do. It didn’t feel right to maintain the European look, as the environment didn’t inspire it as much.

No Age Movement

In terms of fashion for older women, I find that there isn’t any curated specifically for us. When we go to a store, we find the same items no matter the age of the person–the only difference is the sizes! Also, the fashion world is extremely fixated on younger audiences, because they are the largest consumers and those that are most likely to follow the trends. They are outnumbering the older generation.

My favourite style is still the European look – something about it feels so luxurious yet effortless. The women look elegant no matter what they are wearing. Even as Europe has progressed economically and socially, resulting in a style progression, they have retained that special aspect that we miss here. Older women over there are always elegantly dressed, even when wearing a pair of jeans, because the shirt you choose and accessories you add on can make a huge difference.

Another important reason behind the loss of my style is the weather we face in Montreal and the major change in lifestyle I’ve had. I used to work in offices and would have to maintain that elegant “femme de carrière” look, but now that I am self-employed and work from home, I don’t have as much of a drive to put in the effort. The freezing winters of Montreal don’t ease this issue, as it shifts our focus from how we look like to dressing for warmth and functionality. In order to brave the winter here, we need to omit elegance in order to favour comfortability.

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