Crop Tops, Sari and Unlearning Gendered Fashion

Viv Le

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Art Viv Le

I avoided saris all my life. During the pandemic, when the crop cannons brought me a sense of freedom and native euphoria, I realized that saris were not far away. In fact, these were the original crop cannons.

I always feel my breasts swell with a sense of pride when people mention that they know about Bangladesh by the marks on their clothes. Growing up in Dhaka, the country’s capital, I would spend at least one weekend a month diving into the depths of the Doja Market, a collection of stores that sold clothes made for export. Because of one wrong stitch, missed buttons or the Nike logo for half an inch, they would end up in a discard pile and end up in the hands of buyers from Bangladesh, rather than going to the United States and Europe.

I preferred clothes made for export than traditional salwar kameezes that I had to wear for family gatherings. I never really ventured into the world of saris other than wearing them to high school and college graduations, indifferent to the traditional value they bought. They have always felt like clothes away from me, preserved for the adult women in my family. Plus, I felt far more comfortable in Gap jeans and H&M T-shirts that I could easily buy for less than $ 5.

Thanks to globalization, wearing “Western” clothes – the so-called. t-shirts, button-down shirts and pants of all kinds – it started to become popular when I was growing up in the early 2000s. Trying out different combinations of these clothes helped me explore my queer identity and feel more comfortable in my body. Browsing the Dojo Market and finding the perfect shirt allowed me to figure out which cuts I prefer, which brands made me look androgynous, and how liberating it was to not have to cover my arms and legs, which traditional clothing forced into hibernation.

As a kid, I clung to the ends of my mom’s salwar kameez dupatta or the tip of her little finger as she guided me from store to store and helped me decide what clothes I wanted. She would bargain with sellers to bring down prices – which is a very common practice in the market – using a very classic sentence: “Do you see my daughter? I raised her on clothes from here. I buy clothes here before you are born. ” Depending on which TV cartoon was popular at the time, I might opt ​​for Pokemon or Dragon Ball Z shirts. When I became interested in watching European football as a ten-year-old, we often went to Dojo to find jerseys with the names of my favorite players or Nike and Adidas T-shirts – a fashion style that is more “leisure” that helped. strangeness.

When I went to college in the United States, fashion gave me a way to explore my gender. In the hills of Wellesley, Massachusetts, there was no school uniform nor was there any insistence on wearing any particular type of clothing. I used my winter and summer breaks to return to the Doja Market to buy again the clothes I wanted to wear. Every time my mother sent me a care package, I would ask her for very specific clothes – whether it was a T-shirt with Angry Birds on it, or a Bangladeshi cricket team jersey so I could represent my country with all my new friends, or jeans. which were torn on the knees that I could carry freely in class without the contemptuous glances of my grandmothers and aunts.

In college, dressing in a way that didn’t hide my chest with a scarf, elbows with sleeves, and knee-length pants was safe. I started playing basketball regularly. I went out with friends dressed in what I wanted. I was able to use how “Made in Bangladesh” clothes confirmed my body and feelings of strangeness in incredible ways that I ironically never managed to achieve while living in Bangladesh.

After graduating, I felt isolated, unemployed, and separated from my friends scattered across the country. I fell into the rabbit hole of the Netflix series atypical, particularly fascinated by the character of Casey Gardner, played by non-binary actress Brigette Lundy-Paine. I especially liked Casey’s impeccable sense of fashion. Many of the garments the actor wore match those in my closet: Adidas shirts and oversized sweatshirts. However, I noticed that they also wore a lot of t-shirts.

Crop tops have never occurred to me before as the type of clothing I wanted to try on, because they were usually presented as feminine. However, in Atypical, I was forced to pull them out by one non-binary actor, whose closet had so much fun. I quietly became curious and often found myself buying shop windows online on Asos and watching people style them on Instagram (and will watch them later on TikTok), although I wasn’t sure when I would have a chance to try them out in public.

In February 2020. The last time I went to Bangladesh was in February 2020. My mother and I visited the Doja Market. During this trip, chestnut, white and gray stripes of sweaters caught my eye. I immediately took him to the dressing room, a narrow, shabby stall located on the third floor of the market. The sweater had a low turtleneck and stood well on my broad shoulders, something that was hard to bear. There was only one caveat – the sweater was cropped.

Self-conscious stomach as I watched the layer of fat protrude between the sweater and the jeans, I wondered if I would even want to wear it. There was no chance that I would be allowed to wear a sweater in Bangladesh in front of my relatives, but my mother suggested that I might wear it when I return to the United States, with a T-shirt underneath. The man in the store also told us that crop tops are super trendy and pulled out a bunch of cropped t-shirts, a pair of which absolutely fit my sporty style. Black Puma T-shirt. Navy Nike hoodie. I couldn’t resist buying them, I’m still not sure how I’m going to wear them.

Get into a pandemic. When I moved to New York in the fall to pursue graduate studies (the first year would be completely online), all my interactions with people took place on the screen of my laptop or phone. Working meetings. Teaching sessions. Meet friends and family. Going to school also meant seeing the same group of people every week, and some people multiple times a week. So, as a fashion enthusiast, I wanted to spice up my clothes and vary as much as possible what I wore. At one point around October, when it was cold and I had exhausted most of my sweaters, I wanted to try on my cropped sweater, inspired by Casey and Brigette. I realized that no one on Zoom will be able to see my tummy sticking out if I wear my cropped sweater I bought in Bangladesh.

And so, I wore it to class. My upper half looked good, even over Zoom. I forgot how comfortable the fabric was. Since I was alone in this apartment, I started wearing it more often, along with the other two crop tops I bought. I began to feel comfortable revealing my waist and abdomen, even if it was just for myself.

Eventually I started wearing them too when I came out. I started small – to the dagger at the end of the block to get juice. Then I put on a T-shirt in the park to read. And I felt incredibly fulfilled when I wore a sweater at my friend’s birthday party on the roof. It helped that this was the first time that many people saw as many as 20 people in the same place at the same time, so I felt less attention on myself and my initial fidgeting in an attempt to feel good. But my mood went from neutral and confused to positive and finally satisfied when one of my friends told me how much she liked the cut and color on me when she came to punch me on arrival. When I got home that night, I took a lot of selfies in the mirror and saved them – but I ended up wearing a sweater to photograph a friend about “Moderating Myself” a few months later in February.

An even bigger surprise came in May 2021. After I finally received the Pfizer vaccine, I booked a flight to visit my family for the first time in almost a year and a half. The trip was mostly spent at work or hanging out with my parents. One night, I found myself lying in bed watching my mother get dressed to go to a new aunt’s party. I could be slower than her because it didn’t take that long to reluctantly put on salwar kameez. She walked around in a blouse and petticoat – two basic items of clothing that go on the body before the sari. Her blouse climbed to the end of her sternum, while her petticoat began on her stomach.

My brain started making connections that I had never seen in the years I grew up in Bangladesh. Sari was a kind of T-shirt. In fact, given how early it dates, the sari, Bangladesh’s most traditional costume, was the original crop top. I watched her wrap her sari around her legs, over her stomach and finally over her shoulders. Sari was shifted only to her right, and the suit revealed her belly. I got out of bed and asked her if there was still a sari I was wearing at prom. Surprised and confused by my willingness to wear Bangladeshi clothes, my mother pulled my blouse, petticoat and sari out of the closet and asked me to iron them.

That evening, I began to see culturally significant clothes that I thought were distinctly native in a different light. While the salwar cameezes were restrictive as they covered my limbs, I felt a new kind of freedom in the way the sari allowed my stomach to show and my arms to flow freely. While they might be considered feminine in the context of tradition and culture, the fact that I wore them already made them weird.

Wearing a T-shirt in a safe room gave me the confidence to show my waist and abdomen and to feel good about it, because I developed a different kind of self-confidence during quarantine. I learned that I like the usually retracted parts of the stomach. This came from a combination of watching a non-binary actor on TV and an unexpected affirmation from wearing a crop-like item of clothing that my family approved of.

My sari was red, made of silk, with gold patterns on the edges of the sides that crossed over my shoulders. I took a few pictures at the event because I was very pleased with how it looked to me. Although I had previously associated saris with the femininity of Bangladesh, they began to feel more part of my gender affirmation journey.

After that day, I continued to wear saris at davatas, and last December at endless events organized for my cousin’s wedding. Now I feel amazing at home in my body in the most traditional clothes in the region.


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