Considering I have spent most of my adult life working in only two cities – Chennai and Mumbai, the wardrobe choices are fairly simple. In summer, you wear clothes that show your arms and legs to any possible breeze that may escape your way. In ‘winter’ you cover the arms and legs. Its always cotton though. Because ‘winter’ as everyone from these two cities knows is a dip in the temperature to the late 20s. The kind that would be called ‘summer’ by people from less-informed countries closer to the Arctic Circle.
These temperatures also mean that my winter wardrobe consists entirely of things I have bought over the years for my winter holidays a.k.a. two sweaters and a muffler/scarf and an old jacket borrowed several years ago from my dad which he had acquired for his U.S. trip.
Then one fine day in January, I was sent to our Hong Kong office for a three week stint. January in HK is apparently one of the country’s coldest months where temperatures can go down to 10 degrees and a chill wind can hit you in the shade. Again, for people from the Arctic Circle, this may not mean anything at all, except perhaps the beginning of summer. For me, it was like being on a winter holiday, except I had to work and wear formal clothes.
The first day, I methodically wore my shirt, pants and other stuff bought from a last minute visit to M&S and then my sweater, the suit jacket, my muffler and the outer jacket.
The next day was pretty much the same.
By the third day the temperature had dropped to 6 degrees and there was a light rain. I was still wearing the same sweater and jacket. The bleakness of the day outside was no match for my own bleakness. I had realized that for the next three weeks, I would wear the same sweater to work and people would have no idea that I actually changed clothes everyday.
This would have been sad enough in most places but in HK it was worse.
Women in HK don’t dress for reasons of modesty or weather protection. Every morning, they wake up and ask themselves ‘What personal style statement would I like to make today?’ Then probably spend the next hour grooming themselves. How they managed to screw their eyes open early enough to indulge in this activity was beyond me. I had to wake up fifteen minutes earlier than usual every morning to wear my multiple layers. Even that made me grumpy. I did not want to compete with the locals but I did not want to stand out either in a negative way. Heck, even my male colleagues were wearing different coloured scarfs to add a personal touch to boring suits.
With so many good justifications on hand, I landed up in the mecca of discount-rate shopping – the Novotel outlet close to the airport. HK was conveniently going through its winter sales. I spent most of the day wandering through Mango, Espirit, Benetton and their brethrens in a state of bliss. At the end of the day, I had acquired a lovely and hardy Timberland jacket to replace Dad’s old jacket. And very judiciously (even if I say so myself), stopped my shopping at a couple of sweaters and a couple of tops. HK, I was ready.
The next morning, the weather had improved to a sunny 11 degrees. I began to wear my new clothes and my mood also improved. This is when I discovered one of the nicest things about winter clothes – layering. You can wear the same clothes in various combinations and come up with a new look every morning. Wearing the sweater inside a short sleeved top, knotting the scarf a different way, putting on a formal jacket instead of the sweater on the same top – the combinations were endless. It was so addictive and so much fun that by my third week I was managing to wake up atleast half an hour earlier than usual to throw together some things.
My visit was however, drawing to an end. I landed back in the middle of Bombay’s ‘winter’ with temperatures of 26 – 27 degrees. I began to sweat profusely right at the arrival terminal, with the single sweater I was wearing. It was clear my flirtation with layering had come to an end.
I was back to wearing trousers-shirts and cotton salwar kameezes. Yet, not all was lost. Inspired, I have been making more regular use of accessories – pendants, earrings, even a couple of brooches I was gifted a while ago. Even better, throwing on accessories requires a mere five minutes of my morning.
My 'judicious' winter shopping seems not so judicious now as they lie in cupboards filled with moth balls. Though I cannot deny for a minute that the experience was definitely worth it.