Fashioning identity in the melting pot of global culture

BY Alison Smith ON 6/2/2018

In our transnational world, we’re freer than ever to pick and choose from a vast array of styles and attitudes. But the gravity of heritage endures, writes Alison Smith.

How do you feel today? Flamboyant or low-key, boyish or feminine… like channeling your heritage or embracing something new? Trying on different looks and launching novel versions of ourselves onto the world allows us to experiment with a range of moods and behaviours. Fashion is a creative pursuit and so much fun, and as we internalise the way our various outfits make us feel, this shapes and influences our sense of identity.

Once, identity was something you were born with. Nationality, race, age and gender determined your place in the world, with received codes of conduct that we should follow in order to maintain the status quo. But with the progress of globalisation, these constraints couldn’t hold. Today’s world citizens are in a constant process of becoming, creating patchwork identities drawing from a broad range of influences and traditions. We assemble and rearrange our identities with more freedom than ever before, as self-determining actors in our own productions.

Never mind London / Paris / NY, we’re all international now, with style and culture crashing together from Mumbai to Seoul, Medellín to Lagos, as travel and digital communication melt the boundaries between nations and people. How many travellers have come back from their first visit to the Indian subcontinent with a radically altered view of what elegance, decoration and colour can be? Having experienced the particular light from the sun, witnessed something of the rich textile traditions, and seen them animated in another way of life, the traveller’s sartorial course is forever changed.

But of course, the movement of people in a globalised world goes far beyond tourism. According to the UN, a record 244 million people globally were living in a country other than where they were born in 2015 – a 41 per cent increase compared to 2000. This figure includes 20 million refugees. India has the largest diaspora in the world, followed by Mexico and Russia. This mass migration of people is testing cultural cohesion like never before. Those lucky enough to have choices need to decide how much of their surrounding culture to pick up, magpie-like, and how much they honour their roots and express their heritage. Without an enduring sense of who we are, today’s peripatetic lifestyles can lead to identity crises, leaving us rudderless in a sea of influences, styles and behaviours. How do we make sense of this shifting mass of movement, and how do traditions withstand the fragmenting forces of globalisation?

Like a magnetic pull, the traditions of our heritage draw us in to their embrace, like deep, calm wells of understanding in a stormy ocean. They make sense within our lived knowledge of family traits and outlook, and our intimacy with the climate and character of a place and its people. It’s a global melting pot, but culture has weight that exerts different forces on different individuals. In these uncertain times, it feels more important than ever to honour our heritage, to act as a foundation or fixing point for whatever comes next.

Western culture last century normalised youthful rebellion, as though it was inevitable that teenagers would destroy everything their parents stood for in order to find themselves. But those youths from the 1950s, 60s and 70s grew up and their offspring are seeking new ways to differentiate themselves from generations before. Theirs is a less black-and-white world, with a range of behaviours and attitudes that it’s cool to embrace, from moderation and diligence to self-promotion and fabulousness. And at the same time, feminism has evolved to encompass myriad expressions of womanhood. Thanks to the work of those who’ve gone before, we can celebrate being female with beautiful adornment and decoration, on our own terms.

The clothes we use to shape our identities need to feel right. To inhabit a strong look, we need comfort and freedom from restriction to express the extent of our power. Discover the exquisite, progressive designs of Rani, honouring heritage, without being constrained by it. Transmitting culture across boundaries, this stylish womenswear is rich in quality, embellishment and detail, whilst also being supremely wearable. Dressed up or down, the pieces can be flashes of brilliance in the patchwork of your identity, fit for purpose in the 21st century. Rani means Hindu queen. After all, we’re all royalty in our bespoke, trans-national queendoms.

Alison Smith is a journalist and brand consultant with a background in Anthropology, and founder of the writers’ collective, Be Content.