Rupi Kaur Believes Style and Stanzas Are One and the Same

You’ve talked about how your identity informs how you approach every aspect of your life, from what you write to your mental health, but what about the clothing you wear?

I’ve always loved fashion. When we emigrated to Canada, my mom brought a bunch of clothes from India, which I wore for the early parts of my life. They were all boy clothes because we didn’t have the means to buy nice things. So I remember when, in the second grade, my aunt—who worked at a Sears outlet at the time—came over to our basement apartment and gave me these red corduroy pants (they’re kind of back in style now) with flowers embroidered on the hem, and she was like, “Try them on.” I put them on, and I remember crying in the bathroom because it was the first time I felt like a girl, and they became my favorite piece of clothing for the next five years. And when I was in high school, my goal was to become a fashion designer, so I took classes. But I did not have the patience to do the math and pattern-making for fashion design. And while I made an entire portfolio to apply for Canada’s top fashion school, the day before it was due, my dad was like, “I can’t afford to send you there,” so I chickened out. I ended up applying to business school, but it all worked out because a fellow Punjabi Sikh woman was studying to do the same thing in my class,  and she’s now who I’ve worked with to create all the looks for my global tour. 

You partnered with a friend and fashion designer, Mani Jassal, to create all your looks for the tour—how did the idea of collaborating on your looks come about? And where did you two draw inspiration from? 

So we started fabric shopping together in December and designed them together. Some of the looks she’s entirely created herself, and some I’ve been like, “This is what I want,” so it’s been a collaboration every step of the way. She’s so talented, and we’ve had so much fun working on making them together. 

You spoke about how it’s crucial for you to get dressed up to show up onstage fully. But what role has fashion played in just your healing journey? When dealing with self-hate, body dysmorphia, or any other form of self-harm, would you say that learning to love how you look is an essential part of the journey?

Absolutely. There’s one Sikh guru that was very particular about what he wore, and he used to say, “People are going to come and try to oppress us, but we are royalty, and we have to dress like it.” So when anyone is like, “Oh, you’re so pretentious,” I’m like, “Absolutely not.” When your community has faced mass genocide, you deserve to love yourself and to step into the light with whatever that takes, even if it’s just with a nice dress. For me, fashion is such a powerful form of self-expression, self-care, and its own form of poetry. When you grow up, not having access to so many things and not feeling good about yourself,  just living in hand-me-downs can impact your self-esteem. There’s, of course, nothing wrong with secondhand clothing, and for me, it doesn’t matter if I’m wearing designer or not—it’s about if the clothing makes me feel unstoppable. Wearing something that you love gives you a different type of confidence. I don’t think that way every day, but that’s why it’s so important to me to have those moments where I put something on that makes me feel powerful.

Author: Manuel

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