Like furniture, clothing acts, on the surface, as code for status. In this novel about poor people struggling to rise up in the world and immigrants working both to fit in in a new place and establish their own identities there, clothing is indicative not only of wealth—or lack thereof—but of a character’s identification with a particular ethnic group. In the London streets where men wear expensive suits and women don short skirts and sharp heels, Nazneen, clad in a sari, feels like an interloper. It is her clothing that sets her apart more than anything else. Chanu, whose dearest hope is to be a “big man,” i.e. important, rich, and admired, is a sloppy dresser. His best suit has gone shiny in the knees. Karim, who begins his time with Nazneen in jeans and trainers, ends in Punjabi pajamas and a skullcap. His attire mimics his journey toward radicalization. And Razia, refusing to cave to the petty pressure of the Tower Hamlets Muslim community, trades her sari in for a Union Jack sweatshirt and pants.
Clothing is not just an outer manifestation of a person’s inner state, however. Given Bangladesh’s history as a textile giant, and England’s history of exploiting that fact, it is clear that Ali is making a complex argument about clothing’s role in the East’s fraught relationship with the West. Nazneen, Razia, and Hasina all work for sweatshops. They slave over jeans and skirts and sparkly vests, working nonstop in order to pay for rent and food. Clothing is therefore also a reminder of the grave injustice of exploitative labor practices and the West’s insidious way of plundering Eastern talent and resources for its own gain.
Clothes and Textiles Quotes in Brick Lane
Nazneen listened, breathing quietly and hoping that if they forgot about her they might reveal the source of their woes. It was something to do with being a woman, of that much she was sure. When she was a woman she would find out. She looked forward to that day. She longed to be enriched by this hardship, to cast off her childish baggy pants and long shirt and begin to wear this suffering that was as rich and layered and deeply colored as the saris that enfolded Amma's troubled bones.
How had she made him? She did not know. She had patched him together, working in the dark. She had made a quilt out of pieces of silk, scraps of velvet, and now that she held it up to the light the stitches showed up large and crude, and they cut across everything.