Saturday, 17 September 2016

Return of the native: the *new* Indian garment moves back into stylish young closets.

Note- This post is mostly about the 1980s - to now. The 1960s-70s were a bit different, there was awave of westernization mostly because the western world had discovered Osho,Yoga and Eastern spiritualism in general; there was major cultural exchange including music and fashion sensibility. Trends like boho maxis, head-bands, flared pants and long hair (for men) were doing the rounds in India and everyone was in love with the Beatles. Those were interesting times, but we are not touching upon that era in this post

There was a time, maybe fifteen years back, when even in the Indian metros, a salwar kameez wearing college girl and a sari-clad working woman were a fairly common sight, and were considered pretty fine. These were urban middle-class women, who still followed Bollywood fashion trends, and got clothes stitched at the local tailor. The well-to-do women sometimes bought "ready-made suits" from a local boutique, usually owned by a smart lady neighbor with relatively good taste, up-to-date knowledge of movies, and a sense of  good "fitting", commandeering a small group of male "masterjis" who drafted
and cut the patterns and "kaarigars" who did the embroidery.
(this set-up is still operational, and doing pretty well even today)

In the 90s, young women were just beginning to experience organized retail chains in larger towns, and they thought Shopper's Stop, Westside and FabIndia were the best things to happen to fashion since Zeenat Aman. Women/girls who wore western clothes to college or work were still considered "cooler than thou". Stardust and Femina were the last word when it came to what was fashionable.

Then came economic liberalization and a flood of western brands and western (American, mostly) movies which began to influence Hindi cinema. The beauty prototype started to change, once again, in Bollywood movies.The good girl (the heroine who always gets the guy) was no longer the girl in the salwar kameez with the fluttering chiffon veil. The good girl could now be in dresses and pants! The Indian middle-class girl had every reason to change.

International fashion magazines debuted, and began to sell more copies than ever - Marie Claire, Elle and the fashion bible Vogue fueled the desire to look stylish and modern (synonymous with American). A lot of young girls couldn't afford to buy the ready-made western wear available at the retail chains, so the tailor masters (mostly men, good at pattern drafting and cutting) happily fished out their old western pattern-making books and proudly executed orders for frocks, skirts and pants; they were charging bomb prices for recreating looks from magazines.

By mid- late 2000s, The young urban Indian woman in the large metro cities had all but stopped wearing Indian garments, and had "switched up" to western casual outfits and work-wear formals. She had ambitious plans for her life (like her American sisters) and frumpy traditional dressing (like her mom) wasn't part of them.
 As broadband internet, fashion blogs, Instagram and YouTube exploded , Indian women quickly picked up the latest trends,beauty rituals and styling tricks from across the globe; now they knew it all and felt on par with global fashion Divas; they also wanted to look like these fashionistas from abroad.
The arrival and rapid spread of international fashion and beauty brands like Zara, Mango and H&M and Sephora made that dream possible- the makeover was complete. For the big city Indian, at least.

Now everybody, including girls from the smallest of towns, wanted to wear only ready-made western apparel ; even if that meant buying ill-fitting, badly styled, cheap, polyester clothes from some inane town store or online portal. Great! Indians were becoming really fashionable now...

The poor salwar-kameez and sari were relegated to festivals and weddings; only heirlooms and the most expensive/designer variety were allowed to linger in the closet.The big money for fashion designers was still the wedding collections, of course (Indians will always want to wear rich and expensive, traditional garments for special occasions). But, women who chose Indian clothes as daily/office outfits were in grave danger of being considered unsophisticated, not quite with-the-times, and middle-aged  "aunty-type" with rather pedestrian taste.

Then, something changed. We can't put a finger on it, but designers and store brands alike started noticing an opportunity in the form of women who wanted to be stylish and more International, but were reluctant to totally give up on Indian wear. There was also the woman who had OD'd on mass produced high-street western brands and was looking for more sophisticated, unique, authentic and comfortable designs to reflect her true personality - Indian with a global lifestyle.

Around the same time, young Indian designers who went abroad to study fashion, realized how exotic and attractive Indian culture was to the jaded western world. When asked to dig deep for inspiration, these Indian designers, training abroad, kind-of "rediscovered" our vast and priceless heritage of brilliant textiles and incredible handwork.

The west had mastered the craft of high-precision garment making, but the incessant and frantic pace
of prêt-à-porter was killing the joy of creativity in fashion design; genuine inspiration was hard to come by. There was relentless pressure to churn out brilliant and best-selling designs multiple times a year.
The trend-driven, copy-cat high-street brands were catching up and high-end designers were exhausted trying to stay ahead in terms of better design and sales. It wasn't all mood-boards, champagne and was cut-throat.

The prevalent disenchantment with the western ready-to-wear fashion system probably inspired many of these young Indian designers (along with the global recession, perhaps) who had honed their design skills abroad, to come back home and set up design studios to create  India-inspired, International quality clothes.
Top Indian-schooled designers from NIFT, meanwhile, had also moved beyond geographical boundaries and proved their mettle, and as their market expanded they began to look beyond couture-style
occasion-wear (lehengas and saris) towards prêt everyday wear with more globally appealing shapes.
Sensing the market forces, the stalwarts of Indian fashion, started marketing younger and more International diffusion lines, accelerating things further.

Now, the Indian garment was being designed to be appealing not just to the contemporary urban Indian woman, who herself was well-educated, well-paid, well-traveled, and well-exposed to International fashion trends, but to any woman, anywhere on earth, if she was truly global in her mindset.
These modern Indian designs with carefully placed delicate embellishments , sophisticated cuts, and more subtle styling clicked; suddenly, Indian-wear was no longer gaudy, uninspiring or "behenji".

This * new * Indian garment has a sophisticated and minimalist International design sensibility , but still uses Indian silhouettes, Indian weaves,embroidery, colors and prints evoking the essence of Indian heritage but not in an overwhelming way. This garment  not only looks great on the Indian woman, but works really well for the Indian climate and lifestyle. Finally, the Indian woman has ethnic clothes that match her global outlook. She can travel the world and chart out her world domination plans in these threads.
In short, ethnic wear is back on the scene, and back in business.

When Vogue did a feature on the new Sari and when a couple of Bollywood celebrities endorsed these new brands the comeback was official. The timing could not have been more fortuitous, this phenomenal return of the Indian garment coincides perfectly with an overall global trend that leans towards "non-mass-produced", authentic, indigenous and conscious lifestyle choices.

Now there is a " resurgent pride" in being Indian, as India become a power-player on the world stage being Indian means being global in many ways. Indian fashionistas are realizing that style must have integrity and should reflect who you are; there is no point trying to look like everyone else on the planet!
The point of style , if there is one beyond pure aesthetics, lies in making everyone else want to look like you.

Take a look at some prime examples of the New Indian garment...

Ps- These are non sponsored, non-premeditated selections from the web, across various price points.

IKAI, Dori grid Applique Jacket Rs. 23,000

MANAN, Ivory Boat Neck Linen Kurta Rs. 5400

Vajor, Sky High Shrug  Rs. 2,599


ANAVILA , Grey & Indigo Stripe Linen Sari Rs. 16,000

ARCHANA RAO, Off white and pink striped knit sari Rs.21,000

Raw Mango, SANJAY GARG FESTIVE 2015 Price- not known

Note: You cannot shop on the Raw Mango website; however some of their sarees are available on

ABHO, Sand colored Chanderi Dress RS 9,800

Payal Singhal, Ulfat Dove Grey And Gold Sequined Jumpsuit RS. 52,500

As worn by Kate Middleton, on her royal tour of India.

Ritu Kumar, Navy And White Long Dress With Ombre Effect RS. 5,990


The lines between Western and Indian wear are blurring; fusion is looking less awkward and 'wannabe',
and seems more sophisticated and easy-to-wear these days.
That, more than anything else, indicates how India has grown at-ease with itself, and that it is now
more sure of its place in the world.

Hope you enjoyed this post.
Do let us know, in the comments section below, of all the great websites you visit to find the very best
Indian wear- designer or otherwise. Also let us know if you have especially loved/bought any recent designs by Indian designers.

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