A tour of India's Fashion
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
A recent trip to India has revealed that traditional Indian wear is once again in vogue, particularly among women.
While the men, for the most part dressed like typical Westerners - suits on formal occasions, pants and shirts on a casual day - there were some who proudly stuck to the traditions of their ancestors.
But it was the women, many breathtakingly beautiful, who commanded riveting attention. Their regalia seemed to be on constant display. They flaunted colourful styles throughout India's capital of New Delhi, as well as Bangalore.
There I was, preparing for the long trip that ought to have been a familiarisation visit to the East, not focusing on style and fashion, when women, cultured in the West, unabashedly intervened in my preparations.
I had always harboured this lingering impression that members of the fairer sex from places like Jamaica prided themselves on being fashion police. But my female colleagues, particularly the more mature and outspoken women in the Gleaner's Editorial Department, would have none of my dry humour and sarcasm.
"You can't go to India and not bring back a few saris," declared Public Affairs Editor Barbara Ellington.
LAND OF SARIS
The mixture of fascination, bafflement and mystification that showed in my features was not lost on her. For once, my sharp-tongued colleague was forgiving of my ignorance. She gently advised me that I was entering the land of saris. I was instructed to be on the lookout for silk saris.
My brief discourse turned out to be a crash course on saris in the land of colourful fabric.
I would later learn that she was in fact right. Indian saris are regarded as one of the most wonderful dresses worn by Indian women. In fact, when one thinks of an Indian woman, it's likely that the first thing that strikes the mind is a woman clad in a sari.
Another colleague was keen on acquiring Indian accessories while others just wanted something nice that was of Indian extract.
The editor of this publication was a tad more demanding as she asked for an article on what was hip and ready for wear.
When I eventually set foot on Indian soil, I discovered to my amazement that there were many different types of saris - Indian, designer, and even bridal.
The fashion lesson would continue at the numerous overcrowded markets in New Delhi.
Persistent vendors, who made the harassing ones at our local markets seem like angels, were prepared with their lessons in fashion as I went in search of saris.
The vendors sensed I was as ignorant of the Hindi language as I was of fashion and moved to advertise their wares in rapid, somewhat nasal English.
The sellers were informative as they highlighted saris that were supposed to be rich in quality and attractive in appearance.
Having become an overnight 'expert' in saris, I turned my attention to clothing at the next opportunity I got to shop. That wasn't too challenging a task - the pretty women and colourful fashion had seen to that.
Another lesson on Indian fashion was in store. The young women, attending universities and other less formal outings, seemed taken by the jeans and shirts that are frequently worn in the West. The traditional Indian wear was dutifully set aside for formal occasions.
As it is in the West, the Indian women harboured no reservations in showcasing their beauty and would readily pose for photographs. Then confirmation came. Traditional Indian clothing had come into prominence once again, if it was ever out.
FASHION INDUSTRY TRENDS
I was informed that trends in the Indian fashion industry are these days aping the styling and designing of bygone eras, that period of royalty when the wealthy used to spend extravagantly on clothing.
There are colourful indicators - as one Indian woman declared that creative fashion designers are on the lookout for ethnic designs that take them close to their cultural roots and serve as a reminder of a glorious past.
Shalwar Kameez is the name given to some of the traditional clothing worn in India and other parts of Asia. Owing to its high popularity in the region of Punjab, Shalwar Kameez is commonly referred to as the Punjabi suit.
The fashion of Shalwar Kameez in India is not new. For many centuries, men and women have been wearing this attire. In India, though, it is mostly worn by women.
Then there is the Sherwani for men - a long coat that is buttoned up to the collar and falls below the knee. Indians believe that it adds to the charm and grace of men, especially the taller ones. Indian men spend lavishly on buying the Sherwani suit for their weddings.
In India, one can spot many men wearing turbans. These are worn not for the sake of fashion, but because they hold a lot of religious and social significance in the lives of Indians. The hair turban is a headdress that basically consists of a long piece of unstitched cloth which is wrapped around the head.The Dhoti Kurta, the traditional Indian clothing of men, is also being worn today, though not as frequently.
It is also an unstitched piece of cloth, usually five yards long, that is tied around the waist and legs, ending in a knot at the waist. Dhoti is known by different names in different places.
The Kurta - a long loose shirt, the length of which falls below or maybe just above the knees of the wearer, was, in ancient days, primarily worn by men, but today, it has become unisex dress.
So I returned from the Orient a bit more fashion savvy about their various styles, but, alas, no sari in my suitcase.