Men’s street fashion in New Delhi blooms during Fall and Winter. Delhite men envelope the city with rich textures of handspun textiles referred to as khaadi, such as raw varieties of cotton, cotton-silk, and linen. These fabrics are layered through vests atop long-sleeved shirts which are then nestled among mufflers and stoles. Uncle-jis are the most adventurous with their knit cardigans in gaudy colors like rose and mustard.
Four pieces stand out for their smart look, classic style, comfort, and versatility: i) the Nehru vest; ii) the Nehru jerkin; iii) the kurta pant; and, iv) khaadi neckwear. I combine these separates with numerous other odds and ends in my wardrobe. I label my final look as khaadi chic since my execution is monochromatic and minimalist, with an emphasis on layers and texture.
I have never blogged about fashion, and so the inspiration for this posting comes from a friend whose blog on saris is also outside her own vocation as a novelist -- The Sari-Torialist by Piyali Bhattacharya
Where can you find these pieces in New Delhi? How should you size and wear them? And how have I faired?
In South Asia, handspun fabrics are referred to as khaadi. My love for khaadi is aesthetic and also political, historical, philosophical. Aesthetically, khaadi has a grainy texture which showcases in raw beauty the anatomy of textile. Politically, historically, and philosophically, khaadi was that concept fundamental to Mahatma Gandhi’s independence movement. It emphasized sovereignty via economic self-sufficiency, delivered political freedom to India and her people and thus to me, and became the basis for fairer-trade for producers and particularly for those in rural India. The eternal symbolic image of khaadi is of course Gandhi’s spinning wheel.
“The Nehru jacket is a hip-length tailored coat for men or women, with a mandarin collar, and with its front modeled on the South Asian achkan or sherwani, an apparel worn by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India from 1947 to 1964.” (Wikipedia: Nehru jacket).
- Where to buy your Nehru vest?
Fashion no: Ready-made Nehru vests at khaadi establishments, such as the state emporiums on Janpath, Dilli Haat, and Fab India – gahhhh no! Unless you are a plump uncle-ji then you will find yourself swimming in these vests. And it always strikes me as terribly tragic since the textiles in these shops have luscious raw texture and brilliant color.
Fashion yes: Ready-mades from men’s tailor shops like Raymond, Gujralsons, Manyavar, and so on. Karol Bagh market has a high concentration of such shops. After my shopping achievements I reward myself with delicious chaat items at Roshan di Kulfi – forever, for always. Or, purchase fabric from one of the khaadi establishments aforementioned and have it tailored. I’ve exhausted both options.
- How to size and wear your Nehru vest?
Fashion no: Your actual size – gahhhh no! Since Nehru vests are sleeveless, then wearing your actual size will result in a shoulder that juts out and looks instantly uncool.
Fashion yes: One size down from your actual size. I am a 40 and so I wear a 38. Pair your Nehru vest with a shirt that is your actual size. Since I am a 40 then I wear a 40 shirt with my 38 Nehru vest. Similar to how a dress shirt fills in the empty space between a suit blazer and your torso, the same needs to happen for Nehru vests since these also leave space between your torso and the vest itself. The collar on your shirt can be a Western collar, though I think the Mandarin collar makes for a much better match. I enjoy wearing short-sleeved shirts, but longer-sleeved can also look bad-ass.
This vest contains elements of the Nehru vest, such as the collar and being sleeveless. However, it is shorter in length (at the waist, rather than at the hip), constructed from a thinner material, and lacks any lining or significant structure.
- Where to buy your Nehru jerkin?
I have no idea. I collected mine from a handicrafts exhibition at Dastkar Bazaar in Chhatarpur, New Delhi. And I have not been able to locate a stash of these in any other spot, though I am positive that some market has a mound of them.
- How to size and wear your Nehru jerkin?
Fashion no: Pair with a loose-fitting kurta shirt constructed from a billowy textile like raw cotton, raw cotton-silk, or raw linen – gahhhh no! These fabrics will balloon from the shoulder blades since the vest itself is thin and body-hugging. The final look will be costumey – gahhhhh.
Fashion yes: Pair with a thin and tight-fitting top, such as a short sleeved t-shirt or a long-sleeved thermal. The final look will be sleek.
Before men in the West began experimenting with different pant styles – straight, skinny, boot-cut, flared, bell-bottoms, and so on – South Asian men had already been donning a huge variety of kurta pants. These pants are prefixed with ‘kurta’ since they are designed to be paired with kurta tops. Styles range from the humble dhoti, to more straight and tailored cuts like the trouser or Punjabi kurta, to more playful styles the calf-hugging churidar, the balloon-thigh jodhpuri, and the gargantuan girigauri. Throw caution to the wind and don a playful kurta pant! Though, to avoid appearing you are in costume, pair your adventurous kurta pants with a top that is conservative; something monochromatic and fitted.
India’s neckwear during Fall and Winter ranges from the small muffler, to the medium-sized stole, and the large shawl. Since mufflers have a short length and narrow width, they are very elegant when adorned in the classic loop. Mufflers pair well with dressy and dress-casual Western attire like collared shirts, suit blazers, and sweater vests. Stoles are longer in length, and thus you can innovate with their shape and volume. Stoles are wonderful for casual attire and for achieving the hippy look. Shawls are longest in length and largest in width, and there are a thousand ways to don these. Along with three other friends – two who are PhD students at Jawaharlal Nehru University and the third who is from Montreal and conducting research work on microfinance in rural Punjab – we played around with an Arabic look; engulfing our heads and faces in pools of gorgeous wool, as pictured below.
Muffler of khaadi yak wool in brown and black purchased from Himachal Bhavan at Dilli Haat, INA, New Delhi
stole of Assam khaadi raw silk in terracotta purchased from Dilli Haat, INA, New Delhi
shawls of wool borrowed from two lovely PhD candidates at Jawaharlal Nehru University