A man in full

Bibek Bhattacharya        Print Edition: November 15, 2009

What you wear may not always show who you are, but most often it comes damn close. It's an interesting rule of thumb to judge how suave or not people are, but try to evaluate the Indian man using this, and the assumption falls apart. And this brings us to that perennial question-Where has the Indian man's style gone?

If you were to look at any of the traditional clothes that Indian men have worn for centuries, you wouldn't doubt their sense of style. After all, you can't argue with the elegance of a classic Bengali malkocha dhoti or the ubiquitous north Indian sherwani, or even a humble kurtapyjama ensemble. But as soon as Indians had to contend with trousers and, horror of horrors, suits, all conventional wisdom went out the window. When shirts and trousers started to get used to separate personal tradition from a professional imperative, adoption of a "western" style of dressing started to pose Indians plenty of problems.

In fact, the conservatism that has always burrowed at the heart of Indians made sure that whatever was considered sensible became the rule. Thus, you got chunky shoes, roomy trousers, massive double-breasted suits worn unbuttoned and all sorts of other style disasters. According to acclaimed menswear designer Arjun Khanna, it's a matter of being informed. "I believe the root cause of this slow progression is due to a lack of understanding and education," he says. Khanna is of the opinion that it's only the trend conscious new Indian who makes a concentrated effort to care for his appearance. The rest just don't bother. Which is very unfortunate, he adds.

A model wears a creation by Arjun Khanna
A model wears a creation by Arjun Khanna

It is, indeed, when you consider that our basics are so strong-from great fabrics to a rich history of tailoring. When Ravi Bajaj, one of India's menswear stalwarts, came out with his new collection Dandy March at the just concluded Men's Fashion Week, he went back to tradition to create his elegantly-wasted collection. Ask him about the fabrics that he uses, and he says: "I work with natural fibres as much as possible. In a country with a tropical climate, it's the only way to go." And that underscores a very important point.

Though the same styles can be a rage in both Mumbai and Buenos Aires, it pays to play to your strength; to place fashion in the context of your body type and the climate.

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