Political dressing is a curious business. The Nehru School of Sartorial Sensibility was all about sharp detail that was audacious yet understated. Sixty-seven years later, 2014 is the year when the earnest, unassuming muffler (and the neighborhood uncle’s sweater) hijacked national attention. Political change is afoot. In a relatively unscientific but extremely discerning examination of far too many kurta-clad mustachioed men in Parliament, we bring you our observations on how power dresses – both the spectacularly good and the horrendously bad of it.
Brace yourself, for there will be Bandhgalas ahead. A lot of Bandhgalas.
2008 was an awkward time for everyone, including the Gandhi scion, who was even seen at a Slumdog Millionaire party sporting an unholy trinity of blue jeans, beige turtleneck and a black blazer two sizes too big for him.
We can only speculate to him having wisened up, because Gandhi was never again seen in anything other than the standard uniform of white kurta pajama to proclaim solidarity with the grassroots masses (complete with sweat patches beneath armpit et al). After his spectacular Times Now TV appearance, the majority of the nation groaned as he mouthed tired platitudes and uttered the word ‘system’ enough times to make a drinking game out of it. However, for those of us who notice and worship detail, we groaned at his gratuitously crumpled sleeves that hung limp as though having given up on life itself after a particularly hard day’s work. Will someone fetch a competent tailor to perform a bariatric trimming of his morbidly untidy flyaway sleeves, please? The Nehru style gene clearly skipped this one.
Watching Shashi Tharoor’s dapper, Jodhpuri bandhgala- clad self go about public life is like watching the eternal Hardy Amies quote being manifested in real time: “A man should look as if he had bought his clothes with intelligence, then put them on with some care and then forgotten all about them”. Now, if only his social media proclivities weren’t an unfortunate reflection of that quote as well.
There is a curious malady of colorlessness that afflicts the majority of our female politicians’ wardrobes, with most of them treading on the more cautious side of color. No such compunction for Karat, who favors her bright Bengali Taant cotton sarees with as much joie as she does pale ivory silks, all offset by her signature big red bindi. Rivaled only by Sonia Gandhi when it comes to an extensive wardrobe of curated handlooms, Karat wins because she eschews the strictly utilitarian drapes and stark palettes favored by the former. Relaxed but never disheveled, her sartorial manner treads the fine line between her natural ease and fiery political persona.
Sachin Pilot’s face has to it the youthful eagerness of an upstart cricketer, one that would be equally well-equipped to be selling a few million tubes of Fair and Handsome to hopeful men across the nation. That, however, does not detract from the fact that the man wears the hell out of the white kurta, and does so with impunity. No sweat patches and flyaway sleeves to be found here. Perhaps the folks at Burston-Marsteller helming the Rahul Gandhi Media Rollout of 2014 could borrow the number of Pilot’s tailor?
As sworn by any number of menswear manuals, a navy sweater and grey scarf are time-honored elements that a man may rely upon to elevate his look from basic to dapper. Arvind Kejriwal, however, is not that man. Not since Mayawati and her ubiquitous handbag has a humble item of clothing captured the fascination of a nation. We refer, of course to the sincere muffler, that in an instance of true renegade chic, emerged as the real breakout star of the Delhi dharnas (and became the unwitting subject of a few thousand Twitter jokes).
Agatha Sangma is 33-years-old, a tad young when compared to the average age of the Parliament that hovers near sixty. But, for the purposes of this list, it matters. Our Parliament is one wherein every upstart forty-something minister brands themselves a youth leader, regardless of what their receding hairlines and their oblivious views may testify to. Thus, when one sees Sangma going about in clothes that are just like an entire working demographic her age; clothes that are distinctly not handloom sarees, and look frighteningly like a shirt and pants, it’s a sign that the ageist hegemony is a little closer to finally cracking.
A detailed deconstruction of her wardrobe would require a 1500 word op-ed and feats of investigative journalism to unearth the degree of expert curation that goes into sourcing them from across several states. For brevity’s sake, we shall limit ourselves to specifying that neither bandhgala, nor waistcoat comes anywhere close to the impeccable chicness as espoused by Mrs. Gandhi, whose drapes are pleated sharper than her (late) mother-in-law’s acerbic demeanor. Known to mostly stick to staid colors, she is on occasion known to sport tasteful brights. Oh, Antonia Maino of Orbassano, what a long, long way you’ve come from those days of lounging in Mia Farrow-esque ‘70s shift dresses that would cause Lutyen’s Delhi to have a collective coronary.
Your political affiliations aside, if you so fancy yourself a half-sleeved kurta with a buttoned-up collar and cuffs like a certain former RSS pracharak-turned-prime ministerial hopeful, prepare to shell out a hefty pocket of cash and head onwards to the extremely expensive Jade Blue clothing store in Ahmedabad. Owner and Narendra Modi’s sworn-to stylist of over two decades, Bipin Chauhan, has in the true spirit of Gujarati entrepreneurship, now slapped a trademark on the eponymous ‘Modi Kurta’, available in 20 colors and 12 styles. He plans to export it to satisfy the overwhelming demands of Modi-maniac NRI Gujaratis worldwide. The takeaway? Flawless tailoring and facial hair maketh a man.
Iva Dixit is a newly minted journalist-in-progress at Columbia Journalism School. Her interests include gaps of all kinds: culture, gender, wage and thigh. Ask her a question or tell her your story @ivadixit