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A Personal Style Journey - Part -1

I dedicate these entries to my daughter Tara who is my greatest style/ fashion critic. During the past two years we have had a lot of memorable discussions on fashion and style and also many shopping and window shopping excursions together. My wife, Gowri, usually opts out as she does not have the patience to spend hours looking at clothes that we have no intention of buying!
Watching Tara’s evolving sense of style and seeing the incredible number of choices in front of her, I remembered the limited choices that I had as a child. In India, in those days we never had so many choices when it came to clothes. But being with her and experiencing firsthand the various factors that influenced her choices, I began to reflect on the various factors that influenced me when it came to matters of fashion. That’s when I realised that it would be a nice idea to document my journey by the changing trends and fashion that I went through while growing up. After giving it a lot of thought I realised that this is a never ending process , that I was still evolving and that my recent choices were now being influenced by an incredibly fashion conscious 14 year old ! I also realised that Gowri seemed to approve of the changes! So here goes..... Of course the mists of time have played their part and I might not be too accurate with regards to dates etc and I am sure that there are a number of gaps in my memory but this is my journey as I remember it.

The Early Years.

The early years are the years when I really don’t remember what I wore! My guess is that I was happy wearing whatever my parents bought me and that I never really gave my clothes much thought. This phase probably lasted till I was about six or seven years old.

The First Fashion Choice.

As far as I can remember the first fashion choice I made was sometime in the seventies. I am sure that this was not a choice made by me but by that time I was old enough to come under peer pressure and thus be influenced by the choices other people made. Remember this was the seventies and I jumped onto the bandwagon! That’s right my pants began to flare out at the bottom and my shoes acquired heels! All I can remember from this time is that we (the boys in my housing colony) would compete with each other in having the longest, hope that’s the right word or maybe widest would be more appropriate, flares on our trousers. I remember the high heeled shoes as well and I think I had two pairs. I don’t really remember the shirts or T Shirts I used to wear but the trousers and shoes are vividly etched in my memory. Another thing that I remember was acquiring my first pair of Bata “Wayfinder “shoes to wear to school. These shoes had a compass imbedded in the insoles. I wonder if any of you remember these shoes. Bata does not make them anymore.

First Change

In 1975 I joined boarding school and acquired my first Blue Blazer, Grey Flannel Trousers, Tie and Scarf. These four garments would play, and still play, a big role in my life though I did not realise it then. In school we were allowed to wear “home clothes “on Sunday and if I remember correctly the flares and high heeled shoes continued to hold sway. I am not sure when the first change took place but it was probably a few years later say late 1977 or early 1978.
This was a major change – the arrival of denim and the Jean. My first jeans were stitched for me, yes stitched! There was a shop in the New Market of Calcutta called “ Jean Junction “ and you could chose you denim and style and they would make them for you. If I remember correctly the flares remained but a lot of Zips made their appearance. On the pockets as well as on the fly! Once again I have no recollection of the shirts or T-shirts but I think the high heeled shoes continued. Also a point to note that up to now there was no fashion style icon that I would relate too, it all sort of just happened.

Levi Strauss & Co.- Red Tab Jeans and the American West

The next major change was the arrival of a pair of Levi Red Tab jeans from the US, a gift from my mother’s brother. Levis had already made sporadic appearances in the wardrobes of my seniors in school, this must have been 1979 or 1980. The flares did the vanishing act and the high heels disappeared. The red full sleeved shirt also made its debut. For any self respecting Mayoite, it was the combination of choice.

The high heeled leather shoes were replaced by white ‘ PT ‘ shoes and leather ‘moccasins’ procured from Chinese shoe shops in Calcutta. The ‘moccasins’, available only in Calcutta, became objects of desire! This also was the time when we discovered the world of the American West through the books of Louis Lamour and fell for the cowboys look. My first fashion icon – the all American Cowboy. Gradually the red shirt was replaced by checked shirts. Cowboy boots, Stetsons and buckskin trousers were unattainable goals almost a fantasy.
Enter Clint Eastwood through the Dollar series and blankets were cut and transformed into ponchos. The denim jacket makes its appearance; a buckskin jacket enters the list of unattainable goals.

And so it remained, with a few minor changes, for a long long time.

Double Barrels

The wardrobe in school was divided into two parts – school clothes and home clothes, and both parts evolved, style and fashion wise, parallel – together but apart. The school uniform, as all uniforms go was pretty much standard, but being a boarding school we had various uniforms for different occasions.

As we got into the senior classes (around 1980) we began to experiment with the uniform. After all we wore it six days a week and suddenly felt that it needed to be spruced up. This led, in the future, to all of us dividing our wardrobes into formal and informal wear, a habit that persists to this day but more on this later. The school uniform was formal wear. The way we wore our uniforms separated us from our juniors, a very important distinction in a boarding school. This phase coincided with the screening of The Great Gatsby in school.

The School Blazer – The school blazer was the focus of our attention, we became aware of cut, style and fit. Good tailoring was the game changer. Blazers were no longer ill fitting Double Breasted affairs made by the school tailor that kept you warm in winter. The style of choice was two button single breast, notch lapels, single vent and patch pockets – tailored at home and made with the best fabrics we could afford. My father, being a boarding school product himself, understood and spared no expense as far as my blazer was concerned.
The Tweed Coat – The blazer found its echo in our home clothes in the Tweed Coat. My first tweed coat was made of Harris Tweed, my father’s old one altered for me as Tweed was difficult to get those days. It was a hacking jacket three buttons, ticket pocket, single vent and cut pockets – to distinguish it from the blazer in style and fabric.

The Jodhpuri Coat aka Bandgala – This was a standard white and there was not much we could do to it except change the fabric – those of us who could switched to a fabric called Sharkskin . The epitome of traditional formal wear was white or cream Sharkskin Jodhpuri, as we called it then. Sharkskin was very difficult to get even then and I was unable to join the Sharkskin club. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the fabric:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharkskin

The White Shirt – Another staple, usually a short sleeved one. The short sleeves were replaced with full sleeves and suddenly collar size and width became important. If I remember correctly were wore small narrow collars. Along with the full sleeves we discovered cuff links and both were worn with the blazer during the winter. In summer we were forced back into half sleeves. All of us had one or two special shirts which we wore on Saturday evenings – cream coloured and in a silk like material.

Shoes – The simple black school shoes was now no longer the Bata school shoe , it was from the slightly higher range from Bata ( there was only Bata then ) . The width of the toe took on an importance of its own and was usually medium to narrow. We had a couple of fancy pairs that we called “Party Shoes “which were loafers (without laces) in suede or preferably Sambar skin if you could get your hands on one. Yes, surprising as it may seem Sambar skin shoes were widely available then esp. in Rajasthan and Delhi. For the members of Gen X, Y or Z who read this blog you might be shocked to hear that Tiger Claw lockets were the height of personal adornment, influenced by the dacoit from Hindi movies. The PT shoes had by now been replaced by a version of the modern sneaker called Gola which in turn had been replaced by Power , but now they were used only for games.

Trousers – Our trousers echoed the cut and fit of our Levi jeans for a long time. Then suddenly sometime in 1982 or so we went in for a change. Cross pockets, single pleats and drainpipes. I can’t remember what caused these changes but this style continued for a long time (till Gowri decided, years later, to take matters into her own hands). The trouser cuff made guest appearances once in a while. The trouser found its echo in our home clothes by appearing in cotton corduroy, the same in all respects except the pleats. Chinos were an unknown quantity then. Don’t know why we never had pleats in our ‘cords ‘but I think it was something to do with the material. The Levis had by then worn out and I was awaiting replenishment from the US! In the meantime we made do with a brand called fus!

In 1983 we discovered Calvin Klein or rather Brooke Shields in one. Till then only the Marlboro man looked good in jeans.

Ties and Scarves or rather Cravats – The narrow collars of our shirts created problems for the school tie which had a broad width so we dumped the tie. When compelled to wear one we would tie it in reverse order so that the narrow part would be visible and wide part would be tucked into our shirts and safely hidden from view. To solve this problem we went in for the scarf, however scarves were not open to all (only for monitors) and so we adopted the cravat, which all of us had a couple.

Saturday Night

Every Saturday night, after dinner, the school would screen a film at the Bikaner Pavilion. This was an open air pavilion and as you can guess it was freezing cold in winters. As a concession to the weather we were allowed to wear our warm home clothes with our uniforms for the movie. It was like opening the flood gates. All our special clothes would come out – the silky shirt, the party shoes, the cravat and when it was really cold – that example of eternal sublime elegance – the white Polo neck Sweater worn under the silky shirt topped by the blazer! Brand of choice - St. Michaels. Now better known as Marks & Spencer’s. Among the other notables would be woollen mufflers and leather gloves (black).

And So

And so I left school with a John Travolta haircut as in Saturday Night Fever – till then we thought that only women could wear their hair without a parting -having learnt how to twist ( which was a rage - why I have no idea ) and getting used to the feel of a razor on my chin to enter the big bad world of a Delhi College. To come face to face with the opposite sex , till then represented by Brooke Shields in her Calvin’s , to my first exposure to GQ magazine and to Richard Greer in the American Gigolo - it was a great time only the women were a disappointment but then who could measure up to Brooke Shields ? . The story continues.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
deponti
Mar. 5th, 2012 10:39 am (UTC)
What a thoroughly enjoyable post! You should also mention your "forest" wear....
Gowri Subramanya
Mar. 9th, 2012 04:27 am (UTC)
Entertaining
Very entertaining post, Vikram! A good study in changing fashion trends over the years. I remember the days when Bata was the only footwear brand, the many tiger claw lockets I have seen (thank God they are out of fashion now) and long hairdo that men thought was appealing to the opposite sex :)

The discovery of Calvin Klein is funny!

Eager to read the next part.

Gowri
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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