The timeless appeal of Nehru jacket

Nehru jacket is not limited to weddings, as millennials carry it from boardrooms to sidewalks

The timeless appeal of Nehru jacket

(L-R) Jeff Bezos in a blue ikat Nehru jacket; A silk jacket by Archana Jaju; Bundis for casual wear by Kunal Rawal; Raghavendra Rathore dons jacket over shirt

Renu Sud Sinha

When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos visited India in January 2020, designer Narendra Kumar Ahmed, creative director, Amazon Fashion, chose to dress Bezos in a garment that represented “a smart idea of modern India that values its traditions but still is modern enough” — the Nehru jacket, named after India’s first Prime Minister, a suave dresser himself.

“The jacket has stood the test of time because of its versatility,” says Mumbai-based designer Kunal Rawal. “There is a Nehru jacket for everyone,” says Rawal, who has designed for Bollywood stars like Salman Khan and Ranbir Kapoor.

That and its other aspects — it is practical, comfortable and can be a formal wear — have kept the jacket relevant, adds Ahmed.

Designer Raghavendra Rathore, a name eponymous with the bandhgala for over two decades, feels, “The global aesthetic, the structured slickness and the simplicity in its silhouette is what has kept the bandhgala jacket timeless. The elegance, versatility, comfort and ease it exudes surpass all seasonal trends.”

Rawal calls the silhouette “being kind to the Indian physique. The jacket covers six-packs, paunches and pot-bellies with equal panache”.

The jacket’s adaptability can only be limited by imagination. “A single jacket can be used to create different looks, be it Indo-western or traditional, casual or formal, says Archana Jaju, a Hyderabad-based designer. “Because of this versatility, it finds its way in the wardrobes of men of all ages,” adds Jaju.

From being confined to the wedding scene and season, recent times have seen the jacket attaining visibility in boardrooms and sidewalks alike, says Rawal. He attributes this explosion to new-age Indian man’s acceptance of his masculinity not being threatened by fashion, as also the fact that millennials are looking inwards at India’s rich cultural past, wearing the traditional silhouette in its modern avatar. Many young designers are experimenting with various cuts and styles, using cross-cultural elements. The long Indian summer makes it a perfect choice for any occasion any time of the day, says Rawal, who calls it his go-to garment and always keeps this multi-tasking jacket with him to carry him through a work day to an evening party.

Called bundi, traditionally the vest was not a form-fitting garment. “As part of the Swadeshi movement, Mahatma Gandhi gave a call to people to wear handspun, hand-woven khadi. The élite, too, joined in, burning their English clothes. Their predicament then was how to look modern without appearing western and look Indian without appearing traditional. This is how the Nehru jacket came into being. The masses adopted the bundi after Nehru started wearing it. Evolved from British officers’ uniforms, the Nehru jacket had many European elements like structured silhouette, darts, slit pockets, buttons, stand-up collar etc,” says Jasvinder Kaur, textile researcher and author of “Influences of the British Raj on the Attire and Textiles of Punjab”.

Various online portals have made the jacket easily available and affordable in its couture and prêt avatars, fuelling its demand even in tier-2 and 3 cities. Saurabh Srivastava, director & head, Amazon Fashion India, says, “We have witnessed a sustained demand for Nehru jackets over the past few years across the country. Earlier popular among older cohort, these jackets are finding a place in wardrobes of young men, and even women. Available in several patterns, colours and fabrics like silk, cotton, khadi, linen, georgette, even denim, most brands whether high-end, pret or ethnic are offering a wide selection to suit every style and pocket.”

The humble bundi is having its day in the sun as young designers have fun with its looks and millennials wear their heritage on their sleeve, or sometimes without.

Tribune Shorts

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