This is a story I did for HT Brunch with some additional images & text. It’s about drawing analogies between trends I documented in small towns and urban fashion, and my experiences.
“Photographing street fashion started as a weekend thing for me on a trip to McLeodGanj. I was living and working at an NGO there. I had weekends to kill, the place was new, people looked different. Everyday I’d sit by the sidewalk and take photos.
I’m often asked why I photograph the kind of people that I do. I don’t think I’m looking for anything in particular. I just want to make good photos that are socially and culturally relevant. I’m also taking photos for documentation and it’s exciting to make all these images a part of the global ‘street fashion’ conversation with the help of social media.
Bollywood:The biggest trendsetter in India
Undoubtedly, Bollywood hero is the ultimate fashion idol for the common man whose style inspirations, conscious or not, are Bollywood films. For instance, men wearing unbuttoned shirts with their chests exposed, with or without accessories, is the most common trend seen on the Indian street romeo, “Indian MTV” niche, and Bollywood fans.
In small towns, many shops are still selling FRIEND caps from Maine Pyar Kiya & friendship bands from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Clearly, these Bollywood films still have an impact on the local fashion a decade later. In some towns, men are wearing skinny jeans – not a Bollywood inspiration & the only digression -possibly a remnant of the skinny jeans trend that became rampant when some Indian denim brands launched their range of skinnies and slimfits in 2007. A shopkeeper in Bareilly who stocks skinnies for men says his contacts in Delhi, where the stock comes from, tell him what’s in trend.
Also, there was a time when masses in urban sphere related colours to sexuality. A guy wearing pink would be tagged ‘gay’ in general conversations. This mindset is yet to reach the small towns. In Aurangabad and other similar small towns, men wear pink shirts and walk around holding hands. (related: Stuff Indians Like #170: Holding hands).
In small towns blind aping makes Bollywood the biggest fashion trend.
Why runway trends don’t permeate to mass fashion in India?
Fashion designer, Anand Bhushan says, “we don’t imitate runway but Bollywood. Remember SRK’s C-O-O-L neck chains?”
Bandana Tewari says in an interview, “Bollywood is by far the biggest marketing tool for anything that you do in India.” Fashion has to go through Bollywood if it has to reach the masses. Does the common man follow Indian runway fashion? Where is the vision and interest of the masses? Is there even a need for Indian runway trends to reach masses?
Isha Bhansali, stylist at Femina adds, “runway trends don’t go mass because there is no link between Indian high street fashion and Indian fashion on the runways unlike markets abroad. Just how Zara follows catwalk to boardroom procedure, Indian high street labels like Chemistry do not do that with catwalk; they follow international high street.
In Ramp Up, Hindol Sengupta blames the designers. “Unfortunately the appeal remains niche and confined as designers make little effort to really reach out to a wider consumer base. In many ways, runway fashion is the circus of the rich but that’s true for perhaps the entire high-end leisure industry. The thing about the clothes industry is that unlike caviar farming or customised jets, it does not necessarily have to be elitist. The young with dispensable incomes should be addressed by these designers.”
While Anand Bhushan designs for a niche market. He says, “These are the mega mansions one would expect out of a luxury label. I don’t want the world to own my clothes but crave in for a desire to own one. Restraining the supply chain in essential.”
Trends in small towns
In small towns, it’s rare to find an urban middle class person wearing the same piece of clothing as the working class. Usually, clothing of working class people going about their daily jobs is comfort driven and practical. From the old town of Jodhpur to the streets of Shillong — great style is pretty much everywhere. David Abraham of Abraham & Thakore agrees and says, “Often the most beautiful textiles and clothing are worn by the simplest and the poorest in our society. And with great style.”
In Salem, I found an abundance of men clad in madras checks lungis. IOU a clothing brand based in Spain makes all its clothes out of these madras checks fabrics.
In Asansol, the daily wage workers wear Lungis with gamcchas out of practicality & necessity. In Jodhpur, men wear colorful turbans with buttoned-up shirts, tailored jackets with dhotis, and jewellery. Women wear vivid saris and plenty of jewelry. Shillong is full of fashion conscious young people unlike any other city in mainland India. Their influences vary from Korean pop stars, Japanese films, to American sitcoms and music videos.
Connecting street style and fashion trends. I am not looking out to do that on purpose but sometimes it’s just out there. If I remember seeing something somewhere and can make a connection, I definitely will.
Photos: a fashion writer for NYT at fashion week and a man on street in Aurangabad.
I saw the scoop neck tee shirt & cotton pants worn by working class men in all four small towns I went to. Pants below were selling on the streets for less than 100 Rs. I picked a pair and photographed them on a friend.
Photos: Torn. Ekta Rajani, senior fashion editor Grazia at fashion week and a drifter in Shillong.
Photos: Sacha, fashion stylist, at fashion week and a man on street in Salem.
Taking photos on the streets is tiring and exciting. I was once detained & questioned for two hours by the police in Aurangabad as I was taking photographs inside the High Court premises.
In Salem, I was taking photos outside a church and the police asked me to produce an id. They told my cab driver in Tamil that my visiting card did not seem genuine as it didn’t say I was a photographer & didn’t have my house address.
I was mobbed in a small clothes market in Bareilly. People saw my camera and wanted me to take their photos. They were genuinely intrigued.
Once I was followed by two drunk men who first asked me to take their photos then asked me to give them money and my camera for taking their photo.
It’s easier to photograph people in tourist-drawn places like Dharamsala & Jodhpur. People are used to photographers and they don’t give them much attention. While in small towns that are not on the tourist radar, it’s a bit difficult to manage a single photograph without drawing some attention.
Photos: Recycling girls & Paloma Monnappa.
Indian streets are stimulating, colourful, unpredictable, and make for great photos.
Documenting people on the streets requires patience. People talk, linger, stare, get mad. It’s all normal.
Next up: Preview of the project I was working on during Nov-Dec. I did street casting + a few other things for a TVC.