An Essay on Indian Street Fashion

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.

mcleodganj sky

mcleodganj

street style india mcleod ganj
Photos: My first photo in McLeodGanj; the town; Tibetan boy on Temple road.

“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.

street style india ht brunch fashion

masoom minawala street style india
Photos: Girls of Summer | Masoom Minawala, Fashion blogger.

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.

street style india

street style india

street style india bandra
Photos: Boys in Aurangabad; boys on Khar Danda, Bombay.

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.

poster street style men india

street style india
Photos: Hoardings in Aurangabad(on a street +outside a men’s gym).

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.”

street style india fashion



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.

street style india fashion

street style india fashion
Photos: Man in Ellampillai, Salem; Paloma Monnappa in Bombay.

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.

street style india

street style india

jodhpur old city
Photos: Man/Woman in Jodhpur; Old city near the Mehrengarh Fort.

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.

street style india fashion

street style india fashion
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.

street style india fashion

street style india fashion
Photos: Man on street in Aurangabad and Katarina Levshova, a fashion model, in Bombay.

street style india fashion

street style india fashion
Photos: Torn. Ekta Rajani, senior fashion editor Grazia at fashion week and a drifter in Shillong.

street style india fashion

street style india fashion
Photos: Sacha, fashion stylist, at fashion week and a man on street in Salem.

Experiences
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.

street style india fashion

street style india fashion
Photos: Recycling girls & Paloma Monnappa.

Indian streets are stimulating, colourful, unpredictable, and make for great photos.

street style india

Documenting people on the streets requires patience. People talk, linger, stare, get mad. It’s all normal.

street style india woman

—-

Next up: Preview of the project I was working on during Nov-Dec. I did street casting + a few other things for a TVC.

Priyanka bose street style India

street style india railway station

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30 Responses to “An Essay on Indian Street Fashion”

  1. priyanka bose Says:

    Thanks Manou!! Looks great.

  2. Sharon Dev Says:

    i loved this! indian street wear is so underrated..thanks for sharing!

  3. Miss D Says:

    Awesomeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! You should write MORE more often.
    Priyanka is GORGEOUS!

  4. Jyogi Says:

    Thanks for sharing great work

  5. sacha Says:

    The streets are where it’s at! I wish i were half as stylish as Lalitha, our shop helper, who is a tribal girl from Hubli. Her sense of colour is AMAZING! Love the story!! X

  6. Aparna Says:

    OMG! Where is the love button? Good work Manou. Thank you.

  7. Maria Says:

    OMG I love India and its people! Thank you for sharing.

  8. Natasha Fatah Says:

    What an absolutely gorgeous, magical post. I’ve been following this blog for a while, but this has to be my all time favourite post. I’m sharing it on Facebook.

    xoxo
    http://www.natashafatah.blogspot.com

  9. Vera Says:

    I think this one of the most stimulating blog posts out there, that I have ever read. To notice, pick out and bring together such intricate details that sadly get lost in the chaos of “fashion”, is just sheer genius. It’s not about the brands names. It’s about the real people with no names. And you saw that. Hats off to you for inspiring me, good sir. Hats off.

  10. Tanvi (@Tanvii) Says:

    Excellent post! Perceptive & Observant.

    ♡ from © tanvii.com

  11. artofaddy Says:

    awesome work …..
    Fav n best-loved post …..
    ……u rock

    http://artofaddy.blogspot.com/

  12. Upasna Deori Says:

    I LOVE your blog. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that you’re the best fashion blogger thus far. Its a brilliant concept and very picturesque. There was a note at the bottom of a travel blog that I’d once read that said “Every time you share a blog post, a unicorn gets its wings.” So I’m sharing yours. Good luck. :)

  13. Vivien ★☆ (@starcrash_) Says:

    I love this post. As stimulating from a fashion perspective as it is from an anthropological one.

  14. Fab Says:

    Really interesting post. Loved the pictures and the ‘Experiences’ part!! Great work!

  15. Richa Says:

    LOVE!

  16. Mumbai Paused (@mumbaipaused) Says:

    Excellent. The regular Indian street stuff is actually a lot more interesting… the way you show it to us. Keep seeing fashion seer!

  17. alagarconniere Says:

    beautiful portraits!

  18. Akansha Agarwal Says:

    Really intresting and insightful…i luv the analogies tht u draw between street wear & fashion trends!

  19. Jeeya Says:

    Truly an inspiring post…. And everything from your writing, to your photography, to your content is an inspiration to “amateur” fashion bloggers like me!! Keep ‘em comin….

    I’d love your feedback on my blog (on Indian Art & Fashion)… Do share your thoughts!!!

    http://www.g–yo.com

  20. Divya Says:

    This has to be got to be my favorite post on fashion in the longest time! I’m posting on your blog for the first time, although I’ve been a regular reader.

    Truly inspiring.

  21. Supriya Says:

    This is one of the best post on the Indian street fashion that I’ve ever ready… Its truly amazing & equally inspiring… Have fallen in love with your blog….Your writing style, presentation, photographs, people, objects & everything in between….Its so colorful & lively… Decided to come here frequently…Thanks for sharing…

  22. amitha Says:

    love it….!!

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  24. Online Advertising Says:

    Great work on indian fashion it is one of the best post with best pictures.

  25. eva Says:

    I’m desperately looking for the yellow sandals worn by paloma monnappa. could you help me here please? what’s the brand?
    Thank you so much !!!

  26. sreejith jeevan Says:

    I dont know how many times I’ve read this article…but every time I see this it feels as good as new! Totally in love with India and the article!

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  30. Sree Says:

    Wow!! Really great post.. Loved it!!

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