The Northeast* people were exposed to European and American culture through Christian missionaries long before they came into contact with Indian culture. They also don’t look like other “Indians”, so their choices in terms of whom they want to emulate fashion-wise are different to the rest of the country. Most people say their inspirations are K-pop, Korean and western films (which is all very recent — 10 to 15 years — since cable TV came and they gained access to Korean channels) but before that, foreign magazines were easily available as they are on the border and brands like Converse and Levi’s have been around forever.
Some people say they got interested in fashion because their moms and aunts were into it. They always watched beauty pageants, recycled and stitched their own clothes (taking inspiration from magazines) and played dress up at home. Some say many beautiful people surround them and so their habits and interests get rubbed off onto them.
A lot of young people don’t list their fashion inspirations actually and one could say that they’re individually more liberal, have various inspirations, and are not afraid to experiment with clothes and the way they look.
*pardon my generalization
The article below was published in ELLE India December 2013 issue. If you have something to add/agree/disagree, leave a comment below.
From wearing music on their sleeve to scouring flea markets for that standout piece — style (with all its layers) is the very essence of the North-east
‘Mumbai pretends not to care as it flaunts a mix of street, high-street and luxury fashion, while Delhi takes its designer labels very seriously. But both ‘fashion capitals’ put together aren’t a patch on the innate style emerging from North-east India. The unexplored states are the real style stars. We take a look at the influences that have shaped this sartorial sensibility.
With an affinity for South- east Asian fashion, the greatest style influence in the North-east is the Korean wave (also known as Hallyu). Faced with a blanket ban on Hindi movies and satellite channels, young people turned to Korean cable channels like Arirang TV and KBS. “South Korea has taken over completely,” says star Mizo stylist Edward Lalrempuia of the strong pull K-Pop culture. With pop stars like Big Bang, 2PM and Girls’ Generation rising up the charts, we have to agree.
Dressing like their icons is easy. “Imitations of the Korean style is apparent in some states, thanks to the availability of these styles in their local shopping markets, which are still going strong without Zaras and Mangos,” claims Sikkimese blogger and Economics student Rinchen Ongmu. The reigning Hallyu trends at the moment? Dyed hair, ’90s hip-hop- influenced sportswear, coloured skinnies and tyre-soled creepers.
Musical stars Lou Majaw, blues band Soulmate, indie girl band The Vinyl Records and a host of metal rock bands keep music running through their veins. “The previous generations, our parents in particular, have always been influenced by music and the culture associated with it, from Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan to ’70s disco,” says Rinyaokhan Jajo, a stylist and creative consultant from Manipur. North- easterners don’t just dress like their musical heroes; they imbibe the very essence of the music they listen to. So you’ll find emo hairstyles, drop- crotch pants, band T-shirts and even tattoos, all casually layered.
CHURCH VS STATE
Wearing your Sunday best takes on a whole new meaning; there are multiple high-fashion moments at the pews. “There are so many women who grew up going for their Sunday Church services and learnt how to carry off a simple dress at an early age,” says Assam-born Dolly Haorambam, assistant designer at Bodice.
To an untrained eye, it may also seem that socio-economic differences, usually simple enough to point out by attire in most places around the country, are less marked in the North-east. “I’ve interacted with people from all levels of society on my travels, and they’ve told me that they would spend their last rupee on clothes rather than food,” reveals blogger and photographer Manou, of his travels to Shillong, Dimapur, Kohima and Aizawl. You’ll find flea markets spilling over with merchandise priced as low as ` 50, teeming with people looking for a great bargain. This profound interest in fashion may well be because there is an encouraging foundation here to develop your own sartorial voice. As Arunachali fashion blogger Renee Nabam puts it, “Most of us don’t have first-hand knowledge of fashion, but we are very aware of our style. Plus, we’re not restricted to ethnic wear; perhaps we are simply braver when it comes to expressing ourselves through what we wear.”’
— by Nidhi Jacob
Photos taken by me in Kohima/Dimapur/Aizawl/Shillong in 2011/12.