It happened quite instinctively one day. I was heading out for a meeting and knew I had to put on a jacket. But I wasn’t in the mood for a shirt-tucked-into-trousers affair. I don’t think ever am. I do not like shirts as the first layer in a look. They are restrictive and barely flatter the Indian anatomy. Just shirts by themselves look best if you have been hitting the gym regularly, don’t have the hint of a gut (or, even worse, a muffin top) and have toned arms and deltoids to flaunt. Also, every man should get his shirts tailored. Period. Off the rack always leads to puffy sleeves, imperfect collars and a boxy fit. Unless you have aforementioned hot bod and can pull off basically anything and I hate you and you should burn in the seventh ring of hell. I love shirts as a second layer over tees, stringers or short no-collar kurtas, in various textiles, sometimes oversized and in easy fits.
Having to tuck my shirt in has always been a nightmare for me. Along with being uncomfortable, it makes me very conscious of my body and it is a constant dilemma between a neat tuck (which flaunts my muffin top and missed months at the gym) and a relaxed puffy tuck (which is a no-no in the handbook of How Gentlemen Dress). I will happily throw on a jacket to breathe a sigh of relief but trust the Indian weather to not be too friendly to formal layers.
So, on the day of the meeting, I saw one of my many cotton kurtas hanging in my closet and I thought that…maybe? Quite a few designers and stylists have started playing around with versions and silhouettes of the kurta (the Indian shirt, or the “paanjaabi” like the Bengalis call it) since the India story and long line have become hot trends in our fashion scene. It didn’t look too bad at all and I realised that I might just have found my go-to look.
The kurta, or the Indian shirt has the ability to enhance inherently masculine features while distracting attention from problem areas. It will flaunt your shoulders and chest due to the snug fit of the garment on the top half, but due to the easy-fit nature of its bottom half, the problematic gut/paunch/ love handles are not put up for display. Also, the longer length of the Indian shirt adds to the illusion of height, and both the Mandarin collar and no collar Lucknawi designs accentuate the neck, adding a sense of pride, poise and regality. Teem that with any dinner jacket, denim or linen truckers or even stylish bombers and you have a look that distinctly different but unabashedly Indian.
Even with the Indian shirt, the key to the best fit is to get them tailored. And if you have the Indian Uncle gut, I am sorry, you are beyond help. Move on. Nothing you wear can eclipse your equator.
The Indian shirt is a beautiful piece just by itself. Breathable fabrics like cotton and linen make for comfortable daily wear. If you are in the mood to show off all the Crossfit you have been up to, pick voile. It is important to understand garment lengths while layering. A regular dinner jacket will work well with mid-thigh and knee-length Indian shirts. Because your look is top-heavy, your trousers have to be slim and cropped at the ankles. Simpletons, wear brogues, while the adventurous can don sneakers. Of course this look will work great with Nehru jackets and bandhgalas but I am trying to introduce the Indian shirt into the western and daily wardrobe.
For more casual looks, pair thigh-length printed Indian shirts with denim jackets or truckers with denim trousers and high-tops or boots. You can style shorter lengths with bomber jackets or with comfy-sized over shirts. Feel free to accessorize however you want with pocket squares, badges-pins-lapel-elements and scarves for some added flair. The Indian shirt does not have to be the shaadi-Diwali-Eid-tyohaar staple anymore. It is comfortable yet formal when required, can be easily adapted to a variety of looks and, most importantly, flaunts a sense of individuality.