MW 20TH Anniversary Special: The Quest For A Signature Style
Thus, it’s a marker that necessitates equal parts celebration and reminiscing. So, as I take to penning this piece today to commemorate MW’s big 20, it is with much emotion, but also a teensyweensy pinch of pride that one feels on having been a part of this journey. This country broke into the second millennia on the back of a style statement that was still largely borrowed from the West. The only Indian aesthetic was traditional garb, which was largely focused around brides and weddings. For men, the pickings were slimmer still — a few brands, some homegrown and some foreign imports — trying to carve out an identity in a cost-conscious market. A signature style or even a focus on following fashion trends was a privileged notion to nurture. MW came into the world as a nascent concept in an even younger market. Since then, fashion and style have taken great confident strides.
I always thought of the 80s and 90s as a badly-dressed decade, and it sort of spilled over into the next half decade or so. Hip-hop ruled the charts and the clothes were consequently terribly baggy; anti-fit was all the rage. The silhouette was defined by being hidden under layers. Bollywood didn’t have all the chiselled bodies that they do today, so loose shirts stayed on under equally dowdy jackets and pullovers. Even top suitors and tailors propagated the relaxed fit. It still felt a lot snugger than bell bottoms and the (ghastly) zoot suits. Uniformwidth trousers with ample gather at the bottom and low-cut arm holes on wide-shouldered jackets were considered fashionably favourable.
The early noughties were no different, but things changed rapidly midways. By now, the GenX who were now coming into their big-spending years didn’t shy away from reviving pattens and silhouettes from the uniforms of the war eras. And suddenly it was cool to be seen sporting pea coats, trenches, and parkas. While Saville Row maintained its charm and prestige, Italian suiting also gathered global momentum, being seen more in the realm of contemporary style than mere fly-by-fashion. Top international brands, who had so far only touted their ready-to-wear (prêt) labels in India, started serving up more personalised services, from made-to-measure (MTM) to allout bespoke. Tailor visits became common, and with these visiting craftsmen came new cuts and patterns.
The young men who came of age in the new millennium didn’t shy away from investing serious money in swanky suits. Selfconfidence was the mantra all around, so the silhouette was to be showcased with all its flaws, in all its glory. Armholes rose, jackets started getting shorter, more cuffs would cheekily peek out from underneath jacket sleeves — dressing up was dolling up, comfort was momentarily reserved for night time Pjs. Out there it was about looking slick and spiffy. The formalwear market had changed.
Another big influence was electronica, which gave us many a zany style statement — think Burning Man meets futuristic robots kinda’ visual aesthetic. It was extreme in every sense and stood in direct contrast to the charcoal grey and royal navy suits, which lined the financial districts. This was self-confidence now finding selfexpression in all its democratic forms, an idea which was helped further as the Pride movement starter gaining momentum. The last five years have seen the rise of athleisure and a planned fusion of the formal and the leisure categories. The Italians were perhaps the first to rock luxury sneakers under fitted suits, but now it was almost acceptable to do it elsewhere too. Denim, as interpreted by the Japanese, went mainstream and the eye-watering prices they commanded, automatically made it an article of luxury. As with all things expensive, it automatically became even more acceptable to simply don a pair of something selvedge with a crisp shirt and a sports jacket from boardroom meetings to post-work banter. Two comebacks in the casual space worked out well. The hoodie, although a loose-fitting garment harken back to the monk’s robes and somehow seem to imbue the wearer with a certain sagacity, but mainly because they are extremely functional, thus giving them a wide appeal that transcends age and form. And logos, which were almost hidden, started becoming prominent again. Today, it is back to sporting oversized logos, most commonly in their retro designs or fonts.
Colours too have made a comeback, as have retro-patterns and motifs. From paisleys and houndstooth in shades of burgundy and plum, to broad stripes and Madras and Prince of Wales checks in contrasted hues, everything remains a go. So, what have we lost in the last two decades? Big, bulky, leather jackets and almost anything with tassels. But nothing set the style clock back more than the rise of the Silicon Valley and its many unicorns. While one understands the importance of valuing skills and smarts over outwardly appearances, it’s still hard to reconcile to cargo-anything and sloppy rubber-footwear.
The changes in men’s style over the last 20 years seem rather gradual. But take a step back, and the whole picture comes together like one seamless join-the-dots meets colour-by-numbers picture, and the evolution becomes more vivid to grasp. MW has been there all along, charting and documenting this journey as also influencing and guiding it. Twenty years, as I said earlier, is certainly an era in itself. And yet, it feels only like yesterday when I submitted my first piece. Going ahead, for the decades to come, I look forward to creating more memories, marking more milestones, and just sticking around for the ride.