For the longest time, we have considered Indian formals to only be appropriate for weddings and other Indian ceremonies (again, mostly revolving around weddings), or for politicians, while for all other occasions, we deem it more appropriate to don a two-button western suit with a shirt and tie. Nothing wrong with a good suit, but to eschew our own traditional garb is the type of erosion we should actively not allow to happen. So, here are a few pointers on how to get it right.
Before I even begin, let me point out that Indian formal wear for men isn’t one uniform. Far from it, in fact, it ranges from a simple kurta-pyjama done right to short Nehru jackets or long flowing achkans, all teamed up with dhotis or jodhpurs. With so many options and permutations possible, one needn’t confine oneself at all. Today, however, I am sticking to a much-cherished outfit in my wardrobe, the bandhgala or Nehru jacket with jodhpurs.
Nothing says royalty more than this classic combo. Jodhpurs, or riding breeches adapted to be more fitting post-ride for state functions, are a remnant of the times when royalty had to ride on horses everywhere. The Nehru jacket was our royal garb, one which had evolved from the longer version to its shorter form, again, to accommodate the rider comfortably while on horseback. The material for a classic jodhpur (or Jodhpore, as the colonial era knew it, or Jod’s or even Joddy’s as they are colloquially referred to nowadays) is generally made of natural fabric, drill or cotton, although newer versions may incorporate some lycra into them. They are broader at the thighs, with reinforced around the knee area, because that is where the maximum comfort is required, as also where the most wear and tear is expected, due to the constant friction while riding. The cuffs are narrow, so that they may be safely tucked into riding boots. Today, since we will be mostly alighting from a car, the riding boots can be exchanged for chukker boots or other smaller versions, or just a pair of monk straps or brogues. The overall look thus is baggy on top and more defined as it travels down.
The bandhgala can be made of anything, from wool and blends to silk mixes or, and this I personally like most, velvet. Almost like a cross between a dinner and smoking jacket, these velvet versions look rich and plush, with their soft texture that is deployed with a sharp bodydefinition silhouette.
The one good thing about having a jacket that buttons up all the way to the top is that it can be made more body hugging than even the snuggest of Italian suits. This benefits both the chiselled athletic body type as also the more generous portly ones, for the lines can be contoured to showcase one in the best possible way without, and this is extremely important, compromising or restricting movement. A two-button suit is a bit limited in this regard.
A new way to use this combo is to merge it with the Western ways, to wear a Nehru jacket with a shirt and tie underneath, or simply a cravat/Ascot, and to leave the top two buttons undone. It lends an air of effortless cool without detracting from the sobriety of it.
Only a few serious designers truly know their way around a good jacket-jodhpur combination. They know how to follow the rules and then, how to playfully bend them. I am especially fond of the works of Rohit Kamra, a Jaipur-based designer who has explored this look in-depth and come up with his signature bespoke look, one that blends traditional designs and patterns with modern fabrics and accoutrements.
Then there is Raghavendra Rathore, who was also instrumental in heralding the revival of this look, and his craft too remains unparalleled. A host of other designers are putting their own twist on this classic to rejuvenate it and imbue it with a renewed sense of appeal. In other words, there is no space for derision to be allowed to fester when pondering the traditional yet timeless appeal of Indian formals. As the season is just around the corner, now would be a good time to get measured up for one.