retro returns the styles that never died
She half slid half dragged herself along the snow and apparently that was choreography enough. Attire: light, transparent sari. Colour: Olive with excessively eye-catching polkas. Blouse: Short fitting sleeves, deep necked. Make-up: Natural tones with slightly accentuated eyes. Actress in question: Sharmila Tagore. Backdrop: 60s Hindi movie set.
All truth be told though, the setting could have been a 2007 Hindi movie set just as well as it could have been a pre-approved monsoon 2007 Dhaka couture line, save perhaps the print.
Point of emphasis: Fashions that were, fashions that left and fashions that came right back.
Having finally gotten to the crux of the issue, I suppose we can only hope to make sense, coherent, relevant sense from here on end. And with such honest intentions in mind, we'll start from the beginning, arranged in descending order of size and importance.
This being a publication of the East and since inspiration has been gathered from a smitten on-screen couple breaking into song and dance in the woods and snow (some things…never change) just beginnings would centre around sari culture- their transformations and restorations. Before much ado, it is important to understand that the 60s and 70s were the ages in which the most drastic changes were made from any one era to the next, be it in terms of clothing, music, mind frames or lifestyles. Suddenly engulfing waves of liberalism swept in and it was no longer important to maintain restrictions, in well, just about everything. It began to matter less what implications a certain outfit or mannerism had and utmost decency, in clothe and conduct, took a back seat to free will and fashion. Fewer eyebrows rose due to dual gender-involved raging social lives. Or maybe, the eyebrows still rose; no one cared.
With indifference came shorter lengths, barer limbs, louder colours and bolder moves (think dancing, for example) and the sari was no exception to the trend. See-through materials like georgette (a finer quality albeit) and chiffon with flowing tucks and pleats would settle on the body just as curves dictated, and one still would not be condemned in the house of religion or society. On a different note, the classy traditionals like katan and silk still held their weight, in rich colours, sparsely embellished bodies and intricately worked borders. Sounds familiar. Large prints have also made a strong return, saris included. And in vogue today, no different from a decade or four ago are generously sized kalkas, multi-coloured ball prints, black and white polka dots and psychedelic designs.
As far as blouses are concerned, we are back to a time where we have sense enough to realise that the blouse is a separate entity on its own. Bordered, embroidered, sequined or buttoned, also come back are boat necks, sleeveless and blouses with back closures.
Salwar kameez transformation in the 60s saw less change in material and more variety in cut and design. For starters, desired length was somewhere in between the ankle hugging styles of a bygone decade and the barely below waist designs that some still hold onto today. Settling just above the knees, the kameez, like the sari, was meant to raze inhibition altogether with preferred makes being completely fitting. Interestingly enough, kameez slits of the yesteryears amounted only to a couple of inches, usually stopping before reaching the mid-thigh area and for some, side slits were bypassed altogether with tiny substitutes being made in the rear. The perched on high heels, Legally Blonde Reese Witherspoon trot in the 60s and 70s, was thus, very resultant.
Just as there was innovation with the blouse, so rose in creativity designs for the salwar. From the short in length, fitting at the bottom salwars that are all the rage this season to embracing churidars, what they wore, well fits our taste as well, be it after a low key of 40 years.
And indeed, whatever part of the globe our supplement may see print in, some column space must be dedicated to Western wear as well. As a child, evergreen amusement stared back at me from a framed photograph of my father and uncle- body fitting shirt, straight pleat-less trousers, long unruly hair. This of course, inclined slightly towards the formals but they were the pictures with friends that were the real laugh riots. From red (beloved) bell-bottoms to yellow illusional shirts to face size sunglasses, being bold was clearly not a concern. Childhood passed and fifteen years down the line, the humour of these photographs is now lost on me…something in the streets of Dhaka rings a very loud bell.
Accessories. In abundance. Both then and now. What the accessories were or are will fall under a mutual banner, because like everything aforementioned, they too have found a way of creeping back into our lives and reinstating their flair. Large pearls, the size of mini ping pong balls strung into necklaces or smaller, regular sized pearls with a knot tied endwards (this is mandatory), chunky bracelets, hoop earrings, elegant watches, bright umbrellas, horn-rimmed sunglasses-there is little need to make use of imagination; one look into contemporary fashion magazines, one step into Dhaka's streets, on switch of TV channels and all these are evidently times of today.
And lastly, the sweet 60s and swinging 70s were a riot on hairstyles. Shaggy haired, 'earless' men (John Abraham is but evolution), gelled or oiled up, depending on decade, hairdos for women. Makeup however took, and takes, today a more toned down approach. Nude, natural tones with shimmering gloss, kohl lined eyes and art created with liner. Doe-eyed liner, after all, was the defining look of the Suchitra Sens and the Hema Malinis. Beauty statements were, for the first time, considered a complete package, with individual importance being paid to every small segment of one's appearance, from the drape of the aanchal to the shape of the bindi. Surprisingly (not), just as it is today.
Heard before as it may be, fashion moves in circles. Recurring, concentric circles. But then again, it is not just fashion, entire lifestyles are recurring.
To that extent, we have even held on to our music; music from previous decades, music from the greats, music that rocked generations before us. And in no small part, the current remix tradition is to be accredited for recreating and reestablishing past cultures into our beings.
Fashion, therefore, never dies. Occasionally it only chooses to take a back seat…temporary back seat.
By Subhi Shama Reehu
Make-up, styling, wardrobe: Farzana Shakil
Photo: Zahedul I Khan
Model: Tanisha, Nira, Tulona, Rupa, Sheeri