Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 14, Tuesday April 1, 2008


Fashion time frames

Over the years fashion has seen facets and bearings. The Bengali belle looked upon saris as the most suitable ensemble. Today however, many other options are considered acceptable. Without doubt, however, the sari reigns as the most appropriate garment to be enamoured by a true lady here in Bangladesh.

Well, times have moved on and more often than not we are bombarded with information and images that reflect the current state of fashion. It is the media, print and electronic that has propelled fashion in its current scale and size. Trend, craze, or fad as they are called, is all set up to move fashion forward.

It is a state of mind, and an individual expression that creates a sense of satisfaction for the wearer. I believe that if you are the person who looks at the wardrobe, picks up pieces on instinct that work together rather than matching them, only then you are considered fashionably self-assured. Either you have it or you don't.

First impressions do count and your ensemble can get you ahead of others. This is applicable today more so than ever before, therefore I suggest you put on your dancing shoes and tap dance to the magic of the creative barometer called zing.

You can do this easily and without much fuss if you let your self-confidence do the work. You must be able to glide into your style effortlessly. Bangladesh is no different from any other place in the world, as fashion sense needs to be applied here with the same tested formula. You need to make the first move to try something you haven't before. It could be as simple as a dot on your forehead or a tattoo on your arm.

It has been a long journey of time frames, considering mainstream fashion in Bangladesh had taken a leap in the mid 50's. Popular culture mostly in the form of Bengali cinema created a sensational rage among the upwardly mobile middle class.

For the first time, larger-than-life stars in Bengal were looked upon as fashion icons. The trend continued for a long time and even today regional stars continue to play a pivotal role in providing direction to the mass.

Going to a different time zone, I must admit the true renaissance in fashion arrived in the 60's. It was a period in time when the urban young took notice of what they were actually wearing. They were definitely exposed to the western hippie culture. Psychedelic geometric prints, acid colours, fitted kameez and shirts so en suite that they could almost pop. Teddies were the rage and churidar was the homogeny of the day.

Looking back the new man-made polyester fabrics were extremely popular as they didn't wrinkle and were a revolutionary idea to the fashion-conscious. Everything looked artificial and over the top. I suppose people got tired of the conventionally safe looks and for the first time massive fashion statements were made in Dhaka.

The clothes were too small, short, and sleeveless. The shoes were too pointy, the bags were too long and if I can remember correctly from my research, shine, gloss, and patent finishes were greatly popular. The hair also took unnaturally elevated shapes for women, pouffed and teased, it sat like a bird's nest on top of the head. The adventurous women cut off their lengths and looked pretty in their boyish hairstyles. The guys boasted short hair; it was a crew cut where hair grazed the skull. This was definitely a take on the heroic boys returning from the wars (1965) here and elsewhere.

The influence of the 60's on contemporary fashion is very apparent. The styles however, are sleeker with better fit and comfort. With the advancement of fabrics the 60's essence has found a renewed identity. You may love to romance this period as it represents urban freedom.

In this new millennium, styles have become very individual and anything goes. You will need to find your signature. You can wear churidar and kurta just as well today, as you probably could have 40 years ago. Kaftans, ponchos, capes, body suits of the time continue to be a rave today. You will like to imitate this style as it is extremely liberating.

In the 60's, woman for the first time in large numbers were exposed to higher education in the bygone East Pakistan. As a result they were more aware of the world in general and definitely fashion. Today's woman can more easily relate to their lifestyle. It was a vibrant decade. The Cold war between the two extreme forms of governments, capitalists and communists were at its height. The Vietnam War found US and Soviet involvement; the young everywhere opposed the actions of the killing fields. A time with the fall of the colonial imperialism new countries were born all over the world. Locally, students, politicians and members of the civil society took to the streets to call and avail rights for much more self determination of the Bengali population. Therefore it is quite clear that with this political and socio economic environment fashion would be freer, open and taken to the next level.

In the 70's, the facial hair for men grew longer as did their hair, and women began to wear longer hair as well. It was very fashionable to wear hair extensions and wigs. The clothes were softer and yes, longer and draped.

The bell-bottoms for the first time came into being. The colours moved towards a more natural direction instead of the acid bright. The collars became bigger scaled to enormous size, sleeves were wider, lengths on outfits for both men and women were longer. Saris continued to be extremely fashionable here with very wide borders and long anchals, it didn't matter whether it suited their small Bengali frames. In the newly liberated Bangladesh the young and the courageous had finally found their voice. The excessive scale of fashion gave them a platform of power and strength to be heard and seen. The issue in point was that they were different and fearless.

Today's metrosexual man (urbane, and highly conscious about his physique, appearance and fashion sense) is the new man of the millennium.

They are highly influenced by the 70's excess. They are straight but not afraid to disclose their feminine side by wearing disco style suits or ensembles. But by and large men's fashion now is comprised of comfortable, clean, sporty looks derived from a healthy lifestyle. Women's fashion however comes a full circle every few years.

This year in particular we have seen a revival of a post-disco period where medium to longer dresses are free flowing, shaped into body form with extreme wide belts.

With kameez you again moved from short to medium length and a more unisex shape is now the in vogue. Like it may have a collar, cuffs, open front and even pockets. Prints have magnified and bolder styles are acceptable to the 2007 fashionista.

The 80's is considered to be the dark decade of fashion. The grotesquely oversized, baggy, shoulder-padded styles were in extreme bad taste. Years when Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Prince, Boy George and of course Michael Jackson made it big. The whole world seemed to follow their extreme appearance.

The rise of the print and electronic media globally, the young and the restless suddenly sat up to follow their eccentricity to the dot. In Bangladesh women displayed shoulder pads even on their kameez and men wore such over sized shirts that the concept of the one-size fit was an acceptable size.

I would like to see today's generation reject the 80's style although I cannot predict with full confidence that this will be so.

In the 90's fashion achieved a golden age. Globally there was a rise of fashion followers, designers, stylists and manufacturers. In Europe, North America, Far East and most importantly South Asia fashion rose to become a vibrant scene, pushing and putting forward indigenous styles for its demanding contemporary urbanites.

The generation was energetic, stylish but most importantly proud to be whoever they were and a Bangladeshi was no different. The revival of heritage textiles was in full swing here and handloom and comfort became a priority to the patrons of ready-to-wear lines in the streets of Dhaka. Today the trend continues, but the generation demands quality, fit, finish, ingenuity, and creative styling. Bongo-Western fusion styles for both men and women have taken off in a big way.

Shirts are styled like ponchos, kameezes sport kimono sleeves, punjabis, a staple long shirt for the Bangladeshi man now come in formal bold stripes, and saris display Bengali calligraphy. Inventiveness is clearly the order of the day.

In 2007 our fashion scene has traversed a long way since its modest beginning, and rest assured that the trend-setting brigade will carry the torch into the next millennium.

By Maheen Khan
Photo Credit: Star Wedding archives

The recreation of a Zamindar bibi from 1918 captures the fashion flavours of a time gone by.
The wardrobe, make-up and styling rendered by Farzana Shakil's Makeover Salon. Photograph by Abu Naser.


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