MEHREEN AMIN, KAJALIE SHEHREEN ISLAM and SRABONTI NARMEEN
is no more obvious way of self-expression than the way we
physically present ourselves. When this becomes a trend it
translates into fashion. Yet even while conforming to the
basics of the styles of the seasons, fashion aficionados cannot
help adopting their own styles and making their own statements.
But how does fashion evolve? What is it influenced by? Current
fashion trends show an amalgamation of a hundred different
things. While the old styles keep coming back, they do so
with newer wrappings, creating that unique look that differentiates
one era from another. SWM takes a journey back into the past
to find out what was trendy in previous decades, what influenced
fashion and how all that relates to the trends of today.
Swinging Fifties and Sixties
If there was anything that determined the look of the season
in these two decades it was the cinema -- a major form of
entertainment for the middle class. While Hollywood stars
influenced the styles adopted by Indian actors and actresses,
ordinary people took their cue from the alluring world of
Indian commercial film. Thus the Humphrey Bogart look of stars
like Dev Anand, the porcelain skin and well groomed curls
of Vivien Leigh or Rita Hayworth being replicated on dreamy
goddesses of the Indian silver screen, such as Nargis, Madhubala
Bangali women, Suchitra Sen with her sultry, yet elegant looks
and avant-garde sari blouses, became the icon of fashion.
Sen's high-necked, short-sleeved blouses in many of her films
appealed to the more conservative Bangali woman who preferred
to be stylish in a more understated way, which is why the
sari blouse went through major face-lifts. Collars could be
high-necked or boat necked, while sleeves could be three-quarter
length with lace frills, puffed out, or just plain short.
Sleeveless and one shouldered blouses were also part of this
ensemble. Blouses, in fact, could be in plaid, polka dots,
heavily embroidered or even minuscule cholis tied
up in the front. Sometimes show-buttons adorned the back of
the blouse to give that extra petite flair.
of the distinctive features of the '50s and '60s was the emphasis
on the figure. Saris worn below the navel, with big pleats
(kuchi) were tightly draped across the curves of
the body with short anchals. Even petticoats were
made to hug the figure. It was when the sari looked its most
preoccupation with silhouettes was seen in the short, tight-fitting
kameezes -- knee-length or above-the-knee, often
in sleeveless styles. These were worn with churidar
or shalwars with narrow bottoms. Frock kameezes
with Kashmiri embroidery were also 'in'.
gypsy and folk ruled in the '60s," says designer Maheen
Khan, who owns her own boutique, Mayasir.
mini-skirts creating a storm in the West, South Asian designers
followed suit by bringing the hem lines of kameezes
higher and higher. The 'mini- sari' made a guest appearance
(Zeenat Aman wore one in a movie once) but somehow just did
not gel with the overall fashion scene.
and '60s were most definitely the most happening of decades
in terms of fashion. It was when women were chic and men were
suave. The look that remained trendy was one of sophistication
and class. Men sported the Italian rake-on-the-street look
with sleek, Bryl Creamed hairstyles, clean-shaven or well-groomed
mustachioed faces and dark trousers worn with loose full-sleeved
shirts and narrow ties. Short-sleeved, short shirts were also
the rage. Accessories included the oval goggles or horn-rimmed,
cat's eye sunglasses, purses with stones and bee-hive or puffed
up hairdos. Braids were also big with Bangali women and were
worn in various styles. It was also the time for pointed shoes
and pencil heels to make their introduction.
was 'real fashion' in a sense -- its finesses, classiness,
elegance represented a good balance between appeal and sophistication,"
says designer Aneela Haque, who also has her own boutique,
Andes. "The attire, make-up, hair, accessories and lifestyle
created the 'personality' that constituted real style.”
Aneela insists that the cultural richness and intellectual
depth of society in general, gave that added sophistication
to fashion in these decades. "People read more books
of say, Tagore, Sharatchandra, Bonkim as well as the great
English classics. Fashion was not just evident in their appearance
but a manifestation of their cultivated minds that, in turn,
determined what was 'hip'."
was also a time of great social activity with middle-class
and upper-class men and women being constantly involved in
cocktail parties, dances, theatre, movies, musical soirees
and so on, which made looking good so important.
Fashion took a sharp turn away from the conformist, conservative
and classic '60s and took on a more radical, relaxed and somewhat
rebellious attitude. It was a time for challenging authority,
for breaking middle-class conventions and asserting one's
freedom of expression. The hippie looks of Woodstock soon
trickled into this part of the world. For Bangladeshis, freshly
born out of a freedom struggle, such assertion of individualism
could not have been better timed. With idealism, rock-and-roll
(and a little bit of weed) being the religion of the young
generation came the voluminous bell bottoms, open-necked,
tight-fitting shirts (for men, obviously) and tie and dye
T-shirts. Bandanas, friendship bands and long silver chains
with peace signs formed the accessories. Hair was long and
shaggy for both men and women though more so for the former.
The scruffy, unkempt look for men was the 'in' look.
A-lined polyester maxi worn with tight-fitting blouses crept
its way into Indian and Bangla movies and was adopted by young
women. Hair was long and straight, often kept in place by
the ubiquitous, thick hair-band or bandana tied at the side
of the neck. Platforms and polka dots were major fashion statements
of this psychedelic era.
were still fairly short and shalwars became narrower,
veering towards semi-’churidarhood'. But there
was also a tendency towards the loose shalwar with
thick ‘bucram' borders. Singing icons like
Runa Laila and Pilu Momtaz set their own trends by wearing
high-backed, low-necked, sleeveless blouses with very colourful
saris. Film actresses took their cue from glamour queens of
Bollywood such as Zeenat Aman, Hema Malini, Parveen Babi and
the '70s generation were a careless, free-thinking, ill-groomed
bunch, the '80s fashion buffs seem to be the most loud and
was definitely a 'time to disco' with all the glittery, gaudy
accompaniments. The below-the-knee flared midi skirts or dresses
worn with high heels were a must for most school and college-going
girls. Shiny synthetics predominated with little regard for
the sweltering summer heat. The 'Silsila' material inspired
by Rekha's sari in the movie by that name, made its way into
the Bangladeshi markets for making shalwar kameez
suits or even midis. This was usually in cotton or semi-synthetic
fabric with silver zari stripes to create a shimmering
and hair underwent a major change in the '80s. Hair spray
was never more popular. Shaggy Farah Fawcett hairstyles, perms,
teased and fluffy hair sometimes with bangs were common. In
this part of the globe, the long, black hair – that
seems to get stuck in all generations -- was what women craved
for, no doubt influenced by Indian shampoo ads. Snipping off
hair on two sides for the ‘Parveen Babi look’
was also popular.
'80s brought about power dressing with shoulder pads and military
regimentation," says Maheen.
go of the minimalist looks of the '60s as far as make-up was
concerned, the '80s sported a very conspicuous look with dark,
kohl-lined eyes, thin eyebrows, lip gloss and layers of lipstick
and rouged up cheeks. Stilettos and pumps adorned the feet
of the '80s woman. It was an equally unflattering decade for
men with, among other trends, ungainly drainpipe jeans worn
with brass rimmed 'disco' shoes -- not to mention cowboy boots
for some of the more 'adventurous men’.
early '90s were a somewhat obscure period for fashion. The
gaudiness of the '80s was abandoned, replaced by a less ostentatious
look. Kameezes remained long and loose fitting and
shalwars oscillated between narrow and wide borders.
Pleated kameezes were still around, sometimes accentuated
at the waist by laces criss-crossed at the back.
the late '90s, with a mushroom growth of small boutiques (sometimes
a garage or room inside the house), it was the block-printed,
screen-printed and embroidered kameez that took centre
stage. Blocks in vibrant combinations brought colour to the
fashion scene but not much else as cuts were not given much
attention and aside from a few fashion homes, they began to
look more and more like copies of each other. Fashion houses
like Aarong and Kumudini, of course, did set a few trends.
Aarong's nakshi-kantha, cotton kameezes
and Kumudini's block-printed saris gave new flavour to the
fashion scene. Aranya's vegetable dye block-printed saris
and shalwar kameezes in subtle European colours appealed
to working women, especially those who opted for comfort and
in the '90s enjoyed a gala in terms of variety. With the outrageous
influx of Indian saris coupled with an aggressive attempt
to create our own, the Bangladeshi sari reached its most vibrant
stage. Crepe silk, chiffon, lace, South Indian silk, balucharis,
Mirpur kathan, Rajshahi silk, Tangail silk and cotton
and of course the classic Jamdani were just some
of the choices available. Tangail cotton saris in two coloured
Ganga-Jamuna wide borders enjoyed a few months of
popularity. Jamdanis came in the most enchanting
combinations -- of white with multi colours, black and red,
off-white and gold or ethereal pastels -- giving that classy,
sophisticated look to Bangladeshi women. The growing urge
to wear comfortable clothes, especially those which are cotton-based,
paved the way for a lot of Bangladeshi designers.
trends have transcended culture," says Maheen. "Women
all over the world are looking for comfort and less fuss.
Over and over women tend to go for minimalist styles.”
Trends: Blast from the Past
Observing the styles of today,
one can tell that women are being influenced by the fashion
industry in the West as well as the voices from our South
Asian past and present. The Bollywood heroines make and break
our trends, which was a highly unfortunate prospect in the
'80s when the outfits consisted mostly of horrifying puffy
hair-do's and loud, tacky prom-like dresses that looked like
they belonged in the '80s hall of shame. Thankfully, we were
brought out of our misery.
being glamorous and glitzy is not so much about how noticeable
and ostentatious clothes are. Instead, women are taking tips
from the internationally standardised beauties like Aishwarya
and Kareena -- learning that although sequins and glitter
are key factors in order to glam up an outfit, less is definitely
we find layered ensembles," says Maheen, "but anything
goes, really -- fusion, minimalist, drag, pop. Fashion here
takes the essence from global trends and incorporates our
deshi styles. Our timeless styles and understated
looks continue through the generations. I wish we could incorporate
more minimal, chic and clean lines and make them popular.
We're still way behind. 'More is more and less is less' should
be chucked out," she stresses.
the beehive hair-do's and the go-go sunglasses, the soft,
feminine, chic look of the '50s and '60's is one that is definitely
coming back in full swing. Aneela feels that fashion today
is influenced "by the 60's fashion in certain groups
but the majority is influenced by the media --Bollywood. The
whole world is going by the Indian '60s fashion with a touch
of modern, more fusion type."
with a capital F -- we see it everywhere -- especially in
young women. More and more women are discarding their shalwar
kameezes for a pair of jeans or pants and a kurti
-- the middle ground between a kameez and a shirt.
Perfect for day-wear if it is a more casual style, as well
as a night out if it is a little more formal, the kurti
is one of the hottest commodities in Dhaka.
male counterpart to the kurti is the comfortable
fotua, originally a village man's garment, becoming
a popular item for both young and older men as did the classic
shawl in the winter, worn over punjabi-pyjamas.
ethnic wear has gone through major change. The typical white
embroidered punjabi has taken a more flamboyant look
with vibrant coloured kurtas (floating way below
the knees) worn over churidar or pyjamas.
influence of Bollywood and Hindi soap operas have been overwhelming
since the late '90s. With no Suchitra Sen to follow, many
Bangladeshi women turn to Indian celebrities for inspiration.
It's the risqué blouses of Komolika that gets them
talking and secretly wishing they could wear them. It's Kareena
Kapoor's short kameezes that tailors are harassed
to copy in the minutest of detail.
kameezes have been "altered" during the cycle
of style evolution. Kameezes are shorter than they
were in the '80s and '90s -- an idea borrowed from the '50s
and '60s. The craze now is short, knee-length and above kameezes.
Kameezes are also figure hugging and more silhouette-oriented.
A new phenomenon, however, is the idea of shalwars
being more pant-like -- flares, jeans, bell-bottoms -- you
name it, anything goes.
blouses, making changes from sleeveless to short to longer
to three-quarter length have finally found themselves back
in the comfortable nook of being three to four inches down
from the shoulders. Choli blouses have made a comeback,
but are being tied in the back more than the front -- an act
which is both daring as well as modest.
are getting more and more creative with blouses. Some are
taking tips from the shirts and tops that they see in the
West. For example, some women are making the sleeves of their
blouses with a cut down the middle from the shoulder, causing
a ruffled effect that makes it look like it is almost sleeveless,
but isn't. Puffy blouses are also being seen more often, giving
the outfit an irresistible girly quality.
sari is always in style. Whether worn the Bangali ek paach
style (single turned without front pleats) as was popular
in the past, the Gujrati style (where the anchal
drapes over the right shoulder in the front), or the more
common way (where the anchal goes over the left shoulder
and hangs in the back). Georgettes, crepe silks and chiffons,
decorated with mirror work or sequins for added glitz, are
the new craze, playing again on the whole idea of silhouettes.
More young women are letting go of heavy silks and starchy
cottons for these lighter fabrics. The shadows of the '50s
and '60s are coming back, as we see more and more figure-hugging
saris with shorter anchals.
it is an elegant sari and daring blouse, a short, figure-complementing
shalwar kameez, or a comfortable kurti,
one has to sport each of these ensembles with matching bags,
shoes and accessories – otherwise the outfit is just
are not a recent phenomenon," says Maheen. "Through
the ages they have made clear fashion statements. Shoes, bags
and jewellery are an important extension of oneself,"
with the right shoes, matching bags and accessories, the perfect
outfit needs one last thing -- the right hairstyle.
it's all colours and shades in hair," says Aneela. "People
are busy straightening hair, not keeping the natural beauty…it
looks fake when there is so much colour in hair with our ethnic
looks and skin colour. People do so regardless of thinking
whether it suits them or not. Media has influenced us so much
that people are going blonde and brown with coloured contact
lenses. I think this fashion has reached an 'ugly stage' --
they all look like vegetable dye."
products have made a difference today," says Maheen.
"Before, hair styles were harder, stiffer. Today, they
are more feminine and attractive in terms of cut and style.
"Now we have softer, freer styles, with layers and sharp
styles definitely showcase the blend of East and West, a good
example being Aneela's designs. "[They] reflect me as
a person. Andes brand comes from my own wardrobe. Whatever
I like to wear I keep in my boutique. If people can pick up
my style of art, it makes me a real brand."
favourite trend is to mix and match ethnic kaftan
tops with really trendy trousers as well as kurtis
with the right neckline. "I wish I could bring back the
pop prints and the loud colours of the '60s," she says.
of today are designed to bring out the best in a woman. The
days of gaudiness and overly loose clothes are over. Today
silhouettes are in -- be it in the Western fashion world or
Eastern. The battle between how much women can show and how
much they should cover is ongoing. But women are finding more
and more ways to work around the system. It's not always easy
to stick to the norms of society when you are trying to be
a trendsetter, especially because we are so influenced by
what we see being worn in the outside world. However, Dhaka
women manage pretty well and prove again and again that you
don't have to wear a shorter than short mini-skirt or tight
fitted revealing tank top to stay on top of the style barometer.
Hugo Boss seems to have the perfect motto for this decade,
one that applies everywhere, be it East or West -- “innovate,
(R) thedailystar.net 2004