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     Volume 4 Issue 1 | June 25, 2004 | 8th Anniversary Issue


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Cover Story

Reincarnated, Recycled, Refined


There 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.

The 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 or Vayjantimala.

For 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.

One 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 seductive.

The 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'.

Kaftans, gypsy and folk ruled in the '60s," says designer Maheen Khan, who owns her own boutique, Mayasir.

With 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.

The '50s 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.

"It 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'."

It 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.

The Rebellious Seventies
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.

The 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.

Kameezes 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 Rekha.

If the '70s generation were a careless, free-thinking, ill-groomed bunch, the '80s fashion buffs seem to be the most loud and overstated.

This 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 effect.

Make-up 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.

"The '80s brought about power dressing with shoulder pads and military regimentation," says Maheen.

Letting 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’.

The 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.

By 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 subtlety.

Saris 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.

"Global 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.”

Today's 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.

Today, 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 more.

"Recently 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.

Minus 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."

Fusion 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.

The 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.

Men's 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.

The 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.

Shalwar 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.

Sari 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.

Women 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.

The 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.

Whether 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 not complete.

"Accessories 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," she says.

Complete with the right shoes, matching bags and accessories, the perfect outfit needs one last thing -- the right hairstyle.

"Now 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."

"Hair 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 cuts.”

Current 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."

Maheen's 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.

Trends 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, don't imitate”.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2004