City, season and fashion
All major cities have a distinctive sense of style and you can tell Parisians, Londoners and New Yorkers apart from the manner in which they dress. Where Paris is incredibly chic, Londoners prefer to be elegant, and New York’s residents rock the business dress code. France embraces colour while making allowance for the quirky. And though Britain may occasionally lapse into good old-fashioned handknits and granny blouses, for most part, like the US, it’s preferred choice of colour is black. The Italians like sharp suits and dresses, but it’s Milan, not Rome, where fashion is created, and there are altogether too many tourists in the country for a unique sense of fashion to make itself seen.
There was a time in India when cities appeared to dress differently before the sameness of fashion snuffed out all individuality. The mamis of Madras (Chennai doesn’t have the same ring) wore their silks in the heat of summer — not that it has a winter! — with flowers in their hair.
Kolkata’s ladies alternated between starched cottons and ironed silks depending on the season, and their men between handcrafted suits and crisp dhotis with kurtas( which they called panjabis) with a pocket watch to link them sartorially. Winter fashion was usually a disaster in the hills, and unfortunate in the capital city, with the exception of those who could afford to get their wardrobes from Saville Row, often passing on their suits and blazers — not so much fashionable as heirlooms — to sons and grandsons.
But in this era of globalisation, paparazzi and Instagram feeds, repeating one’s own clothes is faux-pas enough without having to deal with hand-medowns. It’s also ushered in monotony into all the cities, with the same brands popping up in neighbourhood malls, and Western wear having almost entirely taken over the space of one’s wardrobes ( saris and bandhgalas reserved strictly for shaadis and festivals). There is no longer any difference in the way someone from Bangalore or Pune, Hyderabad or Indore, or for that matter, Mumbai or Manhattan, dresses. Zara and H&M have brought high street fashion to the middle class at affordable prices, making them part of the global fashionatti.
Yet, at the risk of upsetting Mumbaikars, I would have to say that New Delhi is leaps ahead of other Indian cities in its sense of fashion and style. For years, the good folk of tinsel town would mock the capital for having flash but not class — and it’s true of parts of the city even today. But fashion needs seasons, and Delhi has its brief flirtations with spring and autumn, its (horrendously long) summer, and a crisp winter when everyone seems to dress up smarter. Out come fitted jackets and knee-high boots, the season’s trending suits, synthetic furs and fleece-lined bombers, occasionally even teamed with pashminas. Ignore the traffic and filth and you might even imagine yourself in a part of Europe.
As for Mumbaiwallahs, their casual insouciance now looks faked. As a megacity and financial centre, you don't really expect to see top honchos pairing their linens with chappals by way of comfort - that's taking casual too far. Most of the city's bankers who keep their shoes on prefer to pair them with boring suits. And when they do care to dress up - Bollywood, unfortunately, comes to mind, with its “airport” look - most end up looking ridiculous sporting boots and jackets given its tropical heat. Delhi, meanwhile, has the capriciousness of its seasons and is scorching the city’s streets as the fashion capital of India.