The dude uniform

A funny letter from Mumbai about observing everyday Indian fashion. There’s a nice bit about distinguishing saris, but aspects of the male wardrobe bear the brunt of the critique. I find myself concurring but wonder why it’s so: perhaps because their outfits are more western-yet-not-quite-western? Or a cultural openness to the exotic feminine but not the exotic masculine? If I had to describe my combined impressions of Bollywood actresses in a word it would be “stunning”; for the actors, the word would probably be “goofy.” Clearly there’s a lot going on there in terms of my own sense of gender, culture, taste, and prejudice.

Most Indian men, at least those I see about town on the street, dress in what I call the “dude uniform”: a light-colored button-down long-sleeve shirt, slacks, and black sandals. As far as uniforms go, it’s pretty functional, working equally well for home and office, and requiring little in maintenance.

Younger guys, however, replace the sensible slacks with over-the-top denim: emulating their favorite Bollywood stars, they buy jeans that are dyed, streaked, distressed, and bedecked with clasps, latches, snaps, and pockets. Most of the time the pants are flared, giving them a bit of a disco feel.

On top, they wear a variety of shirts that make European clubwear appear dignified. Most are made of synthetic materials; gold lamé and neon orange are popular at the moment. Solid one-inch-wide black and orange vertical stripes were big in Fall 2008, but 2009 seems to favor a trompe l’oeil sweater-vest-over-T-shirt garment, usually in pastels. As far as I can tell, it’s the guys scraping by who wear the flashiest clothes. Too far down the socio-economic ladder and your duds turn to rags. Too far up and they become the dude uniform. Somewhere in between, though, is ‘70s gold.

from “The Expat’s New Clothes,” by Jill Wheeler, The Morning News, 6 October 2009

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