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The short and sweet world of ‘kurtas’ and ‘kurtis’ (clothing)

August 9, 2013

On a lighter vein, wanted to blog something trivial and easy.

When the short’ kurtis’ along with standalone ‘kurtas’ made their way into fashion world, whoever imagined this would sweep us Indian women up by our feet with the simple embedded factor called ‘comfort’ within their short length?!  For most of us supposed it was a passing fancy, a phase, the flavour of the season that would fall out of favour with us soon…  I for one, was never for the short kurtas/kurtis shrugging ‘ugh, how inappropriate and distasteful and a total misfit!’

Typical knee-jerkreaction for a 40+ woman and a mother whose everyday clothes range anywhere between saris to the full suit salwar kameez and occasionally a pair of  jeans and tee (on holidays) (but mostly the plain old clumsy housecoats at home!)…. who would view anything and everything new in the orbit with suspicion!

Because me thinks a sari is a complete affair, the perfect formal dress code, the acceptable social wear.  And the salwar kameez comes a close second for its universal appeal and acceptance and for the easy adaptability in work conditions…   As a working woman once upon a time, i know how cumbersome it is for us ladies to drive a scooter clad in a sari (though many do it with style even today and kudos to them!)…  and the sight of women clutching saris in one hand and handbag in the other walking back to bus stops from their workplaces in monsoons is in itself quite a sight…. and oh, i forgot the umbrella!

So the preferred formal attire for most of us women somehow always would be a decent pair of cotton salwar kameez starched stiff.  Living in a hot and sweaty city like Chennai with unfavourable humidity conditions, makes you forget about synthetic fabric of any kind.  Its like one lon………g summer season for us always round the year, with intermittent spells of rains for monsoons to dispel the heat atleast between November and February months that go up like a whiff of smoke so swift every year!

Atleast it was like this until the short kurtis made their way into Indian fashion scene.  We the middle-aged, almost past our prime, developed an instant dislike for this kind of innovative clothing., an improvement of the age-old kameez of a complete suit, as if to make matters simpler.   May be we associated this short format with the arrival of GenNext about to usurp our own coveted spots in family as well as work stations?! Any feeling of insecurity that is a symptom of middle-age crisis?!  For the short kurtis did not necessitate the duppatta or  a matching salwar pair essentially which i must say most of us oldies (are we already?) found to be primarily offensive!  ‘How vulgar’ murmured my friends!  The kurtis could be worn over anything – a pair of matching or non-matching or contrasting leggings or patialas or salwars or jeans or even harem pants or whatever…. which made us accuse it of lacking ‘class and taste.’

Naturally this version of clothing was popularized with an exactly opposite rush by our rebellious  teenage population who lapped up the short and easy costume in no time.  Because for teenagers of today, anything going against the oldies is best! First of all the hassle of the dupatta was not there for them (oh what a bother) …. or as the younger women insist today, a high collar and full sleeves eliminate the dupatta effectively even in formal conditions …. and then there is this flexibility of mixing and matching different leggings/salwars with different kurtis as it suits you fine … so whatever you wear becomes the fashion statement, and remember it need not ever have to be appropriate ! So Kurtis are convenience over anything.

Over last 5 years i have been witness to how the kurtis and short kurtis have come to gradually change the clothing habits of urban Indian women, criss-crossing the age-barriers and making forays into the wardrobes of the slightly elderly women as well. What started as a trial for most, has since come to become a functional attire which is a pleasant surprise.

From being appalled at and cast out of offices and workplaces in introductory stages, the kurtis  that are nothing but chic versions of proper desi kameez, have come a long way,  slowly winning acceptance first as week-end/saturday work dress code for young working women.   Three-four years back i raised an eyebrow catching the staff in a bank in a full sleeved short kurti over a pair of jeans with a dupatta for the first time in working/formal atmosphere.  There is no stopping the kurtis ever since in capturing a lion’s share of the market in clothing segment as well as women’s imagination in India.  No looking back.

(pictures from:  google web images for kurtis)

Now everyday i see women working in short kurtis atop anything that suits them –  a pair of leggings or salwars or patialas or even harem pants SANS THE UBIQUITOUS DUPATTA that has been done away with smartly, to go in with present times!

And now inching its way to the forefront, the short kurtis have finally become the formal attire in workplaces which is a remarkable achievement within a very short span of time.  I don’t think any other apparel succeeded so quick in capturing the imagination of Indian women the way the short kurti has done.

It is significant because, even if i am not a fashion person or gifted with a good dressing sense (!), i can still notice how the kurtis have quietly crept up and swallowed a vast space in most of the city’s boutiques and women’s wardrobes in equal measures.

The boutique i frequent has now has done away with atleast 50% of suits in general and has switched over to mix and match kurtis with leggings/salwar/patialas (optional only) which is a big hit with their regular customers.  On chitchatting with the owner i understood that the boutique that is 25 years old has to keep up with changing times for survival.  The smartly dressed lady, who looked chic in a kurti and leggings herself, confided to me that she saw 3 straight worst years hard-selling the full suits which were once the No.1 choice of working women and housewives.  Now she says, even housewives prefer the kurtis which are easy and clutter-free daily wear that help them breeze through crowded shopping areas and market places.  The boutique owner has been having a steady stream of customers who insist on buying the kameez alone discarding the rest of the suit.  As a result she rues, she was left with a big load of unwanted salwars and dupattas in the preceding years.  The lady was smart to retain her regular clients acceding to their wish suffering losses in turn.  Which is why the boutique is running today and making even the losses.

The owner does grieve the slow death of the regular salwar-kameez suit that has seen its heyday because essentially she is a fashion conscious person, a through pro’ with an impeccable record in this field,  who places high value on good and decent grooming.  Says she, the suit won’t vanish totally out of scene but increasingly it has been outpaced by the informal or semi-formal kurti that does not deserve the centre stage it occupies today.

The stores that boast of large clientele and malls are no better.  Atleast 50-80% of their merchandise again is mostly the kurtis and kurtas, that are branded.  There are top-notch kurti brands now that have become familiar with the youngsters.

That set me thinking.  The grace has no doubt gone out of our clothing style now somehow with the ouster of the full salwar kameez dupatta suit.  I miss the sight of the sheer dupatta these days in young girls.  Like i feel, the dress is incomplete.   Even in heavily embroidered or embellished expensive designer kameez categories, we have silken kurtis now sans the trouser and the dupatta that used to be integral part of a suit  which makes one sad.  Now it looks like anything can go with anything.  Which i find is uncomplicated and classless at the sametime!

A friend’s daughter refuses my contentment.  Says she, ease and comfort must be the mainstays of one’s clothing always,  ‘dupatta is complicated and way too formal, aunty! hushes she.  ‘And imagine, for the price of one regular suit, you can buy 4 different kurtis to use over a single pair of leggings!’  So now you know the formula for success in case of the kurtis!

So perhaps kurtis reflect the mood of young India?  Has this new shift in the way we dress come to signal some change in our attitude, way of thinking?

Because, the working atmosphere from in ’90s to the current 2010+ years has undergone a sea change.  The emancipation of Indian women has never been more swift (albeit the rising crime rates against women in this country) and impressive as its been in last 20 years or so, with the arrival of the IT boom.  Campus interviews became the norm, with women engineers qualifying for work not opting for higher studies or domesticity immediately on graduation, rising like a steep curve with the age of the new recruits falling to as low as 21-22 years.  If I remember right, the women of our generation found work between 21-25 years broadly speaking.  But the millennium in contrast saw to that, its possible for women to get into their jobs as soon as they would graduate.  So as the age of recruitment fell, the dress code had to necessarily change to suit these new fresh college-outputs of a modern era.  For the first time in a changing work atmosphere, the bosses’ age was in the close age-bracket as that of the staff with very little distinction in many spheres.  And the simple dress code of kurti thus fit in both the manager and the employee with equal efficacy.   The kurti has smashed many borders i must say, forging equality amongst all classes of people!

My own acceptance of kurti though took a while longer… and i confess i am now fully into it!  Yes, convenience is the chief factor of consideration.  Walking through one more boutique that i used to patron since my teenage, i found that even my old owner-friend like the earlier one, is allotting more space for the kurtis over full suits.  But like me, she is unable to give up totally on suits.  Which is why she says she makes regular trips religiously to the North, to the cities of Delhi and Jaipur and Ahmedabad, to find fine cotton fabrics with ethnic motifs and designs, to do the full suits for those old fashioned customers who would never touch a thing like ‘kurti’ come whosoever.  Says she, she maintains such a small loyal clientele for suits but admits the circle is shrinking day by day.

Two more visits to popular boutiques in the heart of the city revealed that its more of kurtis rule here for some 90% of stocks atleast comprised of kurtis hanging in rows and rows and the rest of the stuff was unstitched material mostly.  The owner looked wary and complained of having the suits unsold even in peak festive seasons.   The area is frequented by teenage girls and young working women alike.  Its not entirely possible to do away with the suits, says the owner who feels, without a handful of suits somehow the shops seemed cheap.

So from talking to owners of boutiques i could understand their sense of longing for the full suits that are their primary love always.  Not surprisingly.

In my experience, even though i was late to take to kurtis, i have to reluctantly admit here that its a short and sweet world out there!  That the dupatta is not mandatory is a big saving grace in a way.  I prefer shopping this way in my crowded and bustling city.  On the other hand, in my age, i feel rather under-dressed also at the same time donning a kurti over a pair of leggings.  Leggings – i guess i can do without.  As much as possible i take to the patialas to buy some respect for my age!  For formal wear, its still a full suit for me and for grander occasions, it can be nothing but a silk sari or a designer sari.  I may not be good with my clothes but atleast i try to dress appropriate!  I think most of my friends share my view point when it comes to our clothes.

So somehow i see the kurtias as a revolution, a transition phase for Indian women.  There is less to do with formality in clothing which seems to be a nice change for once, in our outlook.  The casual chick look is here to stay, and most of all, the kurtis don’t burn a big hole in our pockets like the suits do!   For women on the run always, the ease with which a kurti can be matched with a legging is the best attractive option when it comes to clothes.  The full sleeves with high collar in some kurtis give it a presentable look, not totally non-agreeable in a discussion table.

There was a time when we believed that one day by 2000, the year of millennium, the traditional costume ‘sari’ would be mostly out of scene in India, but that did not happen.  But the same cannot be said about formal salwar kameez suits anymore.  I am finding even ‘anarkalis’ in kurtis, so one can imagine the impact of kurtis on Indian women’s psyche.   The uncomplicated simple and easy, short and sweet kurti, is here forever to say, so far as I can say.  Kurti is now staple outfit for GenNext.

Again i see the kurti as a symbol of evolution of Indian women.   There is no other way i can put it better.  The more i see of ‘designer kurti’s, the more convinced i am of how forever the way urban Indian women dress has changed.   The habit is all-India prevalent but more apparent in our cities and towns.

Finally the online shops for clothing merchandise in India are one prime reason for the kurtis to become such a huge hit in this country.  With online shopping becoming  a common practice today giving women a variety of options against a range of affordable prices without the prohibitive costs of a full suit, kurtis are fancied for the right reasons.  Traditional yet trendy: this is the Kurti mantra.  Desi at heart, Indo-Western in fusion.  Smart and crisp like the present age Indian Woman, making a bold, independent, contemporary and stylish statement in the world arena, carving a niche for herself.  Short Kurthi is thus a natural extension or a way of expression of this modern day Indian Nari – feminine enough yet boldly beautiful in character.

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From → Bharatiya Naari

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