The true validation of Masculine Fashion History


Great taste has always been a part of our cultural DNA. While the Europeans came to India initially in search of spices, it was our abundant treasure trove of exquisite jewelry, embroidery, cotton, and other rich fabrics that caught the eye of the greedy Imperial powers. Historically, the Indian man’s style graph has traversed the whole spectrum—from simple to ornate made-ups, and everything in between. Here’s a closer look at the style evolution of the Indian man.

Our ancestors had a keen understanding of the art of dressing up. Did you know that the earliest evidence of textile production in India comes from 2500 BCE in the Indus Valley? Most of the iconography and figurines are unearthed from the advanced urban civilization that thrived in Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, pointing towards their love for jewelry and draped clothing.

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While most of the figurines discovered were in their birthday suits, a few like the statue of the Priest-King wearing a ‘printed robe’ over one shoulder and armband, are proof that Indian men did pay attention to how they presented themselves. Then came The Vedic period (1500 – 500 BCE). People from this era took the keep-things-simple-style motto to another level: Just a cloth wrapped around the whole body, and draped over the shoulder, and avoided jewelry or embellishments like the plague.

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The dawn of the Mauryan Empire saw the use of the Tunics, the earliest depiction of the cut-and-sewn fabric. During the following Gupta Period, stitched garments became a sign of royalty. The Antalya, a lower-body cotton garment, was worn by kings. This perhaps can be touted as the earliest version of pants/trousers.

Then came the mighty Mughals, who loved to show off their wealth. They were known for their luxurious and extravagant outfits sewn in vibrant fabrics like silk, velvet, brocade, and the soft-as-a-feather, muslin. Jama, a traditional long, overlapping coat tied around the waist, pyjama-style pants, and headgear encrusted with precious gems were how the Mughals rolled! They also had a thing for embroidered jhutis (which curved up in the front) from Lucknow and loved to team their outfits with statement jewelry pieces. The Rajputs also loved all things grand. While their go-to look was the aristocratic court dress in rich hues—complete with a short jacket, belt, pagdi (turban), and churidar pajama—the nobles preferred wearing jama or sherwani. The Rajput men also had a taste for bold jewelry pieces in pearls and other exquisite stones.

Thus, many historians have argued that the experience of mass breakdown in the First World War led to the reconfiguration of ideals of masculine behavior. The literary historian Samuel Hynes believes that after 1918, war was imagined in fundamentally new ways. The soldier hero was no longer the main actor in popular conceptions of war; now, he was accompanied by the coward, the frightened boy, and the ‘shell-shock’ victim (Hynes, 1991). For Elaine Showalter, ‘shell-shock’ represented ‘a crisis of masculinity and a trial of the Victorian masculine ideal’; it was an unconscious protest ‘not only against the war but against the concept of “manliness” itself’ (Showalter, 1987, pp.171–2). Other historians have suggested that the acknowledgement that any man could break down under sufficient stress ‘forced western society to take note and modify its views on mental illness, human motivation, and other issues far beyond the immediate problems of disabled soldiers’ (Feudtner, 1993, p.409; see also Bogacz, 1989; Stone, 1985). From this perspective, ‘shell-shock’ revealed the ultimate fragility of the human psyche, and undermined the bombastic stoicism applied to so many areas of social life.

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