Political leaders make a personal style statement with their choice of clothes and colours

With the politicians taking centrestage, their sartorial sense is also under focus. We have come a long way from the rosy days of Jawaharlal Nehru and the effortless style of Indira Gandhi. There has always been a rush to identify with the aam aadmi and as a result in the country of colours, the politicians are often seen in white with very little contrast to offer. As if it is the colour of common man. In fact if you ask any common man, he would avoid the colour for it catches dirt easily. But it does make the politician of the world’s largest democracy boring. When the sun sets and the politicians run to television studios, they leave the whites behind.

Designer Raghavendra Rathore holds that with the “richness and the diversity of our culture”, a modern politician in India has far more advantages in sensibly selecting his or her “politico wardrobe”, than his or her Western counterpart. However, not many are paying heed to this thought. Somehow, over the years, the politician who is style-conscious is not considered to be serious.

Among the younger politicians Omar Abdullah and Sachin Pilot have to work extra hard to offset the conservative old guard, which is always ready to decipher well-dressed as non-serious. No such issues with filmy politicians. Jayaprada is said to carry her wardrobe with her and changes according to the locality she is campaigning. Stars are quick to get into the character. Nagma has carefully crafted the bindi-free look in Meerut where the vote banks seem to have been polarised after the Muzzaffarnagar riots.   

Among the three aspirants for the top post in the public imagination, only Narendra Modi is experimenting with his wardrobe and colours. Designer Payal Jain says he conveys a strong message through the way he dresses up for the rallies. “He mostly wears jackets in the shades of the Tricolour to convey his image of a nationalist. He has not been shy of wearing pink and orange jackets which are not usually considered to be masculine colours and his headgears are. They combine well with his grey beard.” Payal says the standing and closed collar of his short kurta, which has now been dubbed as ‘Modi kurta’, also goes with the personality that his party is trying to project.”

In comparison, Rahul Gandhi seems unconcerned about sporting a look. “He keeps on repeating the same kurta pyjama again and again. At the most he wears a grey or black jacket.” It might be considered carelessness, but many believe he is not carrying forward the sartorial tradition of Nehru-Gandhi family. “In that sense Priyanka Gandhi is the true heir of Indira Gandhi. She seems effortless in whatever she does. Like her grandmother you can’t ignore her personal charisma even if you want to,” says Payal, who has observed Priyanka from her college days as both went to Delhi’s Jesus & Mary College. 

Talking of female politicians, Sonia Gandhi is a great ambassador for the traditional weaves of India. “She mostly turns up in subtle colours and it goes with her personality. The only thing that I will like to recommend is that she should experiment with her blouses,” says Payal. Sushma Swaraj is equally fond of Indian textiles but her choice of colours is on the brighter side. “With her the bindi and sindoor make the biggest statement,” notes Payal adding simplicity need not come cheap. “The kind of hand weaves they sport, they have to pay a huge amount for it.” 

As for the Arvind Kejriwal workman-like look, Payal says every designer would say, “Oh! God.” However, she goes on to add that there is a consistency in the way he dresses up and the cap makes the biggest statement and a masterstroke. Drawing a parallel from luxury brands, “It is like Louis Vuitton insignia or Burberry check. You don’t need further identification.” She is right for the aam aadmi cap forced the other champion of topi, Akhilesh Yadav, to make it mandatory for his followers in public meetings. Again, if you look closely, Akhilesh is not too distinct from Rahul in his choice of political wardrobe and his wife Dimple’s saris remind of Priyanka’s sartorial sense.      Khadi is no longer the only option for politicians. “With linen fabric boom the good old-khadi, sadly, seems to be taking a back seat. There is a clear shift in how the younger politicians are adapting to a more sophisticated look over the peers who still prefer to settling with khadi to identify with the aam aadmi,” notes Rathore. 

Rathore, who has many clients in the political spectrum doesn’t want to name any but says, “The Jodhpuri Bandhgala jacket in many of its avatars, is clearly the most popular choice for most politicians who care for a civilised look that is classic and stately. It works well for both summer and winter but must absolutely be custom-tailored.” 

Some of the silhouettes have almost disappeared from the political stage. “The Nehru knee length coat seems to have almost disappeared or may have been replaced by the waistcoat. knee length kurta and slim churidars,” notes Rathore. So has Aligarhi sherwani, which has been a favourite of Presidents of India. From Zakir Hussain to Pranab Mukherjee every president swears by it. Akhtar Mehdi has been carrying on the family tradition of stitching sherwanis. The measurements of Satpal Maharaj and Hamid Ansari figure on the same page of his register. He says it is a misconception that sherwani is not for the well-fed. “Satpal Maharaj has been our client for a long time. Unlike Hyderabadi sherwani, the Aligarhi takes the shape of the body and remains airy.” Last year, he stitched a sherwani for Rahul Gandhi. “He could well be the best ambassador of sherwani in politics.” Is he polarising the debate!