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Emergence of Western Formalwear


Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Clothing is a forceful and highly visible medium of communication that carries with it the information about who a person is, and who a person wants to be. While cultural icons and economic conditions have influenced changes in men’s formal wear, the purpose of dress has remained the same – strike a sophisticated and debonair look.

Fashion involves our outward visible lives; is impacted by the economy; and other events that happen in the world around us. It does not exist in isolation and all fashion move in cycles. It is like a wave that peaks and then ebbs. But, the beauty is, that it comes back and always in an updated version.

If you look at the categorisation of clothes that people wear, there are formals, which is a formal shirt and trouser, with or without a tie or a coat; casual or Friday Dressing which is a more casual shirt and casual trousers; or could be jeans teamed with a casual shirt; street shorts, bermudas and three-fourths with T-shirts or shirts; sportswear is the new active wear or passive sportswear, occasion which are the dressy clothes for weddings and functions and leisure where you can lounge in a draw string trouser or shorts with either a tee or a shirt and hang out at home or with friends. Then, of course, you have Indian and western wear.

Indian wear refers to saris, salwar-kurta; any other clothes that are Indian in origin and western to trousers and suits and clothes that are western in appeal. But today we also have a new emerging category called Indo-western wear where one can mix and match the best of Indian and western wear that gives glam of the former and the style of the latter. India’s apparel market is in the throes of change. Rapid growth and rising urbanisation have spawned a new class of consumers with more money to spend, and a growing passion for fashion. In India’s high-growth, fast-changing retail clothing market, we see signifi cant new growth opportunities for foreign and domestic players.

With globalisation and the advent of so many international brands in the country, the whole concept of dressing up is gradually changing. The television and internet has made the whole world a global village and trends are catching up even in smaller cities. No one wants to be left behind especially when you can buy the latest styles in India from either the national or global brands.

Other Factors Contributing to the Change in Clothing Patterns Are:

Growth of Tier -II Cities: 
Consumption in smaller cities is fast growing and the consumers are also getting fashion savvy and conscious. They also want to wear clothes that they see other people wearing in the metros. Thus there is a rapid growth of national brands in these cities to cater to these consumers.

International Brands in Indian Cities: Brands like Zara, Uniqlo, Gap, Mango, Forever 21 are no longer new to the Indian consumers. Now, you can go and shop in their outlets and buy merchandise which your contemporaries are wearing all over the world.

The Mecca of bespoke might not be here in India but the experience is, courtesy the luxury menswear brands that are catering to the Indian men’s newfound zeal to be dapper. The men’s ready-to-wear gets a new sheen and spin with Gucci, Hugo Boss, Salvatore Ferragamo, Armani, Versace, Brioni, Ermenegildo Zegna, Canali, Corneliani, Alfred Dunhill, Cadini all in the race to clothe the new sartorially savvy Indian man.

The biggest impact of all the above has been in the clothes that men and women are wearing to the workplace. Traditionally the workplace was dominated by men but with more and more women breaking the glass ceiling, Power Dressing, taking the centre stage. If you observe the attire that working professional whether men or women wear it is largely shifting to semi-formal or western formalwear.

So what is western formal wear?

Formal wear was defined as the uniform for events such as debutante balls, symphonies and operas, and for ceremonies such as weddings. It is a form of dress that adheres to conservative rules regarding the cut, colour and fit of a garment. Formal attire is the ensemble of a gentleman, one known for refined manners and superlative etiquette. Today, the style is commonly referred to as “black tie”, which consists of single or double-breasted jackets, matching trousers, silk cummerbunds, black silk bow tie and polished black shoes.

Formalwear was for long considered the attire for older people and was not perceived as smart. The main reason was, that fashion had not impacted this segment of clothing to such a large extent. But now, the formal segment is also fashionable.

Silhouettes have become sleeker and slimmer and colours have changed from the usual black, brown and grey to the more fashionable hues like oranges, lilacs etc. that keep changing with the seasons. So, in terms of appeal, it is more attractive to the younger generation. Moreover, one finds a lot more of the youngsters sporting formal jackets and suits and looking really dapper.

Women are gradually moving away from wearing ethnic wear to work, to experimenting with formal trousers, cotton chinos or jeans with tops or kurtis or shirts to work. Similarly for formal meetings women wear jackets and suits. It not only adds to the aura of being taken more seriously but adds to the fact that they feel more confident and trendy. Earlier if you wanted to wear a smart jacket or trouser you had to tailor-make it and the fi tting and the silhouette would not be up to your expectations. But now, the consumer is spoilt for choices as so many international brands have opened stores in India and they showcase such a vast line of merchandise that the entire mindset of the consumers have changed. Closer home actor, Shah Rukh Khan and other celebs are effortlessly carrying off really fancy suits and Tuxedos.

They are now willing to experiment with different silhouettes and also different types of clothing. So the salwar-kurta wearer has gradually shifted to wearing jeans with kurtas and has also begun to wear jackets and suits.

For women, the suit is a statement clothing that helps her to assert herself amongst men. They are also versatile enough to look either playful and casual or dressy and glamorous. Women can look ladylike in a skirt-suit or really business like in a trouser-suit! Hollywood is another strong influencer on the way people dress, for example, Daniel Craig and Angeline Jolie in Tuxedos. While, Victoria Beckham has her own interpretation of wearing suits that make her look really sexy. One of the earliest celebs to wear a suit was Marlene Dietrich when she wore the Tux in a movie called Morocco. After that, the Tux became a haute favourite in 1966.

According to the market report that you will read in this issue the menswear market in India is the fastest growing apparel segment. It is estimated that the western formalwear market in India is worth US$ 4,675 million, of which 90 percent is contributed by men’s formalwear. Clearly the men want to look dapper. The fact that it is one of the fastest growing segment is no surprise considering that the Indian men have now become experimental.

The women’s wear segment which was growing slower than the menswear segment is also fast catching up and is slowly eating into the pie of branded clothing. The men’s apparel is more westernised unlike women’s where even in the high-end you would see many of them opting for Indian wear. Then again, the men have always been the prime spenders and are now finding avenues to explore. Even in cases of equal spending power, by nature men show a preference for technology and apparel than women who prefer to spend money on saris. So western formalwear whether for men or women is here to stay and become a staple in the wardrobe of the Indian consumer!