Samir Suhag remembers being terribly impressed as a child when he used to watch his father Brigadier Bheem Suhag and his team-mates stride onto the polo field in their white breeches, knee-high brown boots and helmets. “Even after the game when their breeches were muddy and the boots scuffed, they looked macho,” says the 34-year-old polo player.
There are some old-world traditions that get more attractive as they age and Indian polo is one of them. “There’s something about polo that makes you want to go to a match looking classy and fashionable,” says 55-year-old Adhiraj Singh, polo player and CEO of Equisport, an event management company that specialises in equestrian sport.
So the men with waxed moustaches still dress in bandhgalas, tweed blazers and cravats, while the ladies are in chiffon saris and pearls, much like they were decades ago. “It is the place to make a statement, people are always watching,” says designer Raghuvendra Rathore.
The game moves between the cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur, Delhi and Mumbai in the months between October and March. Spring season began in the capital last week.
Dressing for the occasion can be a balancing act. You can choose to follow tradition or take the Western path.There’s something about polo that makes you want to go to a match looking classy and fashionable.Adhiraj SinghCEO, Equisport
“It’s a social event, something like going to the races at Ascot. You shouldn’t look stiff and formal or too casual,” says 30-year-old Saba Ali Khan, the daughter of Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and Sharmila Tagore. Her idea of polo dressing closely mirrors that ofher mother—light, printed chiffon saris, subtle jewellery and sunglasses. Another enthusiast who likes to keep it traditional is Rathore, who attends matches dressed in a bandhgala.
Modern polo fashion is India’s version of preppy fashion. But even trendy dressers have tried to make sure that they don’t erode the classy image of the traditional game.
Sporty casual is the buzzword, with corduroys, jeans, sports jackets, summer dresses, boots and of course, a pair of bug-eyed sunglasses. “My sister Soha would wear a blazer with jeans and a scarf, while Saif would usually opt for an Armani shirt with a jacket and jeans,” says Khan. According to Suhag the big change is that more women are opting to wear hats and jackets. “Saris are a rare sight now,” he adds.
Unlike the crowd at the Mumbai and Pune horse races, polo enthusiasts don’t look down on denim. “Jeans are acceptable, but if you’re in the VIP section, make sure you’re in a semi-formal blazer with trousers and a tie, comfortable walking shoes, a hat and sunglasses,” says Tikka Shatrujit Singh, the brand advisor for Louis Vuitton in India.
A newer addition is the headgear. “I am a hat person and a polo game is a perfect place to wear one,” says yoga instructor Neesha Singh. Straw hats with broad rims are what she most often likes to opt for, but she sported a flamboyant piece from the collection of designer Ritu Beri last December. “It was a chic hat and looked like something out of My Fair Lady. I don’t know how appropriate it was, but I do see people wearing them now,” says Singh.
Even that other annual hat-sporting event, The Derby, has not managed to retain its ultra-chic image the way polo has been able to. The Mumbai horse races tried to sophisticate the masses and invite them in, but ended up with the bling barrage instead.
The royal game, however, has retained its style while adding a bit of zing in the form of liquor barons as patrons and Bollywood stars as spectators, who actually adapt to polo fashion.
Last December, Preity Zinta attended a match in a chic red frock, a wide-rimmed black hat and Jackie Os, Sushmita Sen was at one in denims and long jacket and Anil Kapoor came in a cowboy shirt and aviators.
This freshness in polo fashion is a result of the young players who are picking up the mallet professionally. “It helps that the players are young, tall, good looking and well-spoken young men, unlike cricketers,” laughs Adhiraj Singh.
Not only have they breathed new life into the game itself, but also drawn in younger spectators. “Polo is a two-way game that enjoys an energy with the audience. If there’s a stylish audience it will rub off on the people playing the game and vice versa,” says Rathore.