A bandi by Kolkata-based designer duo Dev r Nil.
A bandi by Kolkata-based designer duo Dev r Nil.

Go formal with ‘bandi’

This Nehruvian vest has been amping up men's office-wear style quotient more than ever, but fashion experts suggest opting for a standard shape instead of an experimental form

Till a few years ago, the neoclassical Indian man looked for an option that could define his Western-meets-Indian aesthetic in corporate wear. And then out popped the new-age bandi from the old-world, traditional Indian-style trunk. This short and sleeveless “cousin" of the long Nehru jacket suddenly took our country’s corporate menswear by storm. It pranced around with men’s Western formals. It romanced elements like contrasting pipings and linings; weave texturization; obvious-looking slits to tuck pocket squares; askew collar cuts; pop-up buttons; natural synthetic fabric blends and bold colours. It also made a number of brands, designers, couturiers and fashion portals play along. Think Tommy Hilfiger’s launch of denim and suede bandis with monogram buttons, striped lining and contrast stitching to celebrate its 10th anniversary in the country; recollect Flipkart, Jabong, Myntra, Snapdeal, BigShopper, Doozton or Junglee’s relaxed-formal or minimal-festive bandis going off virtual shelves like hot cakes.

This year, however, has seen a regressive avatar of this single-breasted, hip-length form with Mandarin collar and five-six buttons, crafted out of about 1.5m of fabric. Today, an archetypal bandi is teamed with classic silhouettes, instead of last year’s chic style worn with avant-garde ensembles. Designers and couturiers are giving the credit for this banal and unembellished fad’s rise to Prime Minister Narendra Modi (and dignitaries like Chinese President Xi Jinping, who flaunted one recently).

New Delhi-based designer Suket Dhir, who has taken Indian silhouettes like the bandhgala jacket and dhoti to nouveau-chic formal levels, believes the now famous, frugal-looking bandi only slipped into the corporate scene when a balance between the “politician’s austere look" and the “glitzy-festive style" was struck. “Now a bandi is sophisticated, elegant, sharper and crisp, yet richer, and helps one move away from the old school just-trouser-and-shirt format. It is also perfect for Indian weather and is suitable for long work hours as it eases arm movement and hand gestures. Its construction is quite close to a European, formal jacket, but its style line suits Indian men’s body structures. It gives a shape to the body and works as an instant slimmer by hiding their bellies and love handles," says Dhir.

Dev of Kolkata-based designer duo Dev r Nil, who specialize in making eclectic shapes for both men and women, echoes a similar thought. “We Indians are actually not as formal corporate as the Brits, so a basic bandi works well in our offices. Moreover, a bandi makes a person look slightly older," says Dev, who uses only one name.

Sandeep Gonsalves, co-founder (with Sarah Sheikh) of Mumbai-based bespoke menswear brand SS Homme, says: “When it comes to corporate wear, men these days like muted fabrics like worsted wool and cottons; but they avoid ceremonial embellishments and go for understated styling. Wearing a bandi also depends on the profession and whether a workspace is open to relaxed formals or not."

Nevertheless, Gonsalves recommends a cranberry bandi in wool-silk-linen blend; a light navy bandi that can translate into day-to-night wear with tone-on-tone buttons; and a reversible bandi with for-night and for-day fabrics that can be used according to the time of day.

When it comes to bandi’s fabrics, offbeat and natural takes like cotton, linen, denim, Khadi, wool, suede, and their blends sans frills, rule the corporate-wear roost. Bhuvi Kathpalia, fashion editor of online fashion website IndianRoots, says, “The most suited fabrics for bandis in corporate wear would be cotton, linen and wool (tweed) blends, which have a matte effect and come without sheen."

Kathpalia lists grey linen, chocolate tweed and black raw silk bandis as must-haves. Dhir suggests categorizing bandis into three kinds. First is the heavyweight linen bandi, which can look relaxed and saggy, but is sturdy enough to wear to work; then there is the light wool bandi, which is lighter than the first one and can be worn to office all-year round under a blazer like a sharp vest; and the third type is the festive style, which is part of celebratory wardrobe and can be worn to pre-festival parties or get-togethers at work.

Fleshing out the how-to-wear-the-trend bit, Mumbai-based men’s and women’s wear designer Anita Dongre, who has taken prêt-a-porter to a new level in the country, says: “When paired with a formal pant over a shirt, a dark-hued bandi can emulate a very formal avatar. You can contrast your trousers with your bandi. For a meeting, one can try a pin-striped bandi with a Chinese-collared shirt and clean trousers. But if you wear a pocket square with any bandi, ensure it is worn straight." Dongre’s current collection also comprises bandis with digital prints, which she feels can be worn with a shirt and a pair of trousers to semi-formal workspaces.

Dhir, on the other hand, advises you to try a Merino wool, tweed bandi with a beautiful shirt, a pair of classic creased trousers (pleated or flat-fronted; not slim fits as they don’t suit all body types), with or without cufflinks, and teamed with a set of leather sandals, Derbies and brogues for formal wear, and loafers or moccasins for semi-formal looks.

Gonsalves suggests trying a Mandarin-collared shirt under a navy bandi with a sliver of the collar fabric and colour popping up over the bandi collar, and wearing this with a pair of neutral-coloured chinos (say, a tan or beige).

“The same bandi can be worn with grey pants in the evening with Oxfords, brogues or slip-ons (if worn on Fridays), a watch and cufflinks, and a pocket square if you want a ceremonial touch," says Gonsalves. According to him, pastels are appropriate daywear and go well with shades of tan. Kathpalia picks chinos, jeans and moccasins as bandi’s partners: “You can also wear a denim shirt and beige trousers with a neutral-coloured (say, grey) bandi."

She, however, cautions against wearing a bright, printed, check or striped shirt with a bandi or teaming it with extreme embellishments like a brooch. Max it out with a watch and a pair of cufflinks, she says.

“I would choose classics like a tan Khadi-linen bandi or indigo-denim bandi with no detailing at all," says Dev.

Normally, most zen-like bandis are priced between 2,000-25,000, or even more depending on the fabric, cut, detailing and brand. Bespoke bandis designed by couturiers, as parts of ensembles, are priced on request and usually fall into a high price band. Government emporiums like Khadi Bhandar or other government-aided setups price these forms a tad lower thanks to their simpler design lines.

Therefore, one could take a pick keeping their budget, personal style and occasion in mind.

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