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A model wearing a Raghavendra Rathore design (left); and another wearing Tarun Tahiliani’s. (A model wearing a Raghavendra Rathore design (left); and another wearing Tarun Tahiliani’s.)
A model wearing a Raghavendra Rathore design (left); and another wearing Tarun Tahiliani’s.
(A model wearing a Raghavendra Rathore design (left); and another wearing Tarun Tahiliani’s.)

India’s ‘Chanel jacket’

The ‘bandhgala’ is now a trans-seasonal wardrobe staple

It’s known as the Nehru jacket or bandhgala, the desi waistcoat, a bandi or sadri, or, now, the Modi jacket. With its increasing popularity in urban areas as well as small towns, the waistcoat is moving away from being a stiff and formal top layer for men to an all-year garment, which can be worn over a shirt and a pair of jeans in summers as easily as it is in winters.

Whether it’s high fashion or mass brands, it is now a staple in the contemporary wardrobes of many Indians, both men and women, who may have found it too “ethnic" earlier. You can spot it at a political do, a wedding, a business meeting, even a lazy weekend lunch or at family gatherings, in a variety of designs and materials—with block prints or screen-printed in cotton or Khadi for informal pairings, or in deep, resplendent silks, drape-easy woollen fabrics and opulent brocades.

Three designers known for their experiments with bandhgalas and classic Nehru jackets tell us how to wear the waistcoat with panache this summer:

Tarun Tahiliani

The waistcoat is to India what the Chanel jacket is to French women. I love it both on men and women. In a tropical country such as ours, it can be slipped over T-shirts, kurtas, trousers, jeans, dhotis, even saris, and in winter, you can throw a shawl over it. It allows for structure. It is super chic, timeless. It is the common man’s jacket and comes in every shape and size. It is egalitarian: I have seen it everywhere—from the Kumbh Mela to the most elegant parties in Delhi and Mumbai. Now all my friends around the world want them. Young Indians are sporting the waistcoat with their favourite Italian brogues, a kurta and slim pants.

Raghavendra Rathore

The classic Jodhpuri waistcoat is an extremely versatile and essential part of the Indian wardrobe. The Jodhpuri bandhgala is the waistcoat’s forerunner for winter and, therefore, the permutations and combinations that work for the bandhgala can also work for the waistcoat in summer. Immensely popular during the Khadi movement that Mahatma Gandhi ignited during the freedom struggle, its beginnings can be traced to the turn of the century. The modern Indian man has found in the classic waistcoat a unique sense of style that is good for both formal and semi-formal functions. Paired with denims, it can look casual, but if worn with a formal pant over a shirt, a dark waistcoat can emulate a very formal avatar. The latest craze in Bollywood, the waistcoat also has the ability to satisfy the more fashion-forward clients who oscillate between colour, embroidery and other fashion details. At the other extreme, the young politician fits comfortably in the sober silhouette that the classic bandhgala offers. It is the most versatile ensemble in the Indian man’s wardrobe.

JJ Valaya

This jacket was introduced in our collection nearly six years back and has only seen increased acceptance. Personally, I dress in Nehru jackets. Not only is it season-friendly but can also easily be taken from daytime dressing to evening dressing. It is a journey few Indian silhouettes can lay claim to. Fashion moves naturally from the classes to the masses, and so will this. What started as a politician’s garb is now an accepted style in the highest echelons of society under many names, depending on which part of the country it’s being worn in—Nehru jacket, Modi jacket, bandi jacket, or maybe something else.

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