Lungi Chic

An integral part of Indian sartorial culture,the lungi’s versatility enhances its fashion quotient

Published: July 17, 2013 4:24 am

When the makers of Chennai Express unveiled the film’s first look in January this year,it drew instant appreciation. The poster has a number of men,seemingly south Indian,standing against the backdrop of a train with both Shah Rukh Khan and Deepika Padukone dressed in pop-coloured shirts,paired with lungis. It wasn’t so much the boys,but the leading lady’s ability to pull off the look with panache that had people hooked.

But even as fashionistas rave about Padukone having made the humble checkered piece of cotton cloth seem chic — threatening to spark off a trend — Bangalore-based fashion designer Deepika Govind points out that Zeenat Aman glammed the lungi in Hare Rama Hare Krishna,establishing it as a bohemian staple. “It was easy to wear and roomy; the lungi was paired with short kurtis. And for women,it felt like they were breaking away from the convention of dressing in saris or salwar-kameez,” says the Bangalore-based designer,who researched the garment for a collection she worked on last year.

Mumbai-based Rajashree Shivaraman recounts wearing lungis in her college days. The 56-year-old housewife places the entry of the lungi in India’s fashion lexicon to the 1970s. “Rajesh Khanna often wore the silk version in his films. His female fans — and he had many — adopted his style,” she says. The actor famously attended a film awards function dressed in one. Shafqat Sherazi,who ran a tailoring shop in Bandra back in the ’70s,remembers women queuing up with silk,cotton,polyester and other fabrics in bright hues or bold,batik prints. They would ask him to stitch it into a lungi,with the pattern in front and a nada to hold up the apparel,much like a wrap-around skirt.

The lungi has been part of almost every culture across India. While in the north,it is worn knotted and called the dhoti,in south India,it’s an integral part of the culture,especially in small towns and villages.

Govind,who grew up in a household where all men wore the checkered version,has used the print and silhouette several times to create skirts that can be teamed with either kurtis or fitting blouses. She says,“The structured silhouette of the lungi makes it versatile — it can be worn held up using a statement belt,stitched plain or patterned or worn with a leather jacket and boots. Indians should take pride in wearing it for it can be hugely fashionable.” Traditionally,the lungi is worn by men whose work involves physical labour and by women while doing housework since saris tend to be cumbersome.

Director Rohit Shetty of Chennai Express says,“This is visible in the cinema (in south India) too,where the hero and villains all wear lungis. To lift it up is a sign of aggression,almost as if issuing a challenge. This also comes through in the poster where Deepika is standing with her lungi tied up and arms folded.”

Meanwhile,several Indian designers have contemporised the lungi for the runway. While Goa-based Wendell Rodricks has often dressed men in lungi-skirts and women in lungi-inspired pants,couturier Tarun Tahiliani’s Spring/Summer 2013 collection for Lakme Fashion Week had several silhouettes that reinvent the humble garment.

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