In a still from one of the handful of movies where Madhuri Dixit and Govinda starred together, he is wearing an oversized stone-washed denim jacket and holding Dixit in a tight embrace. In another image, Dixit is in an acid wash pair of overalls, the zig-zag white lines completely overpowering the denim. It’s the fashion trend that nobody thought would ever return because acid wash has been written off as the worst innovation in denim since it debuted in the ’80s. However, in keeping with the usual life cycle of a trend, it’s cropping up on international runways again. Bollywood sweetheart Alia Bhatt was spotted at an airport in a denim overcoat sporting this chemically induced finish, and versions of acid wash have been spotted in the latest collections of fashion labels such as Chloe and Isabel Marant.
“The true mystery in the world is the visible, not the invisible”, said Oscar Wilde, and his observation certainly springs to mind at the sight of the profoundly unattractive acid-finished clothes and accessories currently flooding malls and our social media feeds. For those of us who remember how big acid finish denim was in the ’80s, we may take solace in the fact that at least shoulder pads, neon shoelaces and big hair made cool by Cyndi Lauper and Madonna haven’t infiltrated popular imagination, again. It must be duly noted that the acid finish clothes being resurrected are far more sophisticated than their predecessors, styled and paired with monochromatic colours to tone down the kitsch.
There’s no point ascribing deep meaning to clothing choices since most shoppers innocently (and rightly so) shop for whatever they look best in, blissfully unaware of trends. So no self-respecting 40-something will hover near acid denim, its pattern being hopelessly unflattering for most shapes. If there’s one advantage of ageing, it’s a supreme indifference to what’s in and what’s out. The wildly young, who can’t remember that notoriously awful fashion decade when acid denim was raging, may (briefly) fall for what they consider new and chic. For anyone who’s ever wondered how fashion trends emerge after lying dormant, sometimes for decades, it’s safe to say textures, forms and colours don’t evolve purely by chance. There is no single origin point but a variety of small and complex world events that influence the public and manufacturers, and eventually, a particular cultural moment in time is visible on the shop racks.
For example, the cult show Game of Thrones has been an unlikely source of inspiration for the fashion world; cape dresses like those seen on medieval princess Daenerys Targerian are available in high fashion stores such as Mango and Zara. Leather and fur accessories, so far relegated to kink fashion that have always been props to represent an air of decadence, have gone mainstream. Closer home, the Benarasi sari is back in focus. Suddenly, every Indian designer is showcasing a version of the historic weave though sari aficionados may insist that for the discerning, it was always there. But the Benarasi rightly regained its place when Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango revived an interest in Indian handlooms by contemporarising them.
In the past couple of years, new intellectual currents have challenged fashion convention. Sex appeal will always be an integral part of fashion but surely it’s not just by chance that post #MeToo, the white sneakers or flats — with gowns and formal dresses — have become de rigueur for women too? The unconscious and accepted symbolisms of back breaking pencil heels paired with flimsy, skin showing dresses is finally being questioned: why should anyone be desperately uncomfortable or permanently starving to be considered well-dressed? It’s about time fashion’s centre of gravity shifted away from discomfort. Who knows, perhaps it’s reverse psychology that’s brought acid-wash denim back in fashion: the less you care, the more powerful you are.