Denims today have become items of universal wear in India. These seem to have become favourites of every one – whether a billionaire or a lowly workman, urban socialite or a rustic plebian. The differences, if any, will be only in the quality of the cloth or its design and stitching - the basic material however remaining the same, the fabric.
It is amazing to contemplate the way the things have changed over the last few decades in regard to the usage of denims. In urban India or in its rural hinterland denims have won general favour and acceptance so much so that a retired judge of a high court, while talking of her tenure as a chief justice, made a mention of how she prohibited the staff from coming to work in denims. It is not unusual to find workers coming to work in government offices in denims. Even in villages denims have become the favourite daily wear, most probably because of its amenability to rough and regular use.
A recent report, however, indicated that the demand for the cloth in the country did not build up in the manner it was expected. Sometime back the demand had strengthened and to meet that new capacity for manufacture of the cloth was added. New mills came up but they are functioning only up to 60 or 70% of their capacity on account of a shortfall in off-take of the fabric. One wonders whether it is a case of shrinking demand or over-capacity in the sector that has pulled down the production. It is well known that we have what is known as a herd mentality. Maybe tat was the reason that more than necessary number of mills came up flooding the market. Denim manufacturers had a flourishing run ever since Kasturbhai Lalbhai group’s Arvind Mills pioneered its manufacture in India. Today Arvind Mills with its capacity of more than 100 million metres per annum is one of the leading manufacturers of denim in the world. It even varies the quality according to the needs of its designers who are based both, in India as well as abroad.
When we were young we knew that the cowboys of the US wore “jeans” – the word that was used for special trousers made for them of denims. They would ride horses wearing them. In fact, their entire outfit including the shirt used to be made of denims. In the wild-west movies actors like John Wayne and those of his ilk would always be in denims with guns sticking out of their holsters that would be within their easy grasp enabling them to be “fast guns”. Their hulk with a muscular and hungry look decked up in denims topped by a Stetson and other accoutrements, made them exude muscle power and toughness that sometimes made even the sheriff in the movie squirm before them.
While today boys and girls wear denims to colleges, or, for that matter, every and anywhere, we had no such luck in our times. Sixty-odd years ago jeans were scarce in India, more so in the backwaters of Gwalior where I was growing up. Once, however, I happened to see my friend Anand’s older brother Jagat Bamroo, a class mate of my sister wearing jeans in the college. I gave it a good look and was impressed by the indigo of the warp and the bold stitches in red along the seams and for the bold patched hip-pockets. The bottom cuffs were turned up like those of the trousers of yore revealing the whites of the weft. That was my introduction to “cowboy jeans” but I did not get into one till much later in life when the cloth started flowing out of the Indian mills.
Denim can be used for all kinds of dresses, particularly for women. While in men’s wear denims find use in making of trousers, shirts, jerkins, fashionable caps, etc., in the area of women’s wear sky is the limit for its usage. Women use it for “jeans”, skirts, shorts, jerseys, dungarees, caps and even shoes or sandals. In India it is used for designing women’s “kurtas” and “kurties”. Fashionistas let lose their imagination and have a field day in designing dresses for their clientele and every year new designs flood the market. Already, the fashion trends for 2018 are in the print media for women to choose from to suit their sartorial tastes and the mix that is there in their wardrobes.
Denims come in different varieties. There are crushed denims or stone washed or acid washed denims or even marble denims – each is used by the designers according to the fancy of the fashionista. Then the designers go further up and add value to the garments by working on them with embroidery or patch work and such like. Some go much farther and add laces to the hems to give them a formal or celebrity look. Those who have stacks of money go and get diamonds attached to various parts of their dresses and they do so even with shoes made out of denims. Then there are others who make fashion statements out of ripped or frayed jeans. Some ripped jeans are so weird that a substantial part of legs around the thighs and knees remain uncovered.
The burgeoning population of India’s shanties or what are known as “JJ colonies” have not missed out on denims. One would find boys and girls emerging from them wearing whatever is trending. If it is the current body-hugging skinny denims, they have it and love to flaunt them. A whole new system of marketing has emerged to cater to the demands from this unlikely source. Used clothes markets, or markets that deal in indifferently stitched material or even duplicates of popular brands – all are oriented to cater to this genre of clientele. Some from this clientele are quite choosy as I have known people from these sections who would not be satisfied unless a pair of trousers carried a sticker of a well-known brand on its back pocket.
Denims have thus firmly established themselves in the imagination of Indian youth whether in the metros or in the back-yards of rural India. The traditional “dhoties or pyjamas” of ordinary people have yielded place to garments made out of denim. It is amazing how a fabric originating in France in the 19th Century that somehow getting purchase in far away United States in its ranching days of 19th Century has firmly established its authority world over and, more so, over India. If Indians take home something as their own, none would be able to compete with them, generally, because of sheer numbers. No wonder, out of the 700 million metres of the fabric produced world over 100 million are produced in India, feeding the ever-escalating demand from what seems to be the Rising India.