Tthere may not be a consensus on what could be considered a national Indian garment, but over the years there is one garment that has played the role of a great unifier in urban India. Jeans, especially women in jeans.
The latest to make headlines for modest denim pants is Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat. Speaking at a workshop organized by the State Commission for the Protection of the Rights of the Child on Wednesday in Dehradun, Rawat said it was a good opportunity to share how, during a flight, he slowly scanned a co-passenger outfit, top to bottom, and was shocked to find that his bare knees could be seen through his ripped jeans. Rawat, somewhat personally offended by the woman’s choice to wear what she wants, denounced her for choosing clothes that were not part of Indian culture and accused her of singing about the West.
From Adarsh Women College to Haryana at RMD Engineering College in Tamil Nadu, at Christ College in Bengaluru at Dayanand Girls PG College in Kanpur, Amritsars Government Medical College to a ban on tight jeans at SB Mahaveer Jain College and hipster jeans at PES University, there seems to be a pan-Indian agreement that wearing jeans is bad news. In 2018, a teacher from Kerala suggested that women who wear jeans give birth to hijras and autistic children.
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It’s sexist, stupid
Even non-educational sarkari spaces are not good, either Maharashtras government offices or Bihar and Madhya Pradeshs. Then there are politicians like Babulal Gaur of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who amalgam women in jeans with those who drink alcohol and dance with men and go against Indian culture, or former Mumbai Police Commissioner Satyapal Singh, who wanted to know how many men would marry a woman who wears jeans to her wedding probably in response to this viral bride of 2018.
Women, however, are tired of being told what and what not to wear, and the backlash has been quick. Celebrities like Navya Naveli Nanda and Gul Panag, politicians like Shiv Senas Priyanka chaturvedi, women post pictures of themselves in ripped jeans or hold protests for the right to wear them.
But Rawat did not back down, and went so far as to say that ripped jeans make people look like rich children and pave the way for social disruption. And here, women thought that all jeans did was make their legs look good.
The confusing obsession with denim pants makes me think of how jeans, especially ripped jeans, can actually be quite polarizing. Years ago, while walking around the Cochins Fort Kochi area, I was suddenly stopped by a car driver. The alarmed voice, he said, Madam, your pants are torn. Should I take you to a store to buy a new one? I was almost touched by his worry until I saw his smirk and realized the joke was on me. I have found ripped jeans to be the most disconcerting thing a woman can wear on Indian streets. Even a small pair of shorts or a miniskirt couldn’t create the confusion and annoyance on viewers that ragged jeans can make exposing a bit of your thighs or knees.
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Hard work for cool fashion
Jeans, of course, regardless of shape or form, have always been symbolically charged. They have become a form of sweet power that the United States wielded over the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, when the love for denim became a munition in the culture wars of the time.
Then they headed to Hollywood movies, being threaded by idiots like Marlon Brando and James Dean, and quickly became the most coveted by young men. In the ’60s and’ 70s, activists and hippies wore jeans at protests as a sign of gender equity, sealing their fate as a rebellious fashion choice. In the ’80s, their adherence to fashion added a certain sex appeal, with Calvin Kleins’ campaign with Brooke Shields and Claudia Schiffer’s campaign with Guess.
Interestingly, the origins of jeans may not be this From West India, as they are believed to have originated from a garment called an overall made from an indigo blue dyed with a thick fabric known as Dongari kapar, named after the Mumbai region where it was sold. Eventually, the development of denim in France and the need for sturdy, usable pants for miners in the United States, along with nifty metal rivets to tighten them, spawned an early version of jeans. A rugged uniform created for the working class, they came to embody unadorned ruggedness that could withstand hard work.
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Color me rebellious
However, the importance of jeans for Indian women today goes far beyond their function, their aesthetic or their fashion capital. As reporter Sameera Khan once highlightedThe biggest worry seems to be that if today she wears jeans, tomorrow she will no longer be rotis, she might be looking for a career not just a job, she will slide right and choose dating over marriage, she might. choose a man with the wrong background, she may even prefer women to men.
Jeans have therefore become an intoxicating cocktail for women’s modernity, gender flexion, sexuality, independence and assertiveness. Ripped jeans take it a step further, they carry with them the flirtation of effortlessly saying I don’t care and looking pretty chic in the process.
So it’s only fitting that Rawat chose to go for a woman’s choice to wear ripped jeans, as now they are back in fashion with rebelliousness and defiance. As for the timid, Baba Ramdevs ripped sanskari jeans are always an option.
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