The casuality of tie with suit in modern fashion

Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh *

Fashion is something we associate everyday for the 'feel-good' factor. Among the Meiteis in Manipur, wearing the humble "khudei" (loin cloth), we choose the colour and design. This however, does not blend entirely with Shakespeare, who wrote: "The apparel oft proclaims the man."- Hamlet.

Fashions are dynamic. Ray-Ban sold more sunglasses after the Hollywood movie, Men in Black (1997). I bought my first aviation Ray-Ban from Whiteways in 1952 in Bombay after seeing American pilots wearing them in Imphal (cf. my portrait with my email address).

It's said that behind a fashionable man there stands a woman who knows how to dress him. This is true in Imphal. While I was in Imphal in November (2016), a sophisticated niece of mine saw her husband going out dressed in pheijom and pumyat (dhoti and kurta), and wearing sandals. She made him change the sandals into a pair of pumps. Lo and behold! He looked "dressed". It's my offbeat paean to their domestic harmony.

Fashion, such as the current trendy facial stubble is for the young and 'young at heart' though only some people fit the stereotype smugly. Research has shown that women find well-dressed men more appealing and sensational. To younger generations, seniors like me, sometimes, seem like we are a different species.

It's recommended that men marry younger wives who will keep the fountain of youth flowing in them. I should know better. My wife is younger than me. Look at Donald trump (70) and his wife Melania (46), 24 years younger. Those of you who have seen him on the net, one week before the election, canvassing for presidency of US, wearing the latest fashion a well-cut navy blue suit and a pristine white double-cuffed shirt without a tie, will warm you up to the demise of the hegemony of a tie with lounge suit.

The lounge suit, business suit or office suit and tie, or more properly, with braces in earlier times, has some 150 years under its belt. Even my father, in the darkest corner of the globe in Imphal, kept a three piece suit, beige and herring-bone with a matching silk tie, handkerchief and braces, which he wore once in a flood, on such occasions when a Sahib bigger than Bara sahib (Political agent) came to Imphal. He would take them out every summer to weather them in the sun, to get rid of the smell of moth balls.

Western dark lounge suit with a tie has become 'international business attire' or Tenue de ville, though some business people eg a Saudi Arab Sheikh will wear national costume nonetheless. The necktie is an accessory to your suit, a focal point that draws the eye in, while a pocket square (hankie in your breast pocket) tucked in pouty, straight or triangular form, is a decorative addition for the flamboyant.

In post-war Imphal, civilisation erupted from a low key origin. Only one Sessions Judge Yendrembam, and Durbar Members, Sanasam, Sougaijam and Waikhom wore ties. In the early 50s wearing suits and ties became fashionable among Meitei and hill-youth, especially for evening hangout at the Maxwell Bazaar (Thangal Bazaar) in the town centre, just like at Chowringhee in Calcutta, Hazarat Ganj in Lucknow or Queens Road (Janpath) in New Delhi. As I studied at hill stations, Darjeeling and Nainital, I wore suits and ties most of the time.

A suit without a tie or "smart separates" (jacket and trousers of different clothes) are now in fashion. The jackets are shorter and tighter as if one size too small with two buttons worn unfastened, and a waistcoat with four buttons. The trousers are shorter and tapered. For today's man about town, the casual look without a tie is where it's at. Even prime ministers and presidents sometimes, fashionably appear casual without a tie.

In Britain, currently, a suit and tie, except for rare suity moments, like weddings and funerals and at some work places, is old hat. Doctors, lawyers and bank managers continue wearing suit and tie to give a responsible image.

Sporting "smart cas", such as white jeans or chinos (cotton twill fabric; more casual than dress pants and more dressy than a casual jeans), a blazer and loafers (casual moccasin-like leather shoes with wide flat heels), has displaced suit and tie as the smartest attire. Fashion is now about bold and geeky choices. It's about luxury. Depending on the mood or company, sometimes they ring the changes to Oxfords (sturdy laced-up leather shoes) or brogues (leather shoes with decorative small holes) rather than loafers.

British imperial formal wear took a long time to die in India. As a college student in Bombay in 1952, my friend Mohammad hired from a shop, black trousers, black (bow) tie and white 'shark skin' tuxedo for each of us to go to New Year's Eve celebration at the Taj Mahal Hotel. In one very hot April 1972, when my wife and I stayed at the Oberoi Grand Hotel in Kolkata, we were not allowed to have dinner in the dining room as I didn't have a jacket.

A person with a formal dinner jacket and black tie can ironically, be mistaken for a barman or a doorman at night clubs. I knew a retired senior Mr Khan in Delhi, a relative of Dilip Kumar. He was at one time, an official in the Indian Embassy in Norway. One evening after hosting a dinner at the Embassy, he came out to see off a Norwegian official to his car. He was dressed in dinner jacket and black tie. To be polite, he opened the car door for the distinguished guest. As the man got inside, he somehow mistook him for the doorman and gave him a tip.

Modern casual fashion followed the indomitable youthful John F Kennedy who was a fashion icon for many and who would dress in confident and relaxed style, wearing casual light chinos, a polo shirt, and at times with a navy blazer. He freed European men from the tyranny of hats. The "light cas" now is for people who want to be on the side of history that is never dull.

The provenance of many codes of men's dress style had their roots in English and Italian tailoring, back and forth between the two. Suits are global menswear, for corporate businessmen and government officials except in India and Saudi Arabia. European businessmen in the heat of Delhi summer, staying in 5 star air-conditioned hotels, would go about to business meetings, wearing dark light-weight suits and ties.

The 'lounge suit' is a set of garments which are crafted from the same cloth, often made in dark colours. London was the centre of man's clothes, suits and accessories, tailored at the world-famous bespoke Savile Row (street) in central London. The modern tieless fashion is all about cut, fabric, luxury and a big watch.

The history of the modern lounge suit began in a period of sartorial revolution during the late 19th century while searching for more comfortable and loose formal attires. In the 1920 -1940s, wide straight-legged trousers, measuring 24 inches around the one inch-wide turned up cuff was fashionable. In the post-war 1940s and 1950s, the fashion was simply to modernise the suit as much as possible.

Fashion tends to repeat itself in a cyclical trend in a lifetime. I had my first double-breasted suit in 1947, paid for by my mother, cut and stitched by a young tailor master known as Kunje (popular with students). He had his tailoring shop by the side of the newly constructed Rupmahal theatre. The jacket had 4 inch wide lapels, waisted and wide shouldered, with 20 inch wide trouser bottoms. In the 1950s the jacket became straighter with narrower lapels, and slimmer trousers. In the 1960s, suit jackets were cut as straight as possible without a hint of waistline.

I had suits made at Connaught Place in New Delhi in 1962. The lapels had then dwindled to 2 inches with hipster trousers with straight bottoms narrowed to 17 inches. By the 1970s here in the UK, the lapel grew in size to 5 inches, with wide flared trouser bottoms. In the 1980s, the fashion was double breasted 'power jacket' suits (stiff rigidity). In the 1990s, single breasted three or four button with notch lapels became popular.

Tieless fashion is because of changes in societal norms, influenced by the fashion industry's advertising. Skipping the tie when you are formally dressed is an art of undressing. It's an aesthetic look with your shirt fully buttoned up. It could be the top button unfastened to look more casual, or two unfastened, more relaxed.

Undressing and trying to look smart is not for the light-hearted. Some will look like rustics. Everybody cannot be Mahatma Gandhi, only clad in a loin-cloth and a shawl when he came to London for the Round Table conference in 1936. When asked by King George V, why he was so scantily dressed, Gandhi replied wittily, "Your Majesty, you're dressed for both of us."

In a formal environment in any society there is a dress code that does not favour self-expression. The smart thing is to dress as the occasion demands and 25% better than others for self-confidence. Annotation: Jacket sleeves shouldn't be creased.

* Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is based in the UK; Email: irebnammsingh(AT)gmail(DOT)com ; Website:
This article was posted on January 21, 2017.

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