Guest Column

Is the Lungi in Pause mode?

By G Mohan

Everyday, my friend and senior Rajan Mani Sir has something to comment from his morning waak (his dig at the way it is pronounced in Tamil Nadu). Today from my own walk, I observed that among all the morning walkers, old and young, there was just one senior citizen wearing a lungi. Almost all the others were wearing track pants or shorts

It struck me that 25-30 years ago, lungis were the leisure wear for many urban men. You could wear it at home, walk in it to a friend’s place, walk to the neighbourhood paan dabba or just stroll in the garden. Only thing you could not do in it, was to go to a place of work or a formal social occasion. Colourful lungis of all kinds, plains, printed, checks. Lungis in garish bright colours, would mean some Gulf connection.

While the Southies were comfortable in their lungis, North Indians mostly stuck to the Kurta Pyjamas as their equivalent of leisure wear. The well-to-do sophisticated ones would wear the starched white ones and the hoi-polloi, preferred the coloured khadi ones or the striped pyjamas that were easier to maintain.

In a quiet change in fashion, lungis and kurta-pyjamas as the leisure wear have almost been relegated to the background. Trackpants and shorts have replaced them.

Telugu superstar Mahesh Babu in Srimanthudu in the lungi look

The popularity of trackpants has to a small extent been influenced by the growing health consciousness among Indians. To my mind, it is just a fashion trend.

In the west, ‘Athleisure’ is a fast and growing segment. Brands like Lululemon have become successful selling yoga pants and accessories at outlandish prices. Even the sports brands like Nike and Reebok make more money selling apparel to non-sportpersons than selling specialised footwear or apparel to the sports people.

This trend has come to India. It helps that thanks to our home grown hosiery industry in Tiruppur or Ludhiana, the fake Nikes and Reebok trackpants and T-shirts are available at affordable prices.

Interestingly, just as lungis and Kurta-Pyjamas have gone out of the leisure wear segment, a niche has developed in the premium segment.

In the South , white dhotis and shirts from Ramraj or Minister are considered fashionable and sophisticated. The variants of the traditional Kurta- Pyjamas is being positioned in the North as sophisticated by FabIndia. The Ramraj dhotis or FabIndia kurta-pyjamas are not leisure wear, they are special occasion wears.

As we all know, fashions always follow a cycle, lungis and kurta-pyjamas will once again be fashionable one day. The Lungi dance is on pause mode but it may not take long for it to groove once again.

(Views expressed here are those of the author)

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