The Nehru Jacket Paradigm


Many people of the 1960s and 1970s may remember watching The Beatles perform at Shea Stadium in August of 1965. It was the bandsthird tour, and they opened in front of a world record crowd of 55,600. All four members, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were wearing what is now known as the Nehru Jacket, which quickly spread like wild fire in the wardrobes of millions of people in Europe and the United States. It was especially common among members of the mod subculture in Britain and the United States. However, people fail to realize how much history is behind the Nehru Jacket and how much went in to making it. This style actually is named after and was the commonly worn attire of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the First Prime Minister of The Republic of India. Before we discuss the Nehru Jacket, we must first delve into the history of how it came to be.

History and Origins

Formal wear on the Indian subcontinent has a long history dating back to the Gupta Empire. During the Gupta period of India, stitched clothing became popular, and was the sign of nobility and royalty. The suits had long, elegant sleeves and were brocaded, and were worn with a belt to accentuate the waist and to have a place to hang the wearer’s sword. Depending on the wearer’s wealth and status, the belt could be encrusted with jewels. This type of elegant outfit came to be called sherwani. The sherwani was the court dress of nobles, royals and kings of India. It has a knee length jacket, and is worn by men. It is a fusion of aristocratic Gupta clothing with some Persian elements incorporated. It was adopted by the general public in the late eighteenth century. This style of suit is commonly worn by the groom in the vast majority of Indian wedding ceremonies. There are many different styles of sherwanis, one style in particular is the achkan. Achkans, also with a knee length top half, are often made from lighter, finer fabrics, such as silk, and are generally without line. Depending on the fabric, achkans can also be embroidered. An achkan has only one breast pocket on the left side. On the other hand, Sherwani suits are made of heavier fabrics, have breast pockets on the left and right sides, with a presence of lining down the front, and are worn with a scarf-like dupatta. The achkan (Hindi: अचकन, Gujarati:અચકન) and the sherwani  (Hindi: शेरवानी) were popular styles of suits in India prior to the arrival of the British, who introduced their own styles to the country. One in particular, the frock coat, caught on amongst the aristocracy. The frock coat is a men’s suit that is fitted, long sleeved, has a standing collar and lapels. Standing collars had been in use in Europe as part of the ecclesiastical and court dress, as well as civilian doublets. Frock coats originally emerged as a military suit worn by officers in European armies. This suit had variations depending upon the formality of the situation. For formal events the coats were double –breasted and had pointed lapels. For casual situations, a single breasted variation was worn with a notched lapel. Shoulder padding was not used for frock coats, as this was common among all coats of the time. There were no outer pockets on the frock coat until the Victorian and Edwardian eras, where a pocket on the chest developed to wear a pocket square. There were buttons on the front of the suit from the neck to the waist.

Slowly, there was a fusion of the two styles of suits, the achkan and the frock coat, resulting in the creation of what came to be called the Nehru jacket.

Nehru-The Man himself

Jawaharlal Nehru was born on November 14, 1889 in Allahabad in British India. Jawaharlal was the eldest of three children.  He grew up in an atmosphere of privilege at elegant homes including a grand ancestral estate called the Anand Bhawan. His father had him educated at home by private tutors.

Later when Nehru had begun his institutional schooling in 1905 at Harrow, a leading school in England, Nehru went to Trinity College, Cambridge in October 1907 and graduated with an honors degree in natural science in 1910. During this period, Nehru also studied politics, economics, history and literature desultorily. After completing his degree in 1910, Nehru went to London and stayed there for two years for law studies at the Inns of Court School of Law (Inner Temple). Nehru passed his bar examinations in 1912 and was admitted to the English bar.

After returning to India in August 1912, Nehru enrolled himself as an advocate of the Allahabad High Court and tried to settle down as a barrister. But, unlike his father, he had only a desultory interest in his profession and did not relish either the practice of law or the company of lawyers. His involvement in nationalist politics would gradually replace his legal practice in the coming years. He would become known as the “Architect of India”, alongside Indian Independence leaders such as Sardar Patel, “Ironman of India”, and M.K. Gandhi, the “Father of India.”

Nehru at the Allahabad High Court

The Nehru Jacket

The Nehru jacket is a hip-length tailored suit featuring a mandarin collar (named after the mandarins of Imperial China), a short stand-up collar (1-2”/2-5cm) which is not turned down and has no lapel. The front of the suit is modeled on the South Asian achkan. Similarly, it is made from elegant, light, fine fabrics, such as silk. This characteristic makes it an excellent choice for the summer season, as it will keep cool. It is named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, who often wore this style. The apparel was created in India in the 1940s and originally called Band Gale Ka Coat (Gujarati: બુંદ ગલે કા કોટ, “Closed Neck Coat”) and has been popular on the Indian subcontinent since, especially as the top half of a suit worn on formal occasions. It began to be marketed as the Nehru jacket in Europe and America in the mid-1960s. The Nehru jacket was briefly popular in West during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Its popularity was spurred by the growing awareness of foreign cultures and by the band The Beatles, who popularized the style. Sean Connery who portrayed James Bond in the film “Dr. No”, wore the Nehru Jacket. Several villains in the James Bond series of films, including Karl Stromberg in “The Spy Who Loved Me”, and Kamal Khan in “Octopussy”, have sported a Nehru jacket as well.

The Nehru jacket was once thought to be a possible new standard for formal wear for men. Some even went as far to say that the Nehru jacket could even replace the Tuxedo. However, the Nehru Jacket instead fell rapidly in popularity in the United States and Europe within just a few years of its introduction. In India, the Nehru jacket continues to be popular and is often referred to by its Hindi name “band-gale ka coat”. The Nehru jacket has also influenced military attire around the world, with various countries using the mandarin collar as part of their officer dress. The elegant suit worn by Narendra Modi, the current prime minister of India, on his visit to the United States with Barack Obama in 2015 was widely acclaimed.

There are variations in style of the Nehru jacket. A Jodhpuri suit (Hindi: जोधपुरी सूट) is an Indo-Western formal evening suit with a coat and a pair of trousers, and sometimes along with a vest. It fuses both the western suit with Indian hand-embroidery, along with a mandarin collar. It is often worn on occasions such as weddings or any other formal event. Jodhpuri suits can be made of any material, but are commonly made of silk or linen. Normally, the material is lined at the collar and at the buttons with embroidery. The weaving style can be plain or jacquard. The most elegant suits are woven in the jamewari fashion, which uses high-quality pashmina fabric. Normally, the material of the trousers match that of the coat. However, the most recent trend now is to wear trousers of a contrasting color than that of the coat’s color.

In conclusion, the Nehru Jacket is an elegant, formal alternative to the traditional western suit. It can be worn to any formal occasion and will definitely keep you cool and looking good in the heat. The remarkable look that is cultivated is peerless. You will stun the world with your style with this elegant suit.

What are your thoughts on the Nehru jacket? Is this something you have owned or worn before?

The Nehru Jacket Paradigm

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