In Vogue: Prime Minister Modi’s Sustainable Fashion Statement

Swasti Sharma*

Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office on 26th May 2014. Since then, his public image has been nurtured by his choice of attire as much as his powerful oratory. It has veritably risen to global standards. A share of this traction can be attributed to plenty of sophisticated fashion moments. He has periodically fostered non-verbal communication strategies through a suave visual appearance. Color psychology research has already established the intrinsic relationship between colors and the evocation of corresponding moods. This inference remains quite instrumental in comprehending various aspects of human interpretation and reaction to situations. First impression counts in International relations and the Prime Minister’s unwavering intent to advance traditional Indian outfits speaks volumes of his diplomatic dexterity. By wearing jackets made from recyclable plastic bottles to the Parliament, Modiji has shown a strong and unflinching commitment to SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) 12 which places a premium on the decoupling of economic growth from increasing resource consumption.

The Backdrop

If one closely examines history, renowned world leaders have always embodied unique and idiosyncratic trends. From Winston Churchill’s bow ties and custom-made romper suits to Antony Eden’s double-breasted waistcoat; and Nelson Mandela’s elaborately patterned long-sleeved vibrant Madiba shirts, fashion has been integral to their charismatic presence. In contemporary world politics, PM Narendra Modi has set new standards through carefully curated accessories such as traditional headgear and colorful shawls. In an article titled “Power Dressing: Charting the Influence of Politics on Fashion”, Maya Singer traced the political influences on $2.5 trillion fashion industry. Christian Dior’s postwar new look of 1947, Yves Saint Laurent’s 1967 pantsuits envisaging a new idea of liberalism, and Gloria Steinem cultivating empowered feminism through a shift in workplace wardrobe are all beaming examples of how political activism stimulated a paradigm shift in fashion and vice versa. The changes trickled down to common people who embraced it through emulation. PM Modi has shattered the glass ceiling by putting the ‘saffron’ foot forward.

‘Saffron’ Power Dressing

It is no new insight that impeccable dressing sense adds to the public perception of a global leader. PM Modi has smoothly tapped into this realm by introducing the trend of Modi jackets. Besides wearing crisply ironed silk/cotton handmade kurtas, he is often seen donning turbans, mundu, and gamosa. During his 2014 visit to the Pashupatinath Temple in Nepal, his bold choice encompassed a red and saffron patterned shawl. At the bhoomi pujan of Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi Temple, he chose to wear a saffron traditional dhoti-kurta. Modi Kurta, a signature look in a short-sleeved kurta with tight churidars was à la mode post-2014. Politicians of all hues and across the spectrum have employed clothing for political messaging. Modiji has successfully managed to project the diversity of Indian handlooms through his flawless and exemplary dressing. From seasonal palettes to avant-garde vibe, he has always chosen to dress for the occasion. On his trip to Siachen, he wore a made-to-measure extreme cold weather suit. For a jungle safari, he chose an experimental look with khaki pants and a wide hat. Stylists, both in India and abroad, have noted that PM Modi has taken Indian power dressing to the next level. His pinstripe navy blue suit that he wore during President Obama’s visit to India in 2015 induced heavy criticism from the opposition, triggering “suit boot ki sarkar” jibe. However, the monogrammed suit was auctioned later and the proceeds went to the Namami Gange project, a philanthropic undertaking for environmental concerns. A key characteristic of NaMo style is the emphasis on local, non-elite ateliers. Such an approach is bound to promote local businesses. This indeed generates a strong ripple effect, especially among influential bigwigs.

Cultural Renaissance in Ensemble

At the Hornbill festival in 2014, PM Modi adopted a traditional Naga headgear that invited intrigue from the spectators. In Guwahati, he chose to sport a Japi (a traditional hat of Assam). Arunachal Pradesh’s Parsighat became witness to his choice of Adi tribe’s headgear. Traditional Gujarati turbans and Rajasthani bandhej safa often add an interesting twist to his conventional Independence Day look. Symbolism matters. The many bright shades have  garnered nationwide attention, sending a message of regional integration and unification in diversity. By being ’vocal for local’ the PM himself leads the way. To reiterate, most of the garments are eco-friendly and redirect our attention to sustainability and climate change. During one of his visits to Uttarakhand, PM Modi made a remarkable statement by wearing a traditional “ranga” with a white turban.  Beyond the fabric saga, it was a tribute to the deep-rooted customs upheld for generations by the community. Such high regard for community values unambiguously demonstrates that the Prime Minister’s approach is cut from a different cloth. It sets precedence for subsequent leadership to follow.

Sustainable Style

Bharatiya Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former US President Barack Obama, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and French President Emmanuel Macron have been acclaimed internationally for their impeccable style that exudes confidence. In addition, some of these world leaders have pledged to contribute to the cause of sustainable development in accordance with the UN SDGs. Among them, Prime Minister Modi has predominantly exhibited a keen interest in sustainable fashion with minimum environmental implications through his couture selection. As the champion of eco-friendly lifestyle, he wore a chandan-shade Sadri jacket, custom-made from 25-28 recycled PET bottles, at the G7 Summit in Japan. His constant push for sustainable fashion has posed a formidable challenge to fast fashion in India as many seek to emulate his tenue cérémonie. Indian Oil under its Green Initiative of Sustainable Garments produced finished products from recycled PET bottles. Its flagship uniform brand ‘Unbottled’, was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who wore a blue jacket made from recycled bottles to the Parliament session, drawing worldwide acclaim. As Bharat aims to become viksit by 2047, it is imperative to raise the bar in environmental conservation through constant perseverance and PM Modi is accomplishing the same through his personal commitment.

*Assistant Professor, Department of English, Satyawati College.


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