Once upon a time, Bengalis used to dress gorgeously. There is often a say among today’s fashion designers that Indian males do not know how to wear clothes out of the box. This, in my opinion, is not true for Bengali males, though admittedly the current trend doesn’t encourage believing otherwise.
In times long gone, Bengali gentlemen wearing finely-weaved dhuti-panjabi, starched and ironed to perfection, happened to be the de rigueur on special occasions, complete with pump-shoes usually worn without socks. Even western clothes with some finest cuts found great favor among the elites. One can easily count yesteryears’ famed actors, Uttam Kumar, Subhendu, Bikash Ray and others, as the best among contemporaries on silver screen in western outfits. [Image source]
Hosiery mills there were many, lining either side of Hooghly river and elsewhere. To talk about women’s wear, cotton and silk saris from Tangail, Dhanekhali, Dhaka, Murshidabad, Nabadwip, Fulia to name a few, were nothing less than prized possessions. Indeed those were heydays of Bengal’s domination in clothing as in many other fields.
Things started going downhill from early 70s for number of reasons, so much so that today Bengal appears virtually nowhere in garment-making ventures. People’s memory being short, it evokes derision and laughter when speaking about Bengal’s past in garments.
In fact, had talented designers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Ritu Kumar and others not arrived on the scene, Bengal and Kolkata wouldn’t have had any mention so far Indian fashion industry is concerned.
Now at long last the WB government is waking up to tremendous potential that the state has in making a mark in garment trade. There is plan to create a Rs.70-crore garment manufacturing, marketing and distribution hub in Kolkata just beside Vidyasagar Setu (the 2nd Hooghly bridge) at Kolkata-end. See The Telegraph story.
Though the thrust will be to cater to exports to other countries, especially to the west, the hub will undoubtedly usher in an overall boost in garment trade. Prosperity beckons creativity, and who knows Bengal’s golden days in clothing may really be not that far to reclaim.