The Modi Jacket Is Not The Nehru Jacket – Although Both Solve The Problem Of Pockets

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Not that anyone is ever going to hire us here as couturiers – or even models – but we do know a bit about clothing. Especially the problem of how to provide pockets for men in clothing suitable for a hot climate – something that both the Modi Jacket and the Nehru Vest solve. But the two are different things, as is the Nehru Jacket, which is a solution to a different clothing problem.

Sure, this doesn’t matter in the slightest except that it’s all become something of a political statement in India and therefore it does matter. Of the three our preference is for the Sadri, or Nehru Vest, but that’s purely a matter of personal preference and of no political or cultural import at all. Definitely, and definitively, nothing at all to do with Grandpop’s historical role as an enforcer for Empire.

What’s really happening here is that people are getting confused between different garments:

Sales are soaring at Khadi, a department store in central Delhi that stocks clothing hand-spun in Indian villages. In September, the brand debuted a line of jackets inspired by an unlikely trendsetter: India’s 68-year old prime minister, Narendra Modi. The “Modi jacket” is sleeveless, extends down below the belt and rises at the neck to form a stand-up collar. Khadi staff say they are selling at least 100 every day,. Modi’s supporters call it proof of the prime minister’s popular appeal. Critics call the jacket a fraud. “It’s not a Modi jacket,” says Ashok Swain, a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden, who frequently makes his displeasure with the prime minister known on Twitter. “It’s the same style that Jawaharlal Nehru made popular. It’s exactly the same. Modi just changed the colour.”

No, it’s not the same, not at all. They’re both solutions to the same problem but they’re coming from different sources. That picture in The Guardian – which we can’t steal because we’re not going to pay Getty Images for it – shows the difference very well.

The problem is, well, how do you provide pockets for a man in clothing suitable for a hot climate? Wearing some light trousers, perhaps some other lower limb clothing, means that there’s not the strength of cloth, or perhaps the place, to put stuff. This is the problem the kilt solves with the sporran for example. Think back a century perhaps and you need somewhere for the fob watch, penknife, matches, seal or chop and so on. Women carry a purse or handbag, men not so much outside parts of Italy and San Francisco.

In the standard European clothing this might be done by the jacket having pockets. But wearing a full jacket in a hot climate doesn’t quite work. We do indeed have the Nehru Jacket, pretty much a European suit jacket but with a mandarin collar. Note that it has sleeves. There is also a longer, perhaps more formal, version Nehru often wore which has some sort of relationship with the frock coat – derivation could be either way of course. But again solving the same problem in the same way, vents allowing riding while wearing it.

This is a coat to be worn to provide warmth, not just pockets.

But note – the Nehru Jacket has sleeves. The Modi Jacket does not have sleeves and we could righteously say that the second is a sleeveless version of the first. That’s not the same of course.

We can also note, as in the above picture, Nehru wearing a sleeveless garment. But this is the Nehru Sadri, or Nehru Vest. Still a solution to the pockets problem as the Modi Jacket is, but coming from a different source. This is really a waistcoat – that Hindi and Urdu might call this a Waskat gives a hint here – and we’ve a useful little proof too.

Buttons on a coat may or may not all be done up, depends upon place and cut of the coat. But the bottom button of a single breasted waistcoat is always left undone. As Nehru has in this and other photographs of him wearing his.

We’ve thus three different garments here. The Nehru Jacket, The Modi Jacket and the Nehru Sadri or waistcoat. We can indeed say that the middle one is a sleeveless version of the first, but it’s not the same as either of the other two.

We’ve also another, more modern, solution to this same problem. Where do men put stuff in clothing suitable for a hot climate? Pockets on a shirt. It’s unusual in Northern – at least – European clothing for a man’s shirt to have two breast pockets. Even more, for obvious reasons, for a woman’s. But in that suitable for, made for, a hot climate it’s much more common. So much so that there is even a type of watch made for this style. Similar to a nurses’ watch, worn upside down, it looks like a variant of the wrist or even fob watch. It comes with a small ring as well. The watch itself is mounted upside down (thus the connection with that of a nurse) on the outside of a shirt pocket, the ring going inside that layer of material composing that shirt pocket. The ring grips the watch through the fabric of the pocket and thus holds it in place. It is upside down so that the wearer can peer down and the hands are thus the right way around for him.

I am grateful to Manu Parpia of Godrej and Boyce for this last explanation in a conversation decades back. A conversation in, oddly enough, the same village that both I and his wife come from in SW England.

The Nehru and Modi Jackets are not the same item of clothing, one having sleeves the other not, and the Nehru Sadri or waistcoat is of entirely different derivation. Even if two of the three are solutions to the same basic problem, where the heck does a man put stuff in light clothing suitable for a hot climate?

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Jonathan Harston

I’ve got three shirts that I accidently bought without checking they had a breast pocket. I discovered when I got to work and attempted to drop my phone and notebook in my pocket. It meant I had one hand lost as I was stuck using it to carry the stuff usually in my pocket, not being in an environment where wearing a coat was feasible.