Fashion: To Bombay & Back
Goan for the Jocular
by Cecil Pinto
In 1980 I had my yearly vacation with relatives in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Every year I would spend two to three weeks in May shuttling between various ‘cousins’ spread over Colaba, Dadar, Bandra and Malad. It used to be a very exciting time for me. My cousins would go out of their way to show me the splendours of the city. I would return to tell my friends here in Goa about all the wonderful sights I had seen… a pickpocketer being hammered at a railway station, slum dwellers defecating in a line along the railway tracks…
I once even saw Rajesh Khanna (my hero at the time) actually walk past within touching distance as I ate a Bhel Puri on Carter Road. Now that was really something. My Bombay cousins in turn would take great pleasure in introducing around their ill-dressed country bumpkin cousin, who had read more books than all of their friends combined.
I’m digressing here. Back to 1980. What made this vacation different is that this was the year it dawned on me that I had this strange 'gift' for starting fashion trends. You see the previous year, 1979, when I had gone to Bombay the clothes I wore were particularly shabby. I was a bit ashamed to tell my cousins’ friends that these were hand-me-down clothes from a long line of older male relatives which finally came down to my brothers and me. “How come they’re so faded and so rough?”.
That’s when I had an inspirational thought. “It’s the stone washing” I said, and embarked on a long and complicated explanation that there was a soap shortage in Goa and how we washed our clothes with gravel, which cleaned the dirt but left the clothes slightly worn out and faded. The empty headed Bombay folks fell for the tale. In 1980 when I returned to the city wonder of wonders, ‘stone-washed’ clothes were the rage!
It so happened that same year I burned a third-hand denim jacket of mine while ironing it. To hide the triangular iron singe I had made other similar burns on the jacket to make it appear like a deliberate random pattern. Sure enough the Bombay folks were fascinated with this. Again a contrived story about how one should rinse clothes quickly through an acid solution… and yes, you guessed right. Within weeks ‘acid washed’ clothes were the in thing in Bombay.
Next year I crossed the gender barrier. No, not what you're thinking. That I will describe some other time. My cute (then now she’s gross!) cousin Wendy was always getting her trouser legs stuck in her bicycle chain. I suggested she just cut off the trouser legs below the knee and hem it up neatly. “My friends will laugh at me” she said. “Not if you think of a nice name for this new design”, I told her. After a lot of brain wracking we had the answer “pedal pushers”. I recall that one even went international.
The next few years I went ballistic in Bombay. Wore a sleeveless banian to a movie theatre once because all my shirts (both of them) were dirty. Soon everyone was into 'trunk tops', and body building. Happened to tear my denim jeans at the knees in a motorcycle accident and couldn’t really afford a new pair. Darning was out of the question as they were really badly frayed on both knees. So I just wore them as they were. You are not going to believe this. Soon college teens in Bombay were actually tearing their jeans at the knees and walking about like tramps! And when I hit upon the brainwave of knee and elbow patches to disguise the holes…the corporate guys followed suit.
So it went on over the years. I wore something out of necessity and the Bombay folks made it into a fashion statement.
These days I see every pretty little college girl dressed identically. Trousers slightly flared at the bottom. Tops a few sizes too tight. I wonder who started this trend. I can imagine a poor Goan teenager trying out here mother’s old bell bottoms and doing a bit of modification. And wearing the same undersize tops because she can’t afford anything new. One trip to Bombay. It becomes the ‘happening’ statement there. And percolates back down to Goa where everybody apes the Bombay fashions.
I hope the fashion world is taking note of this. EVERY major fashion statement has been born out of necessity, in Goa. And I was the pioneer. Hope Wendell Rodricks is reading this too, while he researches his book on The History of Goan Fashion. I'm determined to get my name into that book at any cost. Even if it means spinning a lot of yarn.
The humour column above appeared in Goa Plus, the Friday Magazine section of The Times of India, on 5th September 2003.