Cinema is a hot box of trends. Quite often it influences what you wear, how you speak and also how you behave. If you were to go through your old photo albums, you’d find that knowingly or unknowingly you've added a certain type of clothing or a piece of accessory to your wardrobe, inspired from what you saw on the big screen.
The latest ‘’96 Janu kurta’ craze is example enough, with the number of women draping their dupatta around their neck growing exponentially after the film. In that sense, cinema only brings into the forefront what’s already present and what’s implementable - no one’s wearing Aishwarya Rai’s feathered headdress that she wore for the ‘Kilimanjaro’ song in Enthiran!
But cinema inspiring fashion trends isn’t something new and it isn’t permanent either. Time and again, what is seen on the big screen has been a great inspiration for fashion designers and store owners to dust off what they already have and present it in the way that has been shown on screen to capture the market.
Fashion before the '80s
Chennai-based writer and history enthusiast Nivedita Louis says that her mother sported high buns from the sixties, wore cap sleeves, short sleeves and had a very peculiar saree draping style that had no pleats! “All based on various actors' styles. Also, the Saroja Devi scarf did the rounds back then. So did Savithri's high neck blouses,” she begins enthusiastically.
Textile revivalist Sabita Radhakrishna shares that around the '50s and the '60s, the robia voile material was a popular choice for blouses.
“When actors wore it on screen, it inspired more women to do so. It was a very thin material that had floral designs. If people wore silk sarees, I distinctly remember, the blouse had mustard and green flowers on them. My mother used to wear robia voile blouses,” she says.
For 84-year-old K Leelavathy, TR Rajakumari’s hairstyle from Chandraleka (1948) was the fad when she was young. “She used to sport a loose plait with the hair half covering her ears. A lot of women my age did that. It was very fashionable back then,” she chuckles.
Leelavathi (seated first on the left) in TR Rajakumari-inspired hairstyle
Photo courtesy: Thirupurasundari | Fashion in late 30s
Tailor Gopi who has been in the business for close to 40 years shares that Sowcar Janaki’s collar-neck blouses is a request he receives even today. “But one of my long-time customers who has always stitched collar-neck blouses stopped doing so quite recently after she saw politicians wear them. She felt they were becoming too mainstream,” he says.
The mighty eighties
According to Sabita Radhakrishna, the eighties were the most influential years when people began following fashion trends from cinema. “Earlier, people would hesitate to copy what was seen on screen. They weren’t sure if they could pull off the look. All that changed in the '80s,” she says.
Architect and historian Thirupurasundari Sevvel too corroborates Sabita’s point, adding that at this point, dressing style became easily reproducible. She explains the reason behind this cult behaviour.
“It was not like cinema brought in a style that was absolutely new. When people saw a particular style of dressing, one that they could easily replicate, then that became the rage,” says Thirupurasundari.
Thirupurasundari further explains that when actors played college-goers, then the chances of their clothing becoming a trend were higher. “Actors like Heera, Nadhiya, Revathi and Radikaa often played college students and so their style got picked up easily,” she says.
Nivedita says that in the eighties, Nadhiya was the most influential style icon. “Nadhiya earrings, Nadhiya bindhi and over-the-top Nadhiya bun (Nadiya kondai) were all style statements that people copied,” she says.
Actor Nadhiya in different looks
Actors Nadhiya, Heera, Radha, Sridevi, Ambika, Amala, Gauthami, Sukanya, Khushbu, Radikaa and Revathy were some of the stars whose styles often became popular.
Nivedita confesses that actor Sangeetha’s sarees from Poove Unakaga, the skirt-top-dupatta style from Idhayathai Thirudathe and the salwar suit that actor Soundarya wore in the ‘Nenjukulle’ song from Ponnumani made it to her wardrobe. “Also Heera’s haircut from Idhayam movie was all the rage and all of Vijayashanthi’s blouses from Mannan too!,” she adds.
Heera in Idhayam
Soundharya in Ponnumani
When it came to blouses, Sabita says that Rekha’s plunging neckline created a huge influence on her. Until then, she'd preferred close necklines. “While I usually preferred high neck blouses myself, I took a liking for Rekha’s necklines. It had a pot-like shape with a high back, if you can imagine it. I still wear it,” she shares.
Shobana Suresh, a homemaker distinctly recalls that Revathy’s Arangetra Velai hairstyle was one that she and all her friends imitated. “It was quite easy to do even if you had less volume. Also, all of Radha’s loose-plaint hairstyles from most of her films like Anand, Mella Thirandhadu Kadhavu were some of the styles we followed,” she recalls.
Geethanjali dress; (below) Niveditha wearing a dress inspired from the film
Niveditha in Mannan inspired look
Viji in floral print Garden saree that were popular in the 80s
Kausalya Murali who is employed with Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) says, “I used to like the floral prints Garden sarees, especially the ones Suhaasini wore in Dharmathin Thalaivan movie. I used to drape it with a single pleat on top, like how she wore in the film.”
The decade of all things loose
Shobana goes on to say that the dress that actor Girija Shettar wore in Idhayathai Thirudathe (1989), popularly known as the 'Geetanjali' dress (from its Telugu original) was one of the most popular ensembles during her college days in the nineties.
“It was a 3/4 skirt with a longer top and a dupatta. The top had mirror or chamki work and it was quite popular. Revathy wore it in Arangetra Velai too! I remember I made quite a fuss with my father to get me the very same dress,” she laughs.
She also adds that the half sarees that Khushbu wore in Varusham 16 was another style for which she threw a tantrum. “I loved wearing half sarees during my teens and I distinctly remember crying to my father to buy me the same ones that Khushbu wore,” she adds.
52-year-old S Viji, who works as a pharmacist, says that Banupriya’s plain georgette saree with embroidered blouse that she wore in the 'Maalaiyil yaaro' song from Chatriyan was a look that she copied. “She wore it in yellow, I got it in green,” she grins.
Viji in Bhanupriya inspired look
Subhashree Karthik Vijay, who comes from a family of directors and is a costume designer herself, recalls that the plain saree-embroidered blouses combination was quite a thing in the nineties.
“Also Revathy’s hairstyle from Magalir Mattum with the front fringe and her anarkalis became quite a hit in the nineties. Revathy’s midis from Pudiya Mugam were also popular,” she adds.
Prabhu Deva in 'Oorvasi' song
Subhashree also says that the nineties, in particular, popularised a very loose-fitting style among both men and women. “Prabhu Deva popularised the baggy pants in the 'Oorvasi' song and I remember all my male friends sporting those pants. Also the T-shirts were quite loose and were longer. This was also the time when men started wearing Bermuda shorts for casual wear. Up until then, for casuals, they’d tuck in their T-shirts, which must’ve looked ridiculous,” she laughs.
Thirupurasundari Sevvel, however, points out that the film fashion trends of the nineties were much more reproducible in comparison to the early 2000s that followed. “If you were to notice the style that was seen in some of the 2000s films, none of them could’ve been reproduced in daily life. For instance, the too-short skirts that we saw in Unakku 20 Enakku 18 and also the ones that were seen in T Rajender films. These were very consciously done and they never made it to people’s wardrobes,” she says.
Another point that she makes is that more than adults, children were the first respondents to such trends. “I’m sure every one of us '90s kids would’ve had the velvet turtle-neck dress from Jeans, Kajol’s dresses from Minsara Kanavu and Simran’s top and jeans with just the hip line showing. Same goes with hairstyles. The baby Shalini look was all the rage among '90s children, a short bob with a front fringe and a hairband to hold it in place,” she says.
Thirupurasundari in Minsara Kanavu Kajol inspired velvet dress
Niveditha in Baby Shalini inspired hair style
Thripurasundari reiterates that fashion from cinema depends on how easily accessible an accessory or a dress was. “We all had kurtas and jeans but when we saw Jyothika wear them in Kaakha Kaakha, it became a trend. Same goes for Trisha’s cotton sarees from Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya,” she explains.
True to what she says, if we were to list down all the trends that made it to the real world from the reel world, it all depended on how reproducible these were.
The early 2000s saw actors like Sneha and Jyothika’s chiffon sarees become popular. Shobana says, “My sister-in-law was obsessed with Sneha sarees. There was a particular colour called ‘Sneha patchai’ that she gifted to everyone for her wedding. Also Jyothika and Nayanthara’s Chandramuki sarees were popular in the early 2000s.”
Trisha in Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya
While the eighties and the nineties saw Georgette and chiffon sarees, the later years in the new millenium popularised cotton sarees and Trisha’s Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya look was one that many women referred to.
Preethi Raghav, a 27-year-old nutritionist, shares, “Despite the fact that I always liked sarees, I never had the confidence to wear them outside. But after watching Trisha ace the saree look in VTV, I started embracing it all the more.”
But cinema is not the only medium that has inspired fashion trends, says Sabita. “Politicians like Indira and Sonia Gandhi have always draped themselves in exquisite handlooms, sourcing them from all corners of the country and they’ve also been of great influence,” she adds.