Named after the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Nehru jacket is a hip-length Indian jacket with a central button placket. Evolved from another form of outerwear, the achkan, the Nehru jacket has a similar standing or mandarin collar to the achkan but is typically shorter in length. The collar of the Nehru jacket does not overlap in the front of the garment, leaving a small gap in the centre. The garment got its name only after the 1940s and was previously referred to as a bandh gale ka coat (“closed neck coat”).
Some Indian designers have argued that Nehru jacket was a name devised as a marketing gimmick for a Western audience, and that the original name for this garment was the Jodhpur jacket or “prince coat.” This garment originated in Jodhpur and was even a part of the Jodhpur polo team’s uniform in the 1930s. Due to its length, the Jodhpur jacket could be paired easily with Jodhpur breeches or other kinds of trousers. Worn together, the two resembled a traditional Western suit, as a result of which the Jodhpur jacket came to be popularly associated with notions of affluence and modernity in pre-Independence India.
The Nehru jacket became popular in the West in the 1960s due to Nehru’s visibility as a political figure, which led to it getting its present name. Images of Nehru dressed in the jacket featured extensively in magazines such as Life and National Geographic, and, in 1964, he wore one on the cover of Vogue. Following this, several fashion designers such as Pierre Cardin, Oleg Cassini, Gilbert Féruch and Domenico Caraceni began creating designs which resembled the original Nehru jacket. In the years that followed, the garment was worn by several celebrities, including the Beatles, Sammy Davis Jr and Sean Connery.
At the time of writing, the Nehru jacket continues to be a popular garment among political leaders in India. However, the contemporary Nehru jacket is not the exact version of the garment that was favoured by Nehru – it is often sleeveless and shorter in length. Though occasionally seen in a mandarin-collared, hip length waistcoat, Nehru mostly wore a full-length achkan.
The Nehru jacket’s popularity has inspired other garment styles in Southeast Asia, including the Mujib Coat in Bangladesh and the Raj Pattern in Thailand.
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