Most suit jackets, blazers and sportscoats are based on the same patterns and styles. However, there are alternatives to the classic suit jacket, which have a great dose of style as well. One of these is the Nehru jacket.
Style and history
The Nehru jacket describes a hip-length tailored coat for men (but that also has a women’s version) that features a mandarin collar and with a front modeled on the Indian achkan or sherwani. The garment gets its name after Jawaharlal Nehru, who was the Prime Minister of India between 1947 and 1964. Interestingly enough, Nehru did not wear as many Nehru jackets as you would expect, at often times opting for the more traditional sherwani/achkan or the Western-style suit and tie combination.
Nehru was a central figure in Indian politics, both before and after the country’s independence. He became a leader of the Indian independence movement under the tutelage of Mahatma Gandhi. He is considered to the one of the architects of the modern Indian nation-state.
The garment that carries his name was created in India in the 1940s and was originally known as “Band Gale Ka Coat” (in English “Closed Neck Coat”) and has been in style in the Indian subcontinent ever since. The Nehru jacket is very popular as the top half of a suit worn on special occasions.
The Nehru jacket must not be confused with the achkan, which falls below the knees of the wearer, whereas the Nehru jacket is shorter, resembling a military-style jerkin.
In the mid 1960s, the jacket began to be marketed in Europe and America as the Nehru jacket. It was popular in the West, but only for a short time. It’s popularity came from the awareness of other cultures, the minimalism of the Mod lifestyle, which were in vogue back then (and the Nehru jacket is a great example of a minimal, but very stylish garment) and due to bands such as the Beatles. Some James Bond film villains such as Dr. No or Kamal Khan also wore Nehru jackets, but whether this helped its image is debatable. Even though at that time there were talks on whether the Nehru jacket could be the next tuxedo, the popularity of the jacket dissipated quite fast.
The Nehru jacket has, however, not lost its popularity in India, where it is often termed “band-gala” (i.e. closed-neck). It is so popular that the suit worn by Narendra Modi, prime minister of India, when he met with US president Barack Obama in 2015 was so discussed and famous that it was eventually sold at an auction for $695,000.
The main feature of the Nehru jacket is, as said, its mandarin collar, which refers to a collar that goes upwards rather than down. The collar of a classic Nehru jacket is short (1-2 inches / 2-5 cm) and does not feature a lapel.
Such collars are quite popular in the West in military attire.
Other than its specific collar, there not very significant differences between a Nehru jacket and a suit jacket. It can have single or double vents and sometimes you can even add a pocket square to it.
One more thing that needs to be addressed is the difference between a Nehru jacket and the Mao jacket. The Mao jacket has a turndown collar and features four flapped patch pocket squares that are yielding a different overall vibe, which makes it different from the Nehru jacket.
These days, you will see many manufacturers sell sleeveless Nehru jackets, which are also really great stylewise. Sometimes they are still called Nehru jackets, while at other times they are called Nehry sleeves.
Regardless, Nehru jackets have a very clean look and, if you wear one that is well-fitting, it will make you look very polished, minimal and sophisticated.
Nehru jackets are made from a variety of materials. Any material from which a Western suit can be made is perfect to make a Nehru jacket as well.
If you are choosing a new Nehru jacket you should always consider that of course there is a strong relation between the material of the jacket and the weather conditions or climate in which you will be wearing it.
For example, in the northern, Himalayan region of India, there are many men who sport Nehru jackets made from cashmere or merino wool. For people who live in the warm and humid Indian plains have no use for such materials, so in this region hand spun cotton, also referred to as “khadi”, is more common. Even though khadi is not the most luxurious fabric, it is light and breathable.
Nehru jackets are also made from synthetic materials, but we never advice men to opt for jackets mad from polyester or other similar materials. These will make feel uncomfortable, either too hot or too warm and won’t last in time. Even though they might look good on a hanger, due to their artificial nature, these fabrics won’t adapt to your body, so the clothes will make you look artificial and strange.
How to wear a Nehru jacket
Dress it up or down
A Nehru jacket can be worn like any suit jacket. There are Nehru jackets that are more formal, while others are more casual. Usually, the richer the material, the dressier the jacket will be. Also, colors are a good indicator of the degree of dressiness of a Nehru jacket. Bright and pastel colors are usually more casual, while darker colors are usually dressier. This being said, you need to remember that in Indian culture, very colorful pieces go for dressy occasions as well, so you must take some time to train your eye as to what works and what doesn’t if you wish to wear a Nehru jacket in a context dominated by Indian culture.
Here are a few tips we recommend you consider when wearing a Nehru jacket:
– Nehru jackets can be worn at dressy events, but our recommendation is that, if you wear such a jacket at a dressy event, you should always wear a jacket with sleeves. Sleeveless Nehru jackets should be kept for casual settings.
– When you are creating a color scheme involving a Nehru jacket, remember that higher contrasts (black-white) go best with dressy settings, while low-contrast combinations (orange-pink) are more suited for casual settings.
– Given that Nehru jackets don’t allow for your collar to be seen, we recommend wearing them with collarless shirts. You can wear them with shirts that feature collars too, but in this case your collar might look stuffed underneath, which takes from the clean aspect of the piece.
With jodhpuri pants
A good way to wear a Nehru jacket is with a pair of jodhpuri pants. Jodhpuri pants were originally pants that were snug-fitting only from just below the knee, and were flared at the hip.
More modern variations of jodhpurs are tight-fitting pants that reach to the ankle, where they end in a snug cuff.
A dhoti, also known as dhuti, mardani, dhorta, dhoteé, lacha or vesti is a type of traditional men’s pants that are worn in the Indian subcontinent mainly by Indian, Nepalese and Bengali people.
Dhotis are rectangular pieces of unstitched clothes, that are generally around 15 ft / 4,5 m long that are wrapped around one’s waist and legs and are knotted at the waist.
Wearing a Nehru jacket with dhoti might make an interesting balancing act between the simplicity of the jacket and the busyness of the dhoti. To obtain this type of balancing act, you must keep one piece very simple in terms of fabric and color (think a soft neutral such as ivory) and the other one in a strong color or pattern (think paisley). Otherwise, you will have two very strong statement pieces and you will have a look that will be so busy, people won’t know where to look.
Buttonless Nehru jackets
In recent months, there have been several Indian designers that have put buttonless variations of the Nehru jacket on the runway. These offer a new perspective on the classic Nehru jacket and go great with a variety of both Western and Asian clothes. For example, you can wear them with a simple pair of pants or with a kurta.
Regardless of how and why you want to wear a Nehru jacket, you should always make sure that this fits you well in the shoulders, the sleeves and the back.
Nehru jacket are very practical items that can add a twist to a look. Depending on their style, they can be worn anywhere from a brunch to a special evening.
Fraquoh and Franchomme
P.S. We want to hear from you! What type of Nehru jacket do you like? Where do you wear it? How do you style it? Share your feedback, questions or thoughts in the comments below! For more articles on style, fashion tips and cultural insights, you can subscribe to Attire Club via e-mail or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!