Here’s what Narendra Modi’s fashion says about his politics

Move aside, Michelle Obama. The world has a new fashion icon. And no, it's not Vladimir Putin, despite his fitness regimen — it's India's new prime minister, Narendra Modi.

The politician has dominated headlines since his campaign and victory in India's election, and his wardrobe has been no exception. Countless articles have been written about his look, from his vast collection of hats to his iconic long tunic, the #ModiKurta. Yes, it has its own hashtag.

In a story this week, the New York Times fashion blog said that "Mr. Modi stands out. Literally and strategically." Here's a breakdown.

Modi's trademark style


Modi gestures during his arrival at the prime minister's office in New Delhi on May 27. (Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images)

The prime minister's signature look comprises a traditional kurta made of either cotton or silk, usually paired with a vest.

Traditional look


Modi arrives for the first session of India's newly elected parliament in New Delhi on June 4, 2014. (Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images)

Modi, who is fluent in English, may only speak to foreign leaders in Hindi. This may be a welcome sign to his Hindu-nationalist base, as is his style. The traditional clothing, especially in materials such as silk and cotton, plays into Modi's well-crafted nationalist image.

His tailors tell a story


Modi offers rose petals as he pays tribute at Rajghat, the memorial of Mahatama Gandhi in New Delhi, on May 26. (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)

For years, India's new leader has had his clothes stitched at Jade Blue, a company based in Modi's native state of Gujurat. Although Modi is a big fan of brand names (we'll get to that), his outfits tend to reflect a connection to his roots.

The clothes are always crisp and ironed


Modi receives flowers from party leader Sushma Swaraj at the party headquarters in New Delhi on May 17. (Altaf Qadri/AP)

This may seem obvious — it's hard to imagine a U.S. politician in a wrinkled suit. But in India, it's pretty common to find politicians in cotton kurtas in an attempt to portray a colloquial look. Modi is very particular about his look and has "shunned the shabby and crumpled kurtas and dhotis/pyjamas — the staple political costume of the traditional Indian politician," according to NDTV. One of his opponents, Mulayam Singh Yadav, made a dig at Modi's fashion and said, “He changes 500 kurtas a day and wears a new kurta to every meeting."

He loves brand names


Modi, right, greets Indian President Pranab Mukherjee. (Prakash SIngh/AFP/Getty Images)

Although Modi has a carefully cultivated Hindu nationalist image, it doesn't mean he isn't a fan of European designers. His glasses are said to be Bvlgari, and his watch is Movado, two brands at odds with his traditional Indian look but in keeping with his pro-business ideology.

A deliberate color scheme?


Modi attends the swearing in ceremony of the new Chief Minister of Gujarat in Gandhinagar on May 22. (Ajit Solanki/AP)

The prime minister's color palette has evolved over the years. When he was a chief minister, he would often wear bright colors. Since his campaign for prime minister, he has shifted to sporting light tones and pastels. Orange has been a longtime favorite, as it is one of the main colors of Hinduism. One color has been noticeably absent from his wardrobe. Last year, the Boston Review of books ran an article which highlighted the lack of dark green, a color commonly associated with Islam. The author spoke to Modi's tailor, Bipin Chauhan:

 When asked about Modi’s favorite color, Chauhan says, "Modi actually does not ever wear green" — the color associated with Muslims — and prefers to wear saffron, the orange-yellowish color of the BJP and the Hindutva ideology. But these days, Chauhan says, Modi prefers to wear more muted shades, “silent” variations of saffron.

The hats! Oh, the hats.


Modi wears a traditional hat from Rangia, Assam on April 16 during his campaign for prime minister. (Anupam Nath/AP)

Some politicians kiss babies to appeal to voters. Modi wears festive hats.

Swati Sharma is a digital editor for World and National Security and previously worked at the Boston Globe.
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