We peeped into our past to discover the best ways to beat the heat. How can we look good, stay healthy and keep the heat out of our homes in this sweltering season? We peeked into the past for some solutions.
Query: Knowing full well that air-conditioners waste energy and thus contribute to global warming and climate change, would you do without them from now on? Or would the raging heat of summer lead you to bury your conscience and just flip that life-saving switch on so you can cool off and – oh bliss – breathe?
Chances are you’ll do the second. So it’s worth asking this question. Just what did people do before air-conditioners existed? Summers were summers even then, but people seem to have survived them (if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here). What were the tricks they used to keep their cool? And could we use them now too?
Yes, we could, in myriad ways. To start with, we could look at how we dress. “Looking into our past to dig for fabrics that were traditionally worn is a great practical idea,” says David Abraham of the fashion designer duo Abraham & Thakore. “Traditional and natural fabrics are the result of centuries of research and development keeping in mind the geographical conditions and culture of our country.”
“Very fine mulmul, super fine cotton, often woven in places that specialised in such fine summer varieties like West Bengal, were popular with women of ancient India,” says David. This may not be ancient India any more, but light cottons, voiles, muslins and mulmul are still available, and can be worn in more contemporary styles as well. Linen is also an option, though it should be chosen with care since some varieties can be scratchy, adds David. Designer and filmmaker Muzaffar Ali suggests cotton first and superfine khadi second. “There are varieties of cotton,” Muzaffar adds. “Such as mulmul, cotton from the south, Maheshwari cotton, Chanderis and so on. These don’t only feel good, they look good too.”
Cotton can look good as eveningwear too, blended with silk, and David suggests all manner of embellishments, such as zari, silver gota, metallic and shiny embroideries or light sequins. “If the fabric is cool, these add-ons will not make you feel warm,” he says. Designer Neeru Kumar also reminds us of the existence of chiffon and georgette – fabrics often worn to parties on hot summer nights.
Into the closet
When it comes to what to wear in summer, for many women, the answer is unanimous. The saree is No. 1, and there’s good reason for that. “A saree only has a single layer of cloth covering the upper body, and it’s like wearing a layered skirt underneath,” explains David. “Also, since it is not very tight, it allows air to touch your body and keep it cool.”
Neeru Kumar has a personal favourite – the Chanderi saree. “It is affordable, looks great and feels luxurious,” she says. “The fabric is simply beautiful and very cool.” But many of us don’t wear sarees, preferring the salwar kameez or western clothes. So David suggests we focus first on the fabric – any of those mentioned above – and then also on the cut. “Loose silhouettes are the best way to beat the heat,” he says. “Don’t wear tight clothes, you’ll sweat too much, especially in humid climates like that of Mumbai. And strappy clothes will give you sunburn.”
Muzaffar Ali fondly remembers the garara, something his mother used to wear. (Gararas were usually made out of soft cottons or voiles for daywear and light silks for the evening). But he acknowledges that the day of the garara is most probably over.
“The salwar kameez has become the most preferred style with interesting cuts and forms,” he says. “The salwar, for instance has been given a fashion twist in the form of the ‘chaura pyjama’. Even the kurta has been reinvented with interesting silhouettes and shapes.”
For men, Muzaffar says, the kurta pyjama is ideal summer wear. “The Kerala style mund (lungi) is also a great option,” he adds. But if you really can’t break the corporate western wear look, Muzaffar recommends shirts in cool fabrics like cambric and handloom cotton, with cotton twill or linen trousers or breeches for a businesslike but cool look.