Fashion is now a male bastion

Everywhere else fashion may be a female territory. But this rule is fast being rewritten in Kerala, with young men becoming increasingly fashionable and in sync with international styles.

In a rather funny role-reversal of sorts, young girls in Kerala are the ones who ogle at boys these days, and not vice-versa. And why not? In a never-seen-before trend, Malayali boys have not just upped their game in the fashion and looks department, but have left their female counterparts miles behind by ruling what was once considered exclusive female territory!

Even as recently as three years ago, boys in Kerala were almost fashion illiterate, content to slip into any old jeans, never once daring to think beyond the predictable black, blue and grey palettes. An occasional dab of gel in the hair was the most they could think of when it came to styling. But look at them now! In a matter of just a couple of years, young Malayali boys seem to have undergone a complete fashion metamorphosis.

Liberty spikes, lower-lip and eyebrow piercings and bold tattoos are the order of the day. Their wardrobe has everything from dangerously low-waisted skinny jeans to cigarette pants in candy colours. Super bikes and fast cars are not the focus anymore. It’s all about flaunting the latest in accessories, clothes and hairstyles. In short, the young Mallu man today is a dandy, who loves looking good and enjoys the spotlight on himself.
So what led to this change?

Filmi cue
Like everywhere else in India, these youngsters too are influenced by films. And luckily for them, Malayalam cinema today has more than just Mammootty, Mohanlal and their ilk. There’s a new crop of stylish, young, good looking stars whom these young men take inspiration from. “Sreenath Bhasi is our latest inspiration — his casual dressing, gait, attitude and accent are a rage,” says Mohammed Jaseemm, a students, who adds that Dulquer Salmaan and Asif Ali are their other style icons.

The Allu Arjun Effect
At a time when Malayli heroes were still your average mundu-clad, moustached men spewing heavy-weight dialogues, youngsters in Kerala discovered Telugu superstar Allu Arjun. The young actor, nicknamed ‘stylish Star’ captured the imagination of boys like no one else could. His dance moves, his colourful sense of style and his effortless demeanour made him the new youth icon across Kerala. So much so, he was christened ‘Mallu Arjun’ by Malayalis who started following him rather closely. “I watch his movies just to get a dekko of the new, quirky fashion statements he sports in every movie,” says Rohith Vinod, a law student at Trivandrum. Soon, Allu’s hairstyles and dress sense found their way to the campuses of Kerala.

Not mere copycats
Though these youngsters take a cue from film stars, they say they don’t copy them blindly. “We also look at what suits us the best. Apart from closely watching the trends that we see around us, we even check online sites and tweak international street fashion a bit to adapt them here,” says Dinu C V, a student of Christ College, Irinjalakuda.

Bonding over haute talk
With their wild hairstyles and out-of-the-box dress sense, these young men clearly stand out in the otherwise conservative Kerala. And perhaps that explains the need for them to get together and bond over their new-found love for fashion, even as they exchange notes on style. Social networking sites are filled with pages and forums dedicated to street style in Kerala. And these pages are where boys can be seen at their fashionable best. They dress up, get their pictures clicked by their photographer friends, and upload them on such sites. “We love it. Once our pictures get shared we become mini celebrities. Some of us even have a loyal fan following among the teens who are still experimenting with their looks. We now get recognised on the streets as our pictures online are a huge hit,” claims Rizwanul Hak, a self-confessed ‘fashionista’ who’s a regular on these pages.

How girls got left behind
Even as boys experiment with looks that range from punk and rock chic to high-street and prep-look, girls in Kerala sadly, haven’t really managed to go beyond the kurti-jeans look. And guys admit they are disappointed that unlike them, girls in Kerala are not so bold when it comes to fashion. “They don’t experiment with their look at all. But the moment they step out of their comfort zone to metro cities like Chennai, Mumbai or Bangalore, they will start dressing up more fashionably,” says Dinu, who thinks the lack of eye candy is rather unfair.

But how come they got left behind so badly? Well, the pressures on the fairer sex are many, they say. It’s still a very conservative society. From strict parents who want girls to dress up conservatively, to the society at large which sneers at girls who are fashionable — the roadblocks are many. Rosemy Kuruvilla, a BTech student of Cusat, couldn’t agree more, “I wish I could walk around wearing my favourite short skirts. Sadly, if I do, people will make fun of me.”

Lack of inspiration is also to be blamed, says Haan Tom, stylist. “Mollywood heroines are not glamourous like their counterparts in other film industries. So, it comes as no surprise that boys are more stylish than girls in Kerala.’

Style file
Just like the way they dress, boys give a lot of attention to their personal grooming as well. It is not just the girls who visit a beauty salon for eyebrow shaping, pedicure and facials these days. Surprisingly, boys are ready to spend exorbitant amounts for a makeover. While they spend Rs 10,000 on clothing, they will send double the amount at a beauty salon.

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