Dressing in Code
I had the pleasure of visiting the Gymkhana Club of Chennai thanks to a good friend of mine who is a long-time member (who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent), on Jan 25th 2008. They had a very entertaining Republic Day celebration of talented modern dancers in a quite pleasant outdoor setting. Apparently the Gymkhana Club always does their celebrations one day prior to the actual event. So in this case the Republic Day celebration fell on the 25th for the anticipated 26th event. And those of you who know the place know that it's pretty nice. And those of you who don't, you'd better go down your rolodex and find a Gymkhana-member so that you can be their guest and go experience the place. It's a historical Chennai institution.
Unfortunately, as a prefix to said nice event, I managed to cause my host a minor (and he says truly minor) embarrassment by unintentionally infracting one of the club's rules right at the get-go. As we were entering the main building, one of the [presumably] managers accosted us with a "sir we have a dress code". This individual unapologetically stated that they required collars on all guests. I obviously made the assumption that his mis-statement really applied only to those of us blemished with an XY chromosome since the fairer sex generally dresses better in spite of the lack of a collar.
Now I'm a naturally argumentative person. I'm the sort of guy who'll argue with a clerk for telling me that I can't take photographs in a department store or a museum (I was thrown out of both for this infraction). But given that I had been invited by someone for dinner at a pretty swank place I decided to just throw in a cursory question. I asked the aforementioned Gymkhana Club Manager (alleged) if Nehru collars did not count. I guess I should now provide some details on my attire for clarification's sake. I was dressed in standard-issue Bata sandals (damn comfy at Rs. 250), a pair of excellent Just Casuals linen pants, and a white short-sleeved Nehru-collared Khadi shirt from the Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan next to Ritchie Street. This latter accoutrement was, as you must have astutely gathered by now, the offending item.
I've been accused of being an idiot on several occasions (actually pretty much daily), but my questioning whether the Nehru-collar did not qualify as a collar was not because I thought it might. As a collar at least. Rather the question really came up because I thought the manager might see the irony of his statement about their dress-code about a Khadi shirt (and it's a very obvious Khadi shirt since nobody else makes these white shirts except the KGB - hmm, interesting abbreviation that, but we'll ignore it for now) in light of it being worn to their Republic Day celebrations. Republic Day ... transitioning from British Dominion ... freedom from the oppressor, etc. Yeah, I know, you get the picture.
So I asked the question and got the standard issue "we've got a dress code and collars are required", upon which some unfortunate individual was made to run off and find a suitable shirt that would cover my embarrassment. If you've never been in this position, let me give you a taste. The Gymkhana club offers a fine selection of collared golf t-shirts available to wear atop your offending apparel at either a nominal laundry fee (charged, of course, to the member host), or available from their store (or so I've heard - but this is entirely hearsay). It's a wonderful piece of couture that looks like it came out of a used-clothes store. For the record, I'm not bad-mouthing used-clothing stores - I bought the best suit I've ever owned at a used-clothing store. But I was delighted to don a somewhat beaten-up, but duly collared t-shirt over my locally hand-spun and hand-made (or so they claim) nationalistic clothing.
By the way I didn't want to mention the fact that Gaultier is visiting India because of it's amazing indigenous (and arguably collar-free) textiles, but what the heck - I'll throw that bit of tangential mirch into the larger masala.
There's a saying I've heard often that it's a good thing that we kicked the Brits out so that we could govern ourselves and have our own freedoms and decision-making authorities. I used to be very sad about that since the great British institutions of dress and etiquette and food had been lost by my hapless desis. But I'm very glad to know that the really important rules, such as the dress-code which ensure that Western-style clothing is given the credit it deserves when contrasted to Indian clothes, is still maintained dutifully by such venerable institutions as the Gymkhana Club. And obviously I'm entirely humbled that a worn-out t-shirt albeit with neck accoutrement is "plus couture" contrasted against indigenous garb.
(By the way, just in case it's not clear, that's sarcasm.)
There's a reason the British (and the French and Dutch and Portuguese and Spanish and [insert your favourite colonialist here]) colonialists stopped people from wearing their own clothing to places of business, then extended it to other realms of life where people had to go regularly for socializing and networking. It's a simple and yet incredibly effective way of devaluing a national identity. I'm not suggesting that this is still the case, at least not at the Gymkhana. However to continue a tradition that was specifically designed (in my humble opinion) to diminish the value of the indigenous identity is distressing, to say the very least.
As I stated earlier, I'm the sort of guy who'll argue at the drop of a hat. As Bugs Bunny would say (if you're a Looney Toons fan) "This means War!". So I'm on a mission to ensure that my every visit to the Gymkhana Club henceforth is Khadi-shirt'ed (unfortunately my veshti skills are deplorable). But in all probability (and very unfortunately) I'll not have a chance to grace their grounds anytime soon.
In any case I'd be interested in hearing about others' experiences with the Gymkhana's policies, and of course opinions on this one.