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Above: The Kapurthala Princes. Images below: first from bottom - courtesy, Charles Meacham. Second - Canadian Member of Parliament, Sardar Navdeep Singh Bains. Third: courtesy, Shunya. Homepage - Major Harjit Singh Sajjan of the Canadian Armed Forces.


Sikh Style: The Art of Daily Color-Coordination



Sikh men seem to have an intuitive sense of colour-coordination.

They have to - given the visual prominence of the Sikh turban. It is a solid mass of colour that has to be coordinated with the rest of a Sikh man's attire - making colour-coordination a very significant part of the daily routine.

How do you pick a tie, shirt, socks, trousers that all flow effortlessly with such a dominant visual element - AND do it with utter confidence?

Sikhs are the only men I have seen capable of confidently wearing bright pink and still looking stylish. It is a sort of thing that will turn me from a fashion disaster to a train wreck. Which begs me to ask - what are the colour-coordination secrets of Sikh style?

The daily act of colour-coordination in a Sikh man's life is hardly discussed. At best, it is hinted at as some trivial ability unworthy of discussion.

Mainly because wearing a Sikh turban in the 21st century is not only an act of colour-coordination or a statement of religious identity. It is a deeply personal statement of managing cultural complexity.

The Sikh turban or dastaar is a unique piece of religious attire. It is neither a comprehensive outfit such as those worn by Hasidic Jews, nor a easily removable piece of headgear like the Jewish or the Islamic skullcap. The dastaar is a dominant symbol that catches the eye and defines the wearer. Yet, it allows the wearer to integrate a variety of cloths that reflect his  professional, social and personal identities. 

I have seen the turban worn with jeans and leather jacket. With elegant business suits, Bermuda shorts and a myriad of uniforms. The Sikh turban even goes surprisingly seamlessly with a rapper look. You can get Sikh hoodies too. Rarely has headgear seemed so timeless and flexible.

The dastaar has become a statement of a highly personalized balancing act. Between tradition and modernity, between declaring membership to a minority religious identity and allegiance to "the majority" culture - a declaration of spiritual and secular personal identity. It is an openness that easily makes you the target for bigots of every stripe.

Not something that most humans have the courage to do - which makes wearing a Sikh turban a profound act of self confidence and courage.  

Consequently, the Sikh turban is an informal barometer of a culture's sophistication at responding to the complexities of cultural identity in the 21st century.

In this regard, "official" French culture has suffered a catastropic collapse into paranoid literalist pettiness. A tragic inability to comprehend the subtleties of human life.

It is a stark contrast to the UK. Or India, which went from a separatist war to a Sikh prime minister within a generation. Even the U.S. has got unexpectedly pragmatic. 

Despite the politics, most wearers have a matter-of-fact ease about the whole thing - demonstrated by their casual genius at colour-coordination. I wonder if Sikh men have a well-developed set of rules about combining patterns, colour and different forms of clothing with the dastaar.

Though there are plenty of tips on how to tie a turban, there's nothing specific about how to colour-coordinate. Perhaps it is an intution that comes with your spiritual state of mind. Or something that you learn from a lifetime of morning turban rituals and subconsciously absorbing the colour choices of your male elders.

It is clear it's a wisdom that needs to be heard. For the dishevelled hordes of non-Sikh men (yours truly included), a dose of Sikh eye for the straight guy would be very very useful. Sikh chic is not just for Sikhs.


December 18, 2008

Conversation about this article

1: Pritam Singh Grewal (Canada), December 19, 2008, 5:47 PM.

Yes, Cerno, the colour coordinating sense of dressing led by the Sikh turban springs largely from their spiritual state of mind. Our Gurus have used the metaphor of 'majeeth' or firm and 'kusumbh' or fickle colours to denote godly love and worldly attachment respectively. Thank you for introducing an interesting point of view on Sikh attire.

2: Chintan Singh (San Jose, U.S.A.), December 19, 2008, 5:49 PM.

I too am a big proponent of us wearing our turbans in different colors and making a fashion statement out of it. I believe this helps instill confidence in the Sikh youth. Our turban is part of our daily attire and why should it be considered as anything less than other parts of our clothing, such as the neck-tie, shirt or business suit, as a fashion piece. From my recent trip back home to India, I have picked up a dozen unconventional colors of turbans which are beyond the traditional blacks and blues, including a pink to wear with my pink neck tie.

3: H. Singh (USA), December 20, 2008, 10:23 PM.

Rule No. 1) - If there is an apparant contrast between the color of the dastaar and the upper body clothes, it would make your face look illuminant. 2) Red dastaar can go with most colors as rd can provide a very good contrast with other colors,especially back. 3) Blue, bown and other dark shades of dstaars require the same shade of tie. But they won't provide a contrasting and illuminating image, unless your shirt is white. 4) Lastly, for dressing casually, your dastaar can either match your top or pants. To keep the contrast alive, a black dastaar goes well with a white shirt and black pants.

4: Nishatro (London, England), June 06, 2009, 10:54 AM.

A husband's turban that always coordinates with his wife's clothes gets them noticed ... an especially touching statement!

5: Paul F. Davis (Orlando, Florida, USA), August 07, 2012, 3:59 PM.

My sympathy and heartfelt apology for the United States and our dumb Americans demonizing and dehumanizing your wonderful Sikh people. My heart and prayers are with you. I'm a worldwide minister who has lived in and traveled throughout India, and an author of 'United States of Arrogance.'

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