Sikh style: art of daily colour co-ordination


Sikh men seem to have an intuitive sense of colour co-ordination. They have to —  given visual prominence of the Sikh turban (also called a Dastar). It is a solid mass of colour that has to be co-ordinated with the rest of a Sikh man’s attire — making colour co-ordination a very significant part of the daily routine. How do you pick a tie, shirt, socks, trousers that all flow effortless with such a dominant visual element – AND do it with utter confidence? Sikhs are the only men I have seen capable of  confidently wearing a bright pink and still look 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 co-ordination secrets of Sikh style?

The daily act of colour co-ordination is a Sikh man’s life is hardly discussed. At best 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 co-ordination or a statement of religious identity. It is a deeply personal statement of managing cultural complexity.

The Sikh turban (Dastar) 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 a Jewish or the Islamic skull cap. The Dastar 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 head gear seem so timeless and flexible (check out the pics on ratemyturban.com).

The Dastar has become a statement of a highly personalised 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 catastrophic 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 US has got unexpectedly pragmatic.

Despite the politics, most wearers have a matter a fact ease about the whole thing – demonstrated by their casual genius at colour co-ordination. I wonder if Sikh men have a well developed set of rules about combining patterns, colour and different forms of clothing with the Dastar. Though there are plenty of tips on how to tie a turban, there’s nothing specific about how to colour co ordinate. Perhaps it is an intution that comes with your spiritual state of mind. Or something that you learn from a life time of morning turban rituals and subconsciously absorbing the colour choices of your male elders.

It is clear 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.

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