The style story behind CISF’s women in khaki


The style story behind CISF’s women in khaki

… and why it should inspire Indian designers

The restrained swagger of the officer made her stand out. Part of a large posse of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel posted at Delhi airport, she frisked female passengers in the security queue, her posture erect, and her gaze alert. The crisp fit of her khaki uniform, with the shirt flatly tucked into high-waist trousers, the androgynous toughness of her brown boots, the broad, buckled belt, the hair pulled into a bun under a smart cap, exuded a power that many women in trendy clothes and clutching designer bags would envy. She wore her job well.

Compared to state police uniforms, the CISF’s khaki and combat versions have sharper cuts and better tailoring. But their power doesn’t just come from the fit. In the words of deputy commandant (PRO) Manjit Singh, “The uniform symbolises the mental transition of an officer from being a civilian to being part of a security force”. A young CISF officer posted at the Race Course metro station says it’s her way of leaving her conventional middle-class married life behind. In fact, she adds that it not only works as a confidence booster for her but also for her mother and aunts, a generation that could never even step out of the sari unless they retired to their rooms.

With the extension of the Delhi Metro routes, these female officers in their smart vardis will become even more visible. At present, CISF, which falls under the ministry of home affairs, has 8,243 women recruits across India, making up 5.5% of its total strength. This is the largest number of women personnel among all Central Armed Police Forces. In Delhi, CISF women personnel are deployed at the Metro, the airport and at government buildings.

Their uniforms are made of dip-dyed polyester viscose; a disruptive pattern in the khaki palette is presently used for combat gear. One khaki sari-blouse set is also assigned to every woman officer but Singh admits it is hardly an option when weapons have to be carried on belts. The sari is preferred only by pregnant officers and those on office duties.

While uniforms are distributed in standard sizes — small, medium, large and XL — officers are free to take them to a private tailor for a customised fit?.?

The force has trained tailors at most of its 336 installations, who measure and cut the fabric. These are then stitched by women, often wives of force personnel, at family welfare centres of CISF. Grooming tips, too, are part of the training. While heavy jewellery is not permitted for field duties, Singh says keeping cultural sensitivities in mind, small pieces of jewellery are allowed, for instance, for newly married women.

Given the androgynous appeal of military uniforms ?and their make-do and mend practicality ?derived from wartime exigencies, fashion has for ages been inspired by camouflage prints, jackets with brass buttons, khaki shirts with epaulettes, belts, ankle boots, caps and aviator glasses. Some experiments have boomeranged of course. In 2014, fast fashion brand H&M had to apologise for olive green jumpsuits allegedly modelled on the uniforms of female Kurdish officers fighting the ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But that didn’t deter the design movement from combat style. Sometimes it mirrors fascinating arches of creativity as in the work of the infamously famous designer John Galliano?’s layered military themes; at other times, it is stylishly pragmatic as interpreted by athleisure brands. Ten days ago, 19-year-old American TV star Kylie Jenner, the youngest to join the Forbes list of 100 highest paid celebrities, added a ‘Camo Collection’ with camouflage sports bras and panties to her eponymous line of merchandise, nailing a million-plus likes on Instagram.

Curiously enough, no Indian designer has explored a full collection inspired by the khaki uniform, perhaps discouraged by the Indian consumer’s love for decorative wear. Before the move to change police uniforms, which are in the process of getting an NID makeover, perhaps Indian fashion will pay tribute to the force’s smartly turned out female officers?