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A tale of co-ords and caution

Co-ord sets seem to have reached peak popularity in India— mostly in the worst versions of themselves

(from left) A co-ord not advertised as pjs; a pairing from Buna Studio; and Aashi Adani in one of her sets.
(from left) A co-ord not advertised as pjs; a pairing from Buna Studio; and Aashi Adani in one of her sets. (from left, courtesy: Pinklay website; Buna Studio on Instagram; and Aashi Adani)

It’s a Sunday afternoon, and, at a busy mall, two otherwise chic ladies glide down an escalator in what seem to be…night-suits? Impeccable Korean glass-skin make-up on one and classic Ruby Woo-esque red lip on the other dispel any illusions that they may have had a lazy morning.

No, wait a second. Those are co-ord sets. Bad ones, of course. But I soon realise these aren’t an anomaly. I see them a few days later in an office waiting room, outside a fancy coffee shop. And at the airport. And on Instagram, on celebrities “spotted” doing regular-people things. It’s an epidemic.

Ideally a predetermined set of upper and lower garments in one colour or pattern, co-ord sets are supposed to be an easy way to look put-together. In that brief phase after the lockdown, when we were all trying to understand how to inhabit the world socially again, fashion writers told us co-ords were the things to bank on, that they were here to stay. This made sense: They offered a gentle way for us to ease out of oversized T-shirts and ratty pyjamas, and, without too much effort, feel stylish and smart.

Also Read: Is swimwear the new daywear?

But if Google trends for India are anything to go by, it is only now, in the second half of 2023, that the term “co-ords” has hit peak popularity in searches…and apparently also in some of the worst versions of themselves.

“Co-ords are so versatile and for everybody—you can see children sporting them, older women and men too,” says Aashi Adani, a personal fashion and beauty influencer. The fact that they come in sets lets her wear colours she wouldn’t ordinarily. “It’s a little tricky to decide what colours will go well together…and co-ords take away any stress that the outfit is going to be mismatched,” she adds.

Pallavi Shantam, founder of the label Buna Studio, which conceptualises garment pairings without calling them co-ords, notes that the idea of the now popular sets also “resonates with those embracing minimalism and sustainable choices...while also allowing mix-and-match possibilities”.

Also Read: Feathers, capes, sheer: Micro trends that emerged from India Couture Week

It all sounds great—except that this is where things get a bit deceptive. Not all co-ords are crafted equal. A lot of them in the market can actually trip up a relatively inexperienced wearer because it is the nuances of cuts, fits and accessories that keeps them from looking like their close cousin, the pj set.

“The more relaxed a co-ord looks, the more it goes into the loungewear or nightwear category,” says Adani, who swears by her many co-ord sets. “Finding a co-ord that fits your body well is very important…and how you accessorise it also makes a huge difference,” she adds.

Wasn’t the whole point to eliminate decision fatigue and make dressing easy? There was a time when matching separates didn’t blur the lines between your going-out clothes and what you would wear to bed. Think Coco Chanel’s colour-coordinated skirt-and-cardigan sets, or Audrey Hepburn’s iconic all-black polo neck, trousers and penny loafers in Funny Face (1956). Closer home, we have had the matching salwar-kameez and the standard “running blouse” in a sari that matches with the rest of its yardage.

In all these, the intentionality in colour, print or embellishment communicated exactly what they were meant for. It was simple and straightforward, comfort did not mean confusion. Perhaps more contemporary co-ords can be thought of in this way. Designers would be doing a whole host of us looking for ease and style a great service.

Also Read: India Couture Week 2023: Same but different

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