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In the North-East, Christmas is a big fashion festival

Elegant and fashionable festive outfits in Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Assam bring together traditions, trends and personal style

(left) Assam's Aradhana Singha at the church in a mekhala-sador; Nagaland's Hommiza Mimi Raman in her Naga mekhala for Christmas this year.
(left) Assam's Aradhana Singha at the church in a mekhala-sador; Nagaland's Hommiza Mimi Raman in her Naga mekhala for Christmas this year.

It is mid December. Mizoram’s Gracey V. is busy at her design studio. “Puff sleeves are quite trendy this Christmas," she says. “The colour red is a timeless classic.”

The days leading up to 25 December are quite hectic for designers in Mizoram's capital city of Aizawl, with over 90% of the population being Christian. The undulating streets in the city, nestled between green hills, are crowded with fashion studios—from matchbox-sized cosy spaces to massive boutiques with bridal gowns on display. Every December, the narrow lanes come alive with people out doing Christmas shopping, all fashionably dressed. Men look dapper in sharp suits and women dress in their finest puans (Mizo wrap-around skirts) paired with fashionable blouses under sleek overcoats and stylish boots.

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Gracey’s clients includes wives of bureaucrats, who take their fashion inspiration from royals like Kate Middleton and queen Rania of Jordan. This year, the women have bookmarked some style references of the celebrities for blouses to match woven their puans. “They (the clients) want to look timeless and elegant,” says Gracey, who has created a niche for herself by using textiles like chikankari, Benarasi brocade and zardozi for making blouses.

For style seekers, Christmas is the best time to visit the North-East. States like Nagaland and Meghalaya are home to a large number of Christians, amd are filled with homegrown designers who offer trendy outfits that bring together traditional and modern designs with a Christmas twist. Assam has a small community of Christians. While each state has its unique style, there's one thing in common when it comes to festive style: everyone dresses conservatively for church. Men wear suits; women opt for something traditional.

In Assam, for instance, you will find women from the Christian community in mekhela-sadors accessorised with indigenous gohona (jewellery) like junbiri (moon-shaped) earrings for Christmas mass. It’s a look common to all communities during special occasions, such as a wedding as well as the state’s famous harvest festival, Bihu. 

Style is also personal, and some people ensure they stay different while following the traditional route of dressing up. Some switch traditional jewellery with contemporary options, for example, and some wear a formal tailored dress to the church.

Last Christmas, Guwahati-based professor Aradhana Singha opted for a salmon mekhela-sador with silver floral motifs. “Most women love to wear mekhela-sador to church. There are other occasions, like dinner parties, that call for celebratory outfits; and for those we like to dress casual with warm winter wear and a lot of plaid,” says Singha, who accessorises her party look with traditional scarves woven by different communities in the North-East. This year, she has picked one from the Hmar people who are spread across Assam and Mizoram. Their woven fabric has black as the primary colour with stripes in green, red and white that suit the Christmas palette. She recommends Guwahati’s Fancy Bazaar to shop for mekhela-sadors.

In the neighbouring state of Meghalaya, Gena, a young mother from the Garo community in Tura, is wearing a silk dakmanda (Garo mekhala) with minimal floral designs for Christmas 2023. 

“People come to the church in the morning on Christmas Day, and that is where you will find the most fashionable looks,” she says. Women wear bright dakmandas with floral and geometric patterns set-off by a hint of shimmering yarn. “We wear a blouse and love pairing our dakmanda with a small stole; similar to the concept of wearing a dupatta with a salwar suit,” explains Gena, who uses only one name and is drawn to pastel colours and simple elegant patterns. Some of the most premium dakmandas are woven with mulberry silk and the golden muga. It’s an inherently warm textile and perfect for Christmas in the frosty Garo hills during December. 


Meghalaya's Gena in her Christmas outfits from the last two years.
Meghalaya's Gena in her Christmas outfits from the last two years.

In Nagaland’s capital Kohima, Hommiza Mimi Raman is ready with her Christmas attire: a black Naga mekhela that holds much sentimental value. It was a gift from a young teenager whose education she had sponsored. It’s a black woollen mekhela with intricate woven diamond patterns in fiery orange at the hem. 

“Kohima is so cold, and we need to layer. It’s a challenge to find an outfit because you want to be fashionable and keep yourself warm as well. Mekhela is perfect because it’s a double layered wrap-around skirt that can be woven in wool. These are paired with a nice sweater and an overcoat. Underneath the mekhela there’re stockings layered with socks for added warmth. To complete the look, we opt for boots,” she explains. 

Her mother, Eshia, has a penchant for collecting indigenous Naga beads. For this festive season, Hommiza picked orange beads to match the orange pattern of her mekhela. The age-old beads were sourced from the sea, her mother told her. They symbolise wealth that indicates that one would go to great lengths to procure them. Raman asked a local jewellery designer, Liyani Ezung, who runs the label Li Made, to craft earrings and a necklace with the beads. 

Hommiza will finish her look with red boots. Her outfit is representative of quintessential Christmas style of stylish Naga women: mix it up with weaves, pick handmade jewellery with contemporary flair and wear the season's trendiest colours.

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