We think the emergence of a co-ord set—in its full glory—is just an aftermath of the pandemic. A time in our lives when we still don’t know how much dressing up is too much dressing up. With a co-ord set, the rules are feeble, you style it up with statement baubles, or tone it down with sneakers. Just what the brain needs, a piece of outfit where rules don’t apply. It’s no wonder then that they have been spotted on the runway from Gucci to Alice McCall, from international celebrities such as Billie Eilish to Angelina Jolie (yeah, we know it was a pyjama set) to Indian ones such as Karisma Kapoor and Deepika Padukone.
“They are all the rage right now not just in India, but around the world,” says Amrita Khanna, founder of Delhi-based label Lovebirds. Khanna feels that their existence goes a long way in the history of Indian clothing and women (and men) on the Indian subcontinent have always worn a kurta-pyjama or a salwar-kameez as a “set”, often coordinating colours, prints, and styles. She’s right, for the word 'kurta' originates from Urdu and Persian words ‘kurtah’ meaning a loose-fitting collarless shirt and ‘pay-jama' which means clothing for legs. Technically, not too different from the description of an average co-ord set.
Lovebirds has been crafting co-ordinated sets since 2015, ever since the brand launched, but it was only two years ago that it got a special section on their website, next to ‘jumpsuits’ and ‘dresses’.
According to Benaras-based designer Deepak Shah, founder of November Noon, “Matching sets aren’t new. In mainstream fashion, they first came up in the ’70s and were popularised by the likes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears in the ’90s and early aughts. It was a big part of Y2K dressing,” he says, just like bralettes, which are also trending right now. Since then, several iterations of the co-ord set have become mainstay and subsequently turned into an essential in our closets, post pandemic.
One of the reasons why their popularity snowballed is because they effortlessly fit into a world that is progressively championing gender-neutral silhouettes in a more pronounced manner. “These matching separates are not only inclusive of gender, but also of size.” Shah confirms this emphasising on why they’ve found acceptance across a diverse range of people.
Khanna, who has styled the likes of Alia Bhatt and Kriti Sanon in cool co-ords, explains the ceaseless popularity of these “sets”. “Womenswear designers are finally looking at making things a bit more effortless and functional,” she says. In the bargain, the co-ords emerged victorious because they suitably bridged the gap between an authoritarian pantsuit and the casual dress while being far removed from the impractical jumpsuits. “And that they could be worn from AM to PM, further added to their list of pros,” according to her. Another feature similar to a kurta-pyjama.
When we spoke to Aneeth Arora, founder of Pero, she said, “Co-ords have been a classic for us since the brand launched in 2009. It was never a trend. However, post 2020, they have become more mainstream— a lot more approachable for people and designers.”
Mumbai-based celebrity stylist Naheed Driver directs us to Pero and Dhruv Kapoor as one of the earliest brands to casually sell co-ord sets, even when the term wasn’t used colloquially. “Today, most homegrown labels such as Huemn and APZ have given it as much importance as they’d give a shirt or a blouse category,” she says. Driver has styled actors like Tabu and Twinkle Khanna in co-ord sets, and further explains what separates them from a traditional kurta-pyjama. “The silhouettes are more contemporary, it’s almost like a pantsuit, but more edgy and free-flowing. Like a kurta-pyjama, this can be worn by any gender, as day wear or evening wear—it’s the modern cut that separates it from anything that’s traditionally Indian,” she concludes. Besides, a co-ord set need not always be a pant and shirt combination, it can also be a matching skirt. But that is a story for another day.