Pardeep Singh Bahra says he never aimed to make the turban a fashion accessory. The self-styled “turbaned fashion blogger” from the U.K. does though make the signature Sikh headdress a sartorial sine qua non for those who feature on his website.
He teams it variously with sharp suits, bow ties, blazers, white slacks and leathers and features pictures of his outfits in entries on his blog, Instagram and Facebook, on which he has over 100,000 likes.
“The turban is a crown,” Mr. Bahra says in a video titled “Don’t Freak I’m Sikh” that went viral earlier this year after he started his blog dedicated to Sikh men’s fashion.
“What I decided to do is help normalize the image of a man with a turban and a beard,” the 23-year-old told The Wall Street Journal in a telephone interview.
“Right now, because of the way media have done things, all people see when they see a man with a turban and beard is Osama Bin Laden,” Mr. Bahra, who started his blog in March 2013, added.
“But when people see me, they can relate to us, they see Sikhs as normal, cool guys,” Mr. Bahra added.
He’s cool yes, normal, perhaps not. In the past year, on the back of the success of his blog SinghStreetStyle.com, Mr. Bahra has featured in Vogue and Time and become the face of a Samsung Electronics advertising campaign.
Mr. Bahra hopes that he and others like Sikh actor and designer Waris Ahluwalia, who was the face of a Gaplnc. campaign in 2013, can help people get used to seeing men in turbans so “they don’t see it as alien.”
So how is that going? Aside from the attention of the fashion press and technology giants, Mr. Bahra’s own range of sweatshirts featuring stylized Sikhs are selling well internationally, he says. Within the Sikh community too, his blog and talks to Sikh societies in universities around the U.K. are helping young men feel more confident about wearing a turban, he says.
“I do get emails saying, ‘I now wear a turban with pride after being bullied and trying to cut my hair,’” Mr. Bahra said. Mothers, he added, have written to tell him that their sons wanted to cut their hair because they were being bullied but, as a result of his blog, they now want to grow their hair or wear a turban.
“I can’t say to anyone ‘wear a turban’ but if they are ashamed to do so, they shouldn’t be,” said Mr. Bahra who graduated from Westminster University in London two years ago and after a brief stint as a sales assistant in high-street store River Island, made fashion blogging his full-time career.
“I want to show that you can wear a turban and it doesn’t affect you. It’s unrelated to fashion, it’s to do with faith. It was a message that you can wear a turban and be an actor or a singer, it shouldn’t hinder you or your progress,” Mr. Bahra added.
What inspires his style? “It’s a blend of so many things: being Sikh is important, as is being Punjabi and being British.” But it was his sharply-dressed grandfather who started the ball rolling. “Granddad always dressed very slick and smart no matter where he went. He would either wear a suit, in cream or classic grey, sometimes with a pocket square but always with a Parker pen in his pocket,” recalled Mr. Bahra, whose grandfather Sewa Singh Bhrama died last year aged 87.
“He always got compliments on the way he dressed, I wanted to be like that, people respected him,” he added.
One of Mr. Bahra’s earliest fashion memories was, he says, as a young teenager wanting to borrow his Grandfather’s white shoes.
“I didn’t know anything about fashion I just thought those shoes looked cool. Looking back, I looked like a bad version of Michael Jackson, but I thought I looked cool.”
Mr. Bahra’s grandfather came to the U.K. from India after fighting in the Second World War. He ran a post office before retiring and working as a matchmaker for couples at the local gurudwara in Essex.
“When he died I inherited a lot of his clothes. His shoes fit me perfectly, he influenced me a lot,” Mr. Bahra said.
Despite winning this year’s Sikh People’s Choice Award for a Sikh who is admired internationally, the young blogger doesn’t want to be known as the face of British Sikhism. “I don’t represent the religion at all because I’m not fully practicing. I represent an idea that you can be who you want to be as long as you have faith, I hope that the Sikh youths are inspired by that.”
He does though, want to help change the way Sikhs are perceived in popular culture.
“Before, all people saw was Sikhs being the end of a bad joke in Bollywood, being exploited. We were taken as idiots and that was a knock to our confidence. But now, there are guys out there who are cool people wearing turbans sending out cool messages and that has given us confidence. I like to think that people see me as cool.”
(Courtesy: The Wall Street Journal)