When Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hai released in theatres, it became the highest grossing film of 1998. Over the years, this coming-of- age tale spruced up with a love-triangle has been often revisited for a gamut of reasons; for being able to rekindle the SRK and Kajol magic after Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, for dispensing the immortal catchphrase soaked in a life-lesson, “Pyaar dosti hai”, and most importantly, for being a film that revolutionised the very concept of campus cool.

It heralded a trend where campus films derived their idiosyncrasies as much from the youthful exuberance of its leads as it did from the language of their fashion. Since Kuch Kuch Hota Hai — when Bollywood officially graduated to the school of cool— campus films have not only made statements but also strove hard to wear them.

Also Read: Where Do Dharma’s Amazing Costumes Go After The Film Is Over

But campus fashion has not always been this flashy or obvious, even though it has always had recurring motifs. Through the 1950s, college fashion didn’t come to have a distinct identity in the same way college films didn’t occupy a separate genre in film-making.

In the 1948 film, Aag, which also marked Raj Kapoor’s debut as director and producer, Kapoor’s Kewal Khanna wore a combo of shirt, trousers and blazer, while his crush Nimmo (Kamini Kaushal) is almost always seen in a sari. The only hint of fashion in this college-wear is in the intricate prints of her blouses, similar to Noor Jehan’s floral print sari in Dilip Kumar’s Jugnu (1947).
Following the herd was College Girl (1960), where Vyjayanthimala propagated the importance of education among girls while donning numerous salwar suits accompanying them with a modest dupatta.


It was only in the campus films of the ‘60s that fashion started to become more pronounced. And while campus fashion in the sixties revolved around frills, froth, and fun, it still remained quite understated.

In Haseena Maan Jayegi (1968) Shashi Kapoor rocked checkered blazers, a suave haircut, and bright-coloured shirts while Babita brought out the carefree attitude of a college student in her A-line flared dresses, bouncy hair, big earrings, shades, clutch bags, and crop tops with ripped necklines.
In Do Raaste (1969) Rajesh Khanna embraced the joy of a cotton shirt and trousers while the girls stood out in their winged eyeliners, colour-blocked suits, tunics, and white dupattas.

However, this subtlety was completely disregarded in college films of the ‘70s and ‘80s that were hellbent on creating recognizable and standout looks. In short, fashion in campus movies of these two decades were allowed to retain a sense of individuality that over the years ended up boasting of immense recall value.

In Khel Khel Mein (1976) Rishi Kapoor’s college prankster is in gingham shirts, plain sweaters, colourful flared trousers and fashionable scarfs. Neetu Singh’s look comprised mostly of long dresses, full-sleeved tunics paired with colourful bell-bottoms, high-waisted skirts, and knee-length boots.

These were also the decades when polka dots became the rage, exploited often in campus attire, as seen on Deepti Naval in Saath Saath (1982) and in Tezaab (1988).

In Kabhie Kabhie (1976), Amitabh Bachchan’s sleeveless sweater worn over a shirt look comes to define his brooding personality in college, while Farooque Sheikh’s white kurta in Saath Saath represented his rising idealism.


But even that can’t hold a candle to the campus fashion of the nineties. To be fair, the unique and hard to emulate campus fashion of the ‘90s also benefited from the shift in film-making at the time that wholeheartedly embraced campus films as a legitimate genre.

Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (1992) attempted to redefine casual fashion with Aamir’s unbuttoned shirt over a t-shirt look, Ayesha Julka accessorizing denim shirts with a sleeveless crop jacket, Deepak Tijori and ilk wearing buttoned t-shirts and Pooja Bedi completing the gang with dresses, a top knot ponytail, hoops and shades perennially perched on her nose.

We met Rahul Khanna, Tina Malhotra, and Anjali Sharma at a time when the proliferation of the Western influence was just starting out. With the advent of satellite television, the ‘90s was a time when Indians were opening up culturally; the youth were consuming shows like F.R.I.E.N.D.S and the affluent were heading out abroad for vacations.

It’s only befitting then that through its fashion, the universe of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai sought to give a face to the aspirational India that was germinating in that period. The film’s three trademark fashion statements comprising Kajol’s bob haircut, SRK’s GAP sweatshirt, and Rani’s crop top and mini skirt set had an inherent westernised appeal that immediately became the latest fad that hodes of teenagers were desperate to emulate.

Rani’s Tina is a transfer student who flies back to India from London’s Oxford University to complete her degree which by default made her the most stylish student at St Xavier’s College. So naturally, her look in the film was splattered with choker tops, flared trousers, plastic heels, and body-hugging belted dresses.
Anjali’s tomboyishness on the other hand, ensured that she stuck to sporty tracksuits, long-sleeved t-shirts and matching headbands before her transformation into the suitable Indian girl. But, ultimately it was the red dungaree that she wears during ‘Koi Mil Gaya’ that became the film’s defining fashion trend to reckon with.
Like the female leads, even Rahul’s character traits found its way in his clothing; right from the cult “COOL” necklace, Polo t-shirts, colourful shirts, and bright coloured zipped t-shirts. His wardrobe painstakingly spelt out his “cool boy’ avatar in as many brands as it could.

The noughties have seen an abundance of campus films, most of which are necessitated to be as fashionable as possible, because the millennials inhabiting the universe of these films resort to expressing themselves through their clothes.

So, in Kya Kehna (2000), Preity Zinta’s outfits, dungarees, sleeveless ganjis, mini skirts, and shorts, foster her happy-go- lucky attitude and in Dil Chahta Hai (2001), leather pants and loose flowery shirts dictate the rebellious minds of the three best friends.
Main Hoon Na (2004) ended up not just predicting the onset of the crop tops and nose rings trend, but also boasted of peak teacher fashion with Sushmita Sen’s halter blouses and chiffon saris.
Rang De Basanti (2006) paid a homage to the carelessness of youth with gelled hair, biker jackets and Soha Ali Khan’s blue and white patiala. While, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’s (2008) bubbly nostalgic existence was spearheaded by Genelia D’Souza’s trademark fringe that was pushed back with those two white tic-tacs and a wardrobe that included ganjis over ganjis and three-fourths.
In Wake Up Sid (2009), Ranbir Kapoor popularised the fad of slogan tees and spiked haircuts, that gave his slacker persona a marked look.

2008 onward, campus films (save for Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham) went one step ahead of using fashion as a form of expression by being enveloped in distinct fashion statements, wildly different from its predecessors.

If Two States (2014) relied on long skirts, plain tees, glasses, and sleeveless jackets to bring alive the hipster quotient of IIM, K3G’s (2001) Poo defined OTT fashion once and for all.

And, last but not the least, in Karan Johar’s Student of The Year (2012), Bollywood’s last out and out campus film, fashion was a protagonist in itself, with Alia Bhatt’s Shanaya as the millennial update on Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’s Tina.

Shanaya’s wardrobe is replete with bright red lipstick, blow dried hair, a skinny hairband, clutches, strapless and metallic dresses, lace tops with shorts, and the biggest weapon of all; the oversized handbag.

The over-dependence on fashion in campus films undoubtedly gives space for unbridled experimentation, and if the promos of Student of The Year 2 is any evidence, the newest campus fashion fad may just be going almost shirtless to college à la Tiger Shroff.


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