From the bejeweled flourish of a sari skirt to the tip of a humble Gandhi cap, India’s fashion remains just as diverse as its many foods, languages and religions. While clothing in India follows a long and well documented history, fashion in the western sense is a comparatively new concept in terms of India’s long tapestry of clothing documentation. Thanks to the cave paintings in Ellora and myths that involve elements of clothing details, historians have been able to stitch together the necessary pieces of the story. Following the evolution of clothing into fashion is fascinating and offers a kaleidoscopic view into the rich history of a nation. Fashion represents a changing India in many aspects from the way people relate to each other, new ideas, and their own traditions.
Since the 1960’s, there has been a revolution in clothing and fashion from reclaiming established methods of dying and embroidery to embracing a fusion of Eastern and Western styles. In one block of a street in Pune, one can encounter women donning traditional saris and others wearing jeans and t-shirts. The most popular day to day outfits for women are salwar kameez or kurtas and churidars (variations of tunics with leggings) with a dupatta (scarf or shawl). At our schools, we dress in this style. All of these clothing options come in a myriad of colors and patterns borrowed from traditional motifs or a more recent Bollywood influence.
Just as there are many options for women, there are also many options for men. Many men opt for Western wear if they work for multinational companies or simply because they prefer dressing in that way. Others opt for wrapping a traditional white dhoti or lungi. This is most common in villages, religious ceremonies, and among the older generations. Learning how to tie traditional articles of clothing like a dhoti, sari or pheta (traditional turban) is an important rite of passage linking the past and future.
The three main factors that influence clothing are local culture, climate, and religion. Fashion provides a way to elevate the necessity of dressing and express one’s personality while telling a story. It reminds us where we have come from and hints at where we are going.