The Development Of Fashion In Indian History Essay

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Fashion has been referred by many as a consciousness of the mind. In most cases, when the term fashion is mentioned, what comes to the mind is the notion of a cloth style but the truth is that the concept entails a wide range of things be it footwear, accessories, headgear or even hairstyles. It is what one thinks it is beautiful that makes one comfortable and thus it could be said to be relative as it is not universal. It may mean simplicity to one person while to another person it would mean modernity and glamour.

Fashion was simply a western phenomenon originally meant for the elite class but was later exposed to other people due to globalization. Fashion like fads come and go or in other words, they exist for sometime and are replaced by others and this is something that is evident when the track record for the Indian fashion is traced back from the early 20th century up to the turn of the century.  This research paper is going to specifically focus on Indian fashion and will trace its development track and discuss in depth about the changes that occurred in every stage and give the factors that motivated that change.

This paper starts by giving a short but concise introduction about fashions and then continues to discuss about the historical development of Indian fashion in its main body and concludes by recapping the most important points that have been raised.

Fashion in India started being taken seriously when the nation opened up to the western worlds ideologies which with them, different cultures and dressing styles were born but there was need to safeguard and protect the national values and cultures. For this reason, the Indians developed their own traditional styles and decided to hold on to them lest their cultures and values be swept away by the western fashions wave.

Indian fashions evolved due to regionalism, climatic conditions and due to necessity and thus were more of a cultural, religious and tribal identity[1]. Indeed a lot of fashion metamorphosis could be said to have taken place as far as Indian fashion is concerned like from the 1920s flapper girls who were oblivious of the conventional mode of dressing and looked it with contempt to the 21st centurys elegant fashions. The 1920s period was commonly referred to as the roaring twenties and was reflective of Charleston era.

In the 1920s, change in fashion in India was basically influenced by social movements advocating for equal treatment of women and in this respect, business like dressing codes were adopted something that greatly attracted women. Though this was the case, the 1920s period was unstable period to the Indians as it was the time the western influence was at its fullest and thus anything considered Indian was of lower status that the western one and thus Indian fashions had borrowed much from the western world. In short, the 20s fashion was associated with wealth and thus was a thing of the rich as the poor went for the hand stitched or the hand made clothes however, due to their high demand those tailors became entrepreneurs and kept boutiques thereby making a fortune.

People would prefer western fashions to theirs for example the Charleston dresses which had long laced sleeves either made of silk, satin or cotton. The 1920s period being influenced by equality movements, a class of women who were business-like emerged and preferred clothes which were either grey or black in color and made of [2]either georgettes or silk. In India, the fashion scenario was in confusion as it was an unstable period. Thus fashion trends were strongly influenced by the British, with the result that western clothes became a status symbol[3].

As each decade had something new, the 1930s period show the reduction of western influence in fashion and witnessed the rise of communism, fascism and socialism something that led to the womens fashions becoming more and more feminine while strongly holding on to their conservative ideas[4]. During this period, the 1920s clothes such as angarkhas, jamas and chogas lost taste and there place was taken by achkan, sherwani and chapkan. According to researches that have been done, these clothes are still fashionable today and in fact are the standard mode of dressing for men. At this time the emergence of Indian cinemas played an important role in the emergence of the 1930s fashion.

Clothes that exaggerated body figures would be worn something that went in line with cabaret and vamp culture. Though western influence was greatly waning over this period, the Indian women would still be seen wearing western clothes such as the ghagras, kurtas, odhnis and peshwaz during ceremonial functions and religious festivities but would make sure that though clothes would be mostly western they would wear clothes that were hand-woven and most of the clothes that were worn at this time were dark colored[5].

The 1940s decade did not see much of fashion change as there were a lot of things that were happening in the world for example the Second World War and the Indian Independence movement and thus most of the clothes that were worn by women were generally functional. However, there were some small changes which were happening in terms of fashion that are worth noting for example, clothes with pinched waist and hips and then matched with a short fluted jacket could be worn by Indians[6]. Also this historical period brought with it some revolutionary changes in the Indian fashion as Japanese imported fashions such as georgette, silk and  chiffon which prior to 1940s were very much in use were replaced by South Indian hand woven silks.

By gaining independence, Indians felt tired of mimicking western fashions and thus concentrated and cherished theirs something that characterized the 1050s period. Much of the attention focused on the Indian blouse which shortened than it was prior to this period. This blouse came to be known as choli and the style came to be reffred to as katori which replaced the western one. The mentality that western clothes were long lasting and that would even last longer if repaired, vanished and henceforth, those clothes would be given to charity homes or be put into dustbins. Also something else characteristic of this period was the silhouette balloon skirts with narrow waist[7].

The 1960s represents a very important period in the evolution of Indian fashion. It witnessed various inventions and particularly the production of synthetics for example; brass, silver and mud were replaced by plastic and silk and cotton was replaced by polyester and nylon fabrics New types of materials such as plastic film and coated polyester fabrics became popular. Tight kurtas with churidars and miniskirts became fashionable. The era also ushered in the age of synthetics[8].

This period represented not only a battle between modernity and traditions but also a battle between values and lifestyles. Though nylon had replaced saris, it came back in 1964 both with a new look and wearing style for example, it would be worn below the navel in a manner that would exaggerate the curves.

Also in this period, the place of salwars was taken by nylon pants. The clothes that came to be referred to as Kumars forte emerged at this period and were as a result of the embracement of Indian clothing styles by other nations in the world[9]. Kumar was able to put the word fashion in an Indian context something that made him to popular nationwide. The 1970s period in Indian fashion is commonly referred to as the me decade and was also a period that was referred to as anything goes culture. At this period, India started to produce materials in plenty with some used locally while others exported to other nations something that made its fashion to be popular worldwide[10].

In 1980s, the American fashion were selling internationally and were able to penetrate in India and some American designers such as Calvin Klein were very popular but nevertheless, their own fashion never died. In fact, silhouettes which were initially worn by women adopted a masculine nature and shoulder pads were put in salwars. With the invention of cable TV, teenagers got influenced by fashion shows that were aired as they targeted the youth who in turn influenced their elders. This ushered the millenniums last decade, the 1990s which witnessed the rise of younger designers into the Indian fashion mainstream.

This period also saw the replacement of Indian fashion by the German styles produced by designers such as such as Jil Sander and Helmut Lang. Today, people have realized the importance of preserving their fashion and protecting it from being eroded by foreign cultures and thus most Indians are going back to their ethnic cultures thereby increasing their demand with much credit going to Ritu Kumar whose role in reviving Indian fashion cannot be underrated. Unlike in the past where people thought anything foreign as modern and theirs as outdated, it has dawned on people that those were erroneous ways of thinking and have reverted to their old fashions which were reflective of their identity[11].

Indeed, Indian fashion is something that has under gone a lot of changes since 1900. Notable changes could be said to have started taking place with the coming of colonialists. Much of what took place during this time to a great extent was western in nature but people went holding on their fashions which were representative of both their cultural and ethnic identity. In the 1940s, with the achievement of independence, they deserted western cultures and came to value theirs more and this continued in the following decades. The 1960s in the Indian fashion history is the epitome of change as a lot took place including the invention of synthetic fibers. Today, Indians have gone to their former traditional way of live and have awakened to the fact that their culture is valuable than the western one unlike the 1920s belief.


India4world. Evolution of fashion. Retrieved from 

Khatai, Ajit Bhimsen. 2001. Fashionable Crossovers. Available at   

Mukerjee, Somshuvra. 2009. Changes in Fashion Trends among Women in India.      Available at  among-women-in-india/

Shea, Stuart. 2006. The 1960s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Hip Happenings,             Swinging Sounds, and Out-of-sight Oddities. Brasseys. 2008. Fashion and Lifestyle. Accessed from

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