Manges Eravanan | June 28, 2013
Here’s a bold statement: Did you know Indian clothes helped India gain its Independence?
Ever wondered why Indians take so much pride in wearing their traditional Indian clothes? Indian clothes are not just a medium of self expression- they hold great symbolism and preserve ancient Indian traditions. The traditional clothes Indians wear can reveal many things about them. You can tell if they are rich or poor, married or widowed, young or old, which region of India they are from and even what sort of function they are attending. All this information gleaned through the style, material and color of their clothes. Isn’t it amazing? Here’s a glimpse into the bright, beautiful and simply dazzling world of Indian Clothes…
The year was 1920 and the top agenda of Indian National Congress was to inspire a nationwide boycott of all foreign goods. How did they do it? One word – Khadi. Khadi is a locally handspun material made of cotton, silk or wool and the idea was to get all Indians to wear it instead of the material that was imported from other countries. The intended result was to reach a high level of self sufficiency and self reliance as a nation. The brainchild behind this ingenious movement was none other than Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who’s more popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi. It was his act of adorning the iconic khadi cloth and sitting with a cloth spinning wheel (chakra) that propelled khadi not merely as symbol of local industry but a much larger historic and political symbol of India’s Independence itself. And that’s how Indian clothes made of handspun Indian cloth helped India gain its independence!
So what are Indian clothes? How and where do we wear them? Well for the sake of clarity let me divide them up into two big categories: Women’s wear and Menswear.
An Indian woman does not just wear clothes. She wears her culture, tradition, origin and status. From grand silk saris to simple and comfortable Kurtis with jeans, Indian women around the world use Indian clothes to express that hint of ‘Indian-ness’ that still remains a part of them. Yes! I’m no exception to this trend either. So here’s a list of the various things we wear….
This beautiful garment consists of a single piece of cloth 6yards-8yards long, a midriff baring blouse piece and an inner skirt that typically is secured using a drawstring. Why the difference in length of cloth? Indian saris can be draped in numerous ways according to the cultural background of the individual. For example, the Madisar sari used by the Tamil Brahmin community, is draped using a 8 yard long cloth to achieve the iconic ‘pants’ look. The most common way of adorning a sari however is using a 6 yard sari with the pleated top half known as the Pallu, draped over the left shoulder. Materials also play a big part when adorning a sari. Silk cloth with grand embroidery stitched with real gold and silver thread or Swarovski crystals usually indicates wealth and special occasions. Plain white saris on the other hand are considered inauspicious by Hindus and are usually worn only by widows (Do note that in different Indian regions and religious groups these color norms vary).
Well in my part of the world we usually call these pant-top sets Punjabi suits as they were commonly worn by women from the Punjabi community in Singapore. However, I must say this Indian outfit has become so dynamic and versatile that women from all backgrounds have started to wear them! The array of designs, materials and fits are endless but let me give you a quick summary. The pants portion of this outfit come in two styles: the Salwar which is generally lose fitting from waist to calf and tight at the ankles and the Churidar which fits tightly from the knees to ankles (they come in the form of stretchy tights now too!). Tops vary in form and fit and the hottest thing to be caught in these days is an Anarkali suit!
This grand blouse, skirt, shawl set is an important aspect of Indian clothes. North Indian brides glow with grandeur in these immaculate suits and they are also very popular among Bollywood actresses as well! Chiffon, Brocade, Net and Satin are commonly used to craft these suits and they come with grand sequin and stone embroidery.
My personal favorite is the ubiquitous Kurti. It is THE choice of modern Indian women today. Essentially a medium long blouse designed with Indian motifs, these simple tops go with almost any pairing from jeans to mini-skirts to leggings. Cotton is the most common material used to make this essential component of Indian clothes and they are perfect for daily wear.
Read our Traditional Indian Wear Guide – The Female Edition for more comprehensive information!
I have to be honest here; men in Indian clothes make my heart skip a beat! Yes, with the wide variety of materials and designs available today, Indian fashion for men has undoubtedly grown to enable every man to express his unique taste through his clothes too (I owe Bollywood a big thank you for all those positive examples)! So what do our men wear? Here’s a quick list…
Elaborate embroidery, sleek cuts and dazzling designs exemplify this two piece suit for men. Usually worn at weddings and important events, this suit is made up of a long jacket top with stiff collars (Nehru collar), and straight cut pants which usually taper along the calves and ankles forming gathers. What’s the best part of wearing it? It can make any man look gorgeous because of its cut and design!
The versatile Kurta is a long loose fitting full sleeved shirt that usually falls below the knee and can be paired with a loose fitting pants called Pyjama or with jeans too. This Indian attire for men is excellent for daily wear and it’s usually the convenient choice for quick temple visits or prayers at the mosque or Sunday service at church. Also interestingly the Kurta is a popular choice among politicians in India who wish to display their patriotism… Undoubtedly the Kurta is the icon of Indian clothes for men.
This article of Indian clothes for men is god sent to cope with the sweltering summers in India. The dhoti is usually a 2 yard long cotton white cloth that is wrapped around the waist. Like the sari the dhoti can be tied in different ways according to the cultural background of the individual. It is commonly used by villagers in rural India as it is multi functional and can be easily rolled up to work in paddy fields. Of course many seniors who live abroad are also spotted adorning this extremely comfortable dhoti in their homes too. In South India, dhotis are also made with silk and gold thread and are used as wedding attire for grooms and at important functions.
So there you have it, all you need to know about Indian clothing. So the next time you venture out to get yourself a set of saris or kurtas you’ll know exactly the right fit for the right occasion
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