History of Indian Fashion: Tracing it’s Evolution
If we trace back the evolution of fashion in India, it dates back to the ancient Indus Valley civilization. According to the Rig Veda, embroidering and other state-of-the-art fabricating techniques had already developed in the Vedic age by 11th century B.C. The 2nd century AD marks the period when merchandising muslin clothes from parts of South India to Roman Emperors became common trade. In 10th century AD, accounts of stitched and tailored clothes were discovered. The royal costumes and heavily embroidered garments in the Mughal era further contributed to the fashion evolution. The advent of British Rule in India encouraged the influx of the western fashion ideals of the time. So, as time passed and the country passed from one socio-political situation to another, the language and expression of fashion also changed simultaneously.
A Brief Introduction to the Evolution of Fashion in India
Fashion has grown to be an intra and inter-cultural domain. The history of fashion is entwined with cultural, traditional, art, industrial and socio-political shifts. From getting influenced by the fashion standards set by the Indian Royal Gharanas to a humongous cult-following of fashion standards embraced by the Bollywood pop-culture, fashion has always been phenomenal but momentary.
While ethnicity and beauty have always been the landmarks of traditional Indian fashion; fashion from the other Asian and European countries have invaded Indian fashion industry and revolutionized every single aspect of what we today called “Indian Fashion”. In fact, we cannot claim any fashion trend as solely Indian or Western because fashion tends to have its roots spread across different cultures prevalent in different geographical locations.
The Changing Paradigms of Indian Fashion Industry
Fashion cannot exist without history. Below mentioned are some of the major fashion trends seen in over various paradigm shifts in India. These are the fashion trends that still exist in modern industry and make their presence known through ethnic
1. Ancient India
India was the first place to grow cotton. So, in ancient days, the Indians mostly used cotton clothes for everyday wear. While men wore Dhoti, women wore skirts from waist down with a piece of cloth to wrap their heads. Men generally had turbans on and kept man-buns along with short, shaved beards while women wore necklaces and bracelets made of stone.
2. Vedic Age
In the Vedic age, women mostly wore long unstitched piece of cloth tied across their body called sari and men generally wore Dhoti wrapped around their waists. Only rich women could wear sari made out of exquisite materials such as silk but the common women wore cotton saris mainly. Depending on their religion, culture, and social status the way they wore sari and jewelry differed.
3. The Mughal Raj
The Mughal invasion in the 15th century and the years of their rule was an important turning point in the Indian fashion industry. The Muslim women wore divided garments such as salwar kameez which in today’s age is popular nationwide. What’s more, with the Mughals came zardosi embroidery which is widely sought after in modern ethnic wear. Mughal dress is still very much prevalent mostly in Indian bridal wear. Many present day designers incorporate Mughal fashion elements to give their creation a more glorious touch to it.
4. British Raj
The British ruled India from mid-18th century till 1947. During this period, there was a tremendous influence exerted by the West upon the Indian society and cultural practices. New ways of dressing also crept into their lifestyle. The Achkan and the Sherwani are some of the Indian clothes that got westernized. Evidently, the western influence resulted in mixing both British and Indian elements. The Achkan was worn as a tight-fitted churidar pyjama. The Sherwai was a bit more flared and lengthier than the Achkan.
What’s more, with the influx of the West, Indians got exposed to several other western ways of dressing which form an important part of our lifestyle till today. They aee dresses, skirts, gowns, tshirts, blazers, trousers, tuxedos, and pants.
5. Post-Independence Era
India in 1960s still sustained the influence of the British era on Indian lifestyle and fashion. Heavy jewelry, and embroidered saris were still in vogue in the 60s. But in 1970s, there was a sudden change in fashion paradigm. Bright colours, bell-bottoms, polka dots and oversized sunglasses became the talk of the day. This change in clothing and accessories were the direct influence of what the West likes to call as modernization. Jeans and tshirt replaced salwar kameez. Denim substituted handcrafted fabric and chikankari, benarasi saris. Fabric materials such as chiffon and satin came in vogue and cotton became more of a only home-wear.
6. Modern Era (1980s- present)
Bollywood is a major influence on today’s fashion ideals. With the advent of digital age, and media forms such as TV, globalization of Indian fashion happened. Along with it, skirts, one-piece dresses, halter tops and sportswear were popularized. In the 90s, these fashion statements were very trendy.
T-shirts, shirts, trousers, and jeans came into vogue during this time and were considered as staple wear by Indian men. By 2000s, outfits like sheer saris and heavy lehengas came into fashion as advertised by Indian actresses such as Kajol and Aishwariya Rai. Crop tops and pants became a fashion statement for many 90s fashion enthusiasts. Poo dressed in asymmetric top and skirt paired with a jacket in the movie Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham became the revolutionary style statement in the 2000s too.
These dresses were a form of self-expression for the bold and independent women. Shorts and capris also came into fashion. Indo-Western fusion dresses are still in very much fashion till today. In the modern time, we have retained some elements of each and every fashion paradigm that has left its indelible mark at the present-day fashion industry. Today, comfortable Bengali t-shirts, couple t-shirts, natural dye t-shirts, and plain t-shirts are immensely popular as home-wear and daily wear for college-going students and for casual day outings for the young and old. Bengali hoodies and sweatshirts also attract a lot of consumers since they are comfortable and fashionable at the same time.
With the advent of internet, fashion has now been globalized. India, being one of the booming fashion industries, has seen several transitions from sari, dhoti, ghagra choli to dresses, skirts, tshirts and created a fusion of the two called indo-western fashion. Bengali t-shirts, couple t-shirts, natural dye t-shirts, and plain t-shirts and hoodies have also gained huge popularity as ordinary masses could use them to pair it with both formals and casuals and could also use them to express their individuality with innovative designs. Thus, fashion changes with changing times and is unpredictable in certain sense. Now, with the entire world’s fashion news at one’s fingertips, fashion is bound to be flexible and intercultural.