Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dressing the Indian woman through history

Every country has its own erogenous zones. What many Indians today believe are home-grown ideas of decorum and modesty are in fact British imports - bequeathed to by the Raj.

In sculptures from the Maury and Sunga periods (about 300 BC) - men and women wore rectangular pieces of fabric, on the lower part of the body and one on the upper part. Little else.

In the 15th Century we see Muslim and Hindu women wearing different outfits and the influence of the Mughal empire was decisive - they ruled most of India and Pakistan in the 16th and 17th Centuries

 In Bengal, in the Victorian era, some women did not wear blouses under their saris - they went bare-breasted. This did not suit Victorian society, which had its own ideas of propriety, and blouses increasingly became the norm.

 The terms "blouse" and "petticoat" - both English - made the leap into Indian vocabulary in the Victorian era. Shirts also came to be worn under the sari as part of high fashion and these rather British innovations are considered traditional garments.

 The British influence only became stronger over time. We see different kinds of blouses coming in with sleeve structures, and various necklines.

Photograph of a group posed in front of the Government Normal School at Bombay, in Maharashtra from the Archaeological Survey of India Collections At the height of the Victorian era the British and Indian fashions rather resemble each other

In India, unlike in Britain, there are no written codes of conduct or sumptuary laws about what should be worn. What was considered suitable was spread through word of mouth.