Indian Fashion as a Reflection of Its Rich Culture

The Indian sari has long been popular; existing for over 5,000 years1. But over the years, western influence has poured into India, which is accurately represented by the photograph below. The photo consists of my mother and my grandmother in 1989, Switzerland. It features the unusual pairing of two geographically distinct items; on one hand, it features the global trends of the 80’s whereas on the other hand, the traditional Indian dress, the Sari. The word sari refers to the unstitched length of cloth that evolved from ancient Hindu belief that stitching cloth made it impure1.

It is known widely as the national dress of the Indian woman. Ironically, aspects of the sari such as the blouse originated from the Victorian era.

Before women would not cover the upper part of their body but blouses became the norm as Victorian society had it’s own ideas of propriety. Satyendranath Tagore- brother of famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore- encouraged his wife, Gyanodanandini Devi, to adopt Western clothing after she was refused entry to the clubs for wearing the sari over her bare breasts, popularizing the blouses and the modern style of the sari2 which currently consists of the upper garment, the lower garment, and the waistband.

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This style was adopted by all 1 Nambiar, Sridevi. A Brief History Of India’s Traditional Saree. Culture Trip. August 31, 2016. the Indian woman through history. BBC UK. August 6, 2014.

religions within India, including the Muslims such as my grandmother, as it is deemed decorous and associated with tradition despite it revealing the midriff bare.

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The photograph portrays my grandmother wearing a blue blouse accompanied by a white drape, revealing a little bit of her stomach but not too much. In the book “Saris Of India”, author Rita Kapur Chishti, states “The sari is not only known by different names (Lugda, Dhoti, Sadlo) in various parts of the country, it is also conceived differently in form and structure, in usage and custom”3. Amongst the numerous styles of draping a sari, my grandmother adopted the “nivi” style which also was popularized by Gyanodanandini Devi.

In addition to starting the blouse and petticoat trend, she lengthened the traditional five-yard. Bengali sari to almost six yards and draped the petticoat over her left shoulder to keep her right arm free, similar to the way my grandmother has worn it in the photograph. Although this style originated in Kolkata, Devi’s household named it ‘Bombay Dastur’. Bombay, currently known as Mumbai, is the city my grandmother was born and brought up in. The ease and comfort this style of draping provided boosted it’s popularity all over India. Post-independence (1947), Bollywood movies and actresses played a large role in influencing and setting trends in India. They were used as a medium to inspire many women, not only in terms of traditional dress but also in western clothing. During the 1970s and 1980s, sari’s transitioned from monotones of weaves and dark traditional colors to bold, colorful 3 Martand, Singh. Saris Of India. Lustre, 2010.

prints. Whereas the end of the 1980s saw single-colored sari due to the emergence of ace filmmaker Yash Raj. The Yash Raj heroine was a sensuous chiffon saree-clad angel who was the perfect balance of innocence and sex appeal. The photograph accurately depicts this transition in trend as my grandmother is wearing a sari that’s not overloaded with print and the combination of blue and white depicts that it’s not monotonous either. On the other hand, my mom’s outfit seems to be inspired by movies such as ChalBaaz4 that set the trend of high-waisted pants. Denim wear took off in the 1980’s; a moderately tapered leg style with a loose top5. The late ’80s saw the rise of what is now known as the “mom jeans”. A solid light blue wash was preferred, with elastic bands around the waist, as can be seen in the photograph. When Madonna, Winona Ryder and Drew Barrymore embraced the trend, it caught on.

As India was technologically not as advanced at the time and globalization was just about to hit, the people turned their heads towards Bollywood which took notes from Hollywood. Western influence only grew in India around the 1980’s, explaining why my mom was more inclined towards western trends such as a plain t-shirt and jeans whereas my grandmother stuck to traditional clothing. The accessories that are evidently portrayed on my mother are- the big black bag and a scrunchie. During the 80’s, handbags were primarily used to communicate one’s style- especially when replete with unmissable branding and glinting hardware6. But my mom chose 4ChaalBaaz. Directed by Pankaj Parashar. Mumbai: Eskay Movies, 1986.5 A., Jamie. A Brief history of “Mom Jeans”. Postcard Picture. September 20, 2016.6 Lister, Roberta. Handbag History: Bags That Defined The Decades. Vogue. November 29, 2018.

to carry a plain leather tote-like black bag as she couldn’t afford Dior or Chanel. Till date, she prefers similar handbags as she finds them more convenient. Her long hair is tied up with a white scrunchie. The scrunchie, a piece of rubber band with a scrunched piece of fabric wrapped around it, was first popularized by a woman named Rommy Revson in 19867. It helped women tame their hair, which was important as the decade.was also known for the big hair trend. Different colors were used to coordinate with the rest of the outfit, like my mom’s white scrunchie compliments her white t-shirt, projecting a look that’s both casual and relaxed. In contrast, my grandmother is wearing gold everything; gold earrings, gold necklace, gold watch and a gold bangle. Bangles, characterized as a rigid and circular bracelet, dates back to as early as 2600 BC8.

Different colored bangles are significant in different ways; red bangles are usually worn during wedding ceremonies, green denotes good luck and fertility, whereas the gold bangle my grandmother is seen wearing is symbolic of prosperity and fortune. Long hair has long been a trend in Indian history. They believe that hair signifies beauty, and have always believed in using coconut oil ritually and tying their hair in braids. My mom always told me how my grandmother would tie a plait for her every single day because it is believed that plaits keep your hair strong and help it grow. Even though western women stuck to shorter hair during the ’80s, my mom stuck to her cultural roots, conveying that even though her style of clothing was different from my grandmother’s, she didn’t completely stray from her culture. 7 Admin. Scrunchies. 80s Fashion. Accessed December 04, 2018.8The History of the Bangles and Bracelets. TrueFacet. May 02, 2018.

So does the photograph represent the current trends in any way? It’s interesting because I sit here today wearing high-waisted mom jeans with a white t-shirt. Even though so many years have passed, I see so much similarity in the way people dress today compared to the way they dressed in the 80’s or 90’s. The sky-high waist, the generous. thighs that taper down to a a.snug ankle, the ballooning hips, are seen everywhere, including on models such as Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid. Whereas Sari’s have never gone out of fashion, although the younger generation is seen wearing it for special occasions such as weddings, rather than on a daily basis. Sari’s have been through dramatic changes, but range from fully ornamented to simple and clean. They have even been adopted by International designers such as Prabal Gurung; in his autumn/winter 2018 collection at NYFW, he featured a fuchsia-toned wrap skirt with a patterned red scarf that was draped across Gigi Hadid’s torso9.My mother and grandmother accurately represent the two distinct clothing items and cultures, and the influence of western culture in India. It’s definitely growing even more rapidly now yet the Indian trends such as the Sari stand strong, and will continue to do so for manyears to come.

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Indian Fashion as a Reflection of Its Rich Culture. (2021, Dec 20). Retrieved from

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