The History of Traditional Indian Clothing

by Vikram Sharma Textile designer
For a very long time, Indian clothing has been evolving. In fact, the first evidence of spinning and dyeing cotton cloth dates back to the ancient Indus Valley civilization, some 7,000 years ago. Its inhabitants left clues about Indian customs, culture, and fashion through epic sagas like the Mahabharata and grandiose rock sculptures like the world-famous Ellora caves over the years. Clothing, like food and religion (or even cricket!), has played an important role in Indian history.

Since its inception, the subcontinent has produced an abundance of finely woven garments for women and men like cotton lungi, with distinct styles for both men and women found throughout. Aside from gender and geography, class and caste are the most strongly defined aspects of Indian dress. The upper echelons of society continue to wear gold ornaments and fine threads like Munin, while the lower echelons are forced to be much more refined.

Outside influences such as the Silk Road trade, British colonization, and Western homogenization have reduced the prevalence of traditional dress in India over time. Nonetheless, ancient traditions are still alive and well throughout the country, and can be seen adorning the bodies of its proud traditional inhabitants even today.

Indian Women clothing

Indian women dress modestly and colorfully, taking care not to expose too much skin no matter how humid the weather is.

The Sari (Saree)

A classic and colorful sari is the most common piece of feminine Indian attire. Indeed, there are regional variations of the archetypal outfit to be found in every corner of the subcontinent. Although it appears to be a dress, the sari is actually a long piece of cloth – ranging from 13 to 30 feet in length – that is wrapped snugly around the woman's body. To expose the midriff, most people start from the waist and wrap around the shoulders, though each region has a slightly different wrapping style. Special occasions, such as weddings, call for a more elaborate pink or red sari.

Mundum Neriyathum

The Mundum Neriyathum, a similar design that was only intended to cover the legs, is the ancient original form of the sari. The Mundum Neriyathum, which is still in use today, is derived from the hot and humid state of Kerala, where women lived topless until the arrival of Muslims from the Middle East. Of course, nowadays, a lightweight top is worn above the waist.

Salwaar Kameez

The Salwaar Kameez is another well-known piece of appeal for Indian women. Although it may appear similar to a sari at first glance, the costume is remarkably different. It's a full dress ensemble, not just a wraparound cloth. The outfit consists of the Salwaar, which are loose trousers that get tighter around the ankles, and the kameez, which is an intricately decorated tunic. Many women prefer to complete their look with a dupatta or odhani, a unique type of veil that covers their heads and shoulders.

The Salwaar Kameez originated in northwest India, specifically the Punjabi and Himachal Pradesh provinces. The in-vogue outfit, on the other hand, can now be found virtually anywhere in the country and has grown increasingly popular among Bollywood movie stars.

Indian Men Clothing

In India, traditional men's clothing is frequently adapted to suit the climate. Expect to see males wearing what appear to be skirted.


Few Indian clothing outfits are as popular as the dhoti. Although considered India's national dress, its practicality has quickly led to it becoming the unofficial uniform of the country's numerous outlying villages. The whitewashed outfit, which consists of a long sleeve shirt on top and a sarong wrapped around the waist, is also popular among city dwellers.

Above all, the energy-efficient design is popular in hotter climates because it provides significant relief from the midday sun. Other colors and color combinations are typically worn for special occasions and events.

Nehru jacket

As diverse as Indian clothing is, these exotic styles are rarely seen in wardrobes outside of India. The Nehru jacket, a slim-fit blazer that resembles Western executive suits, is an exception. After becoming a staple of Indian men's formalwear in the 1940s, it piqued the interest of international fashionistas.

When the Beatles returned from a creative and meditative vacation in Rishikesh at the height of their career, international adoption reached a fever pitch. The Nehru has since been seen on everyone from the Monkeys to James Bond villains. Surprisingly, India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, never wore the jacket that bears his name. He preferred a slightly different look known as the sherwani.

Achkan and Sherwani

Despite their striking regal nature, these two Indian formalwear staples are virtually indistinguishable to the outsider. A suit-like jacket is worn over either tight-fitting trousers or a wraparound dhoti in both elegant ensembles. The primary distinction between these and the Nehru jacket is that the former is significantly longer, falling below the knees rather than the upper thighs.


First-time visitors to India may be surprised to see so many men dressed in a white wraparound cloth similar to the sarong just like the present-day south Indian white lungi. But there's a good reason for it. Most of India becomes oppressively hot prior to the arrival of the monsoon season. Because of the additional aeration provided by the garment, many men prefer the Lungi over trousers. This added comfort has become so popular that it has been adopted in neighboring Asian countries as well.

Accessories and headgear

The many exotic headdresses and accessories that adorn both men and women are perhaps the most striking aspect of traditional Indian clothing. In many parts of the world, men wear large turbans that vary in color and style depending on religious and cultural preferences.

Women, on the other hand, are known for their obsession with jewelry. Noses, ears, mouths, and belly buttons are frequently pierced and encrusted with gleaming gems and gold chains. But, of course, there's the bangle. A classic piece of Indian jewelry that some women own a dozen or more of.

You won't have to spend a fortune to put together an exciting Indian wardrobe, and you'll be greeted with smiles and goodwill from the friendly locals you'll meet along the way.

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About Vikram Sharma Advanced   Textile designer

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Joined APSense since, October 21st, 2021, From kolkata, India.

Created on Dec 13th 2021 05:36. Viewed 567 times.


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