Fashion and clothing have always played a pivotal role in allowing cultures to express their unique, collective identities. With the passage of time, the industry continues to evolve without losing complete touch of its roots and traditions. Clothing often helps one culture understand another, and observations of what items tie their looks together prove to be highly insightful. Like the Kimono from Japan, the Kilt from Scotland, the Kebaya from Malaysia, clothes made from materials of our own countries, help us feel like we belong. Similar to the aforementioned outfits, India has its own showstopper - The Saree, among a longer list, varying as you move across states.
India was among the first to cultivate and use cotton, an essential textile in most outfits dating back to 2500 BCE. Although evidence can only be found through iconography, the country’s clothing history can be backtracked to as early as the Indus Valley Civilization. However, fashion as an industry is relatively new in India, having seen dramatic growth in the 1980s and 90s, despite the existence of a handful of designers prior to that.
Indian fashion is known to be elegant, graceful, yet bursting with colour. Intricate embroidery has also been prominent in clothing and adapted by designers through the ages. Traditional techniques like Zardosi, Chikhan, etc. are also often used in Indo-Western designs across the globe.
The passing of each era has had a massive impact on the industry.
The British era saw the invention of the handwoven material ‘Khadi’, adding to the vast variety available for creators to weave their magic. In the 1920s glamorous Cholis, and Sarees with full sleeves and mid-length sleeves started gaining popularity. The industry started more garments crafted using lace, satin, cotton, and silk. Fashion schools started finding their place in India, and began to expand at a high rate in the 1980s. This was also the decade the country experimented with fusion fashion, beautifully blending ideas and materials, from both Indian and Western cultures. This continued through to the 1990s which led to bold fashion choices inspired by the West, and the introduction of the full-sleeved salwar kameez. The trend of fusion continues to grow, with designers adding twists to and making statements with revamped traditional clothing.
While India’s fashion industry has evolved greatly over the years, giving birth to some stunning trends, we have not let go of our roots, with traditional clothing continuing to be prominent and a staple of every Indian’s closet. Here’s a glimpse into the most popular authentically Indian garments, that have stood the test of time.