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  • Writer's pictureDevina Govindji


Updated: Oct 23, 2020

Setting the scene

This is a really special blog post for me as this is something that I have wanted to share since I started to think about blogging on fashion and style. I thought it might be nice to embrace my roots and take this journey exploring Indian fashion and it's evolution. (AND OBVIOUSLY MY OBSESSION FOR THE CLOTHES, THE STYLE AND THE DETAILS!)

Earlier this year pre Covid-19 being declared a Global pandemic I went to India after a really long time. I got to explore the different traditional yet modern, effortlessly stylish Indian fashion scenes be it when it came to Anarakali's, Lengha's or the Western clothing made by brands based in India. The clothes, the silhouettes the craftsmanship, the colours I mean it felt like I didn't know where to look!

I know that many people think that Bollywood is a reference to all things Indian fashion but there is definitely an interesting history to the evolution of the traditional Indian attire; regardless of it's evolution there are some things that have been carried forward through time, across generations which has formed what Indian fashion represents today.

The evolution is truly fascinating. If we go through every detail this may take days to get through so I will share some of the more significant moments that have formed the basis for Indian fashion. The Vedic era formed the basis in terms of defining the basic structure of the Indian attire. During the Vedic era the creation of the sari, a blouse, skirt and dupata (scarf) came into existence and this is what most people today would call a lengha (skirt) or a chaniya choli (blouse and skirt). These were often made using cotton.

The Maharani's and the Royal Era

As time went on these essentials took a more elaborate form. In the times when Kings and Queens ruled India there was a fashion revolution and evolution. Royals set standards of their own for generations to come. Every inch of their attire screamed exclusivity! Queens and the ladies of the royal household used to adorn themselves with Lengha's that were crafted by artisans that would be stitched to the utmost perfection using the finest silk,brocade and cotton and exclusive stone work like Kundan and much more that ethnically represented the state they ruled. The Queens not only wore the most exclusive designs when it came to clothing but additionally their jewellery was exquisite. Their jewellery would be embellished with pearls, emeralds, diamonds and rubies amongst other precious stones. Different dynasty's had a different special elements to the ensemble that was unique to the state they ruled.

A fine example of what it really meant to be a royal Queen setting fashion trends that would shape the landscape of Indian fashion was Princess Jodha. Although there were many others, Princess Jodha was considered to be the most eloquently dressed Queen during the 16th Century in India. Being a Hindu Rajput princess who was married to the Mughal Emperor, Akbar she maintained her traditional Indian way of dressing embracing the Rajput culture to which she belonged to. The Rajput royals had extravagant and elaborate dressing that was specific to not only the state they ruled but Rajasthan at large.

Princess Jodha was said to adorn herself in the most exclusively designed Lengha's embellished in Kundan stones. The collections would be constructed with rich silks, brocades and pure cotton as mentioned earlier. Some of the colours of the ensembles that Princess Jodha frequently wore according to historical archives were in deep shades of red ,green, yellow, orange and pink. Intricately crafted jewels that were part of her trousseau were customised to her specifications and preferences.

The neck pieces and the earrings made of pure gold would be draped in precious gems, pearls and stones. Ruby's and emeralds were a staple in most designs as these were essential in the traditional jewellery as this signified opulence The bangles would be of pure gold and pearl designs. Another essential jewellery piece is the kamarbandh (waistband) which also was considered an important aspect to dressing up in traditional attire. The most significant jewellery that truly represented the Rajput culture is the Mang Tika (jewelled head band) known as a borla in Rajasthan and the Nath. (nose ring) The one thing that would remain consistent among all the opulence was the red bindi regardless of the fact that the Princess married into the Mughal dynasty. This was considered to be the daily essentials of Princess Jodha.

Royalty has always had the power to influence the fashion world and change the landscape. Another significant Indian royal was Maharani Gayatri Devi. She set her own fashion trends that made statements which formed the modern representation of Indian fashion. She has been described by many as, "a timeless classic beauty" She was also considered to be a fashion icon and the epitome of style during the 1940's. The textures, the silhouettes and the colour palettes were refreshing - something that was not very common in royal families of India or for that matter of fact in India in general at the time. Maharani Gayatri Devi was influenced by the Western fashion trends. The Maharani's dressing sense was also hugely influenced by her Mother and Grandmother who were seen as women with impeccable fashion sense and had the knowledge of the art of dressing well! Their love for the Western fashion trends was something of an inspiration to the Maharani.

“Never wear emeralds with a green sari as I had, they look so much better with pink.”-A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur.

(This was the valuable fashion advice Maharani Gayatri Devi received from her grandmother!) Try this royal tip out the next time you wear pink!

The chiffon saris were Maharani Gayatri Devi's trademark. Although this is considered very normal these days to have chiffon saris it was a trend that the Maharani herself brought to the Indian fashion milieu. The Maharani would be dressed simply in pastel shades and jewels that were carefully selected. The jewellery was not as traditional but rather designed with modern more western influenced designs. Some of the more traditional jewellery was saved for big occasions. Pearls and emeralds among many other precious stones were still used to create these timeless statement jewellery pieces but the construction and design elements highlighted the Maharani's inspiration of Western aesthetics.

There is much to explore when it comes to the Royals of India and how they influenced and shaped the Indian fashion landscape. I picked the most iconic influences that I thought really impacted the fashion landscape.

The Khadi Movement

The Khadi Movement was an initiative taken by Mahatma Gandhi during the colonisation of India. This was to generate employment of rural people and initiate self reliance for the people of India. This spinning of khadhi is integral to the history of India. Khadi is the national textile of India and this is the reason this movement is deemed as a crucial historical moment and today khadi is used in many ways to create simple everyday wear to more elaborate forms of Indian clothing. Khadi is one of the most popular textiles even today and is used by many Indian designers to create some very special collections.

Indian Fashion Today

This is by far the most exiting chapter in this post as what we see today in Indian fashion is the blending of traditional and modern designs. The motifs of the West blended with the prints and fabric of traditional Indian heritage to create fashion that is deep rooted in culture and an inspirational art form that truly represents it's origins.

The really interesting thing about Indian fashion is that each region of India has something unique to offer creating the most aesthetically beautiful variations of traditional Indian clothing and the craftsmen have impeccable skill to transform each garment into a masterpiece. Indian fashion is something that will always be rooted in it's heritage but at the same time ever evolving - embodying the modern times.

Indian fashion today doesn't just consist of the traditional sari, lengha and anarkali - there is much more. You can find Indo-Western inspired designs and clothes that can be great for creating a day to night look! The modern Indian clothing caters for style and comfort. Designs have become more evolved as Indian fashion designers brought to the mix their own style and aesthetic that gave the enhanced look of traditional Indian clothing today.

Designers have made constant efforts to keep with the times whether it's through the design process or the social and environmental changes that require them to build sustainable collections and a sustainable brand. There are some really inspirational designers that not only built sustainable brands but also empower the people behind the craft and support the wider community.

Wrapping Up

The evolution is truly fascinating as the old world charm is still an inspiration to the Indian fashion scene and adds to the authenticity of modern Indian fashion. Inspiration from the West was welcomed but Indian fashion has its own rules. Vibrancy, craftsmanship and the variation of ethnically traditional silhouettes were the centre of inspiration for modern Indian fashion. From Queen's that still inspire today to the modern fashion designers that have held on to the heritage and the legacy of Indian fashion and added modern spins to the ever evolving Indian fashion as well as empowering millions is something of a legacy in itself.

I have always admired the silhouettes, prints, and the truly amazing design elements that make the traditional Indian clothing so elegant and timeless. Each time I wear an Indian outfit it really is lots of fun, the colour, the prints, the variety of textured fabrics and the way it flows is something that I really feel is very feminine and elegant.

Stay Classy!

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