| Home | Book Review | About Me | Feedback|

Costumes and Textiles of Royal India

Ritu Kumar. 2006. 352 pages.

Introduction to Costumes and Textiles of Royal India

"The way clothes were draped and layered, the elegance with which they were worn, the movement created by the countless folds and the subtle interplay of colour and light can only be imagined (Kumar, 132)."

Costumes and Textiles of Royal India by Ritu Kumar explores India's cultural identity via illustrating the textile traditions laid forth by the royal families. She extensively researched historic evidence of actual clothes and found little materials. Most royal garments are shown to be preserved in museums, private collections, and royal stores all over India. Luckily, Kumar was able to get full access to the Royal Stores of the City Palace located in Jaipur, Rajasthan. She was able to photograph several pieces which she suggested would aid in the better understanding of the styles of clothing.

Traditional Lehanga

Traditional Lehanga

This is a tradtional lehanga worn by women. It is characterized by a long skirt with either a long or short top. It was worn with an odani. This style of clothing is very similar to a ghaghras and cholis.

As she began her research, she realized that actual evidence of early clothes were rare. The only remnants available were visual references from Buddhist sculptures, cave paintings, medieval miniatures and palmleaf manuscripts. Such evidence, however, seemed to be incomplete. She claimed that:

The way clothes were draped and layered, the elegance with which they were worn, the movement created by the countless folds and the subtle interplay of colour and light can only be imagined (Kumar, 132)

As she traveled back in time and scrutinized the various paintings of Indian painters such as Ravi Varma and Sevak Ram, she saw a realistic impression of courtly life. The portraits of Indian princes were priceless in the investigating the evolution of men's clothing. The evolution of women's clothing, however, was difficult to find as women during that time observed and carried out the fashion of purdah, a veil covering the face. No paintings or photographs were taken due to this practice. However, collectively with literature, with very few portraits and photographs of the royal women of India and with paintings of dancers and courtesans, Ritu Kumar was able to vividly describe a picturesque insight to men's and women's evolution of fashion.

Traditional Indian Men's and Women's Clothing

Traditional Men's and Women's Clothing

This picture shows traditional men's and women's clothing as well as the names of each article of clothing.

The Evolution

Kumar states that Indian dresses can be divided into two categories: stitched clothing includes skirts, tunics, gowns, coats, and pants; and unstitched clothing includes scarves, turbans, shawls, and saris. Using these ordinary pieces of clothing, people in different regions of India developed their own unique identity through the art of weaving and utilizing different patterns of the fabric. They also wore the garments in different ways to represent their region of origin. Additionally, one's social standing was evident in the quality of his or her clothing. For example, the royalty chose to wear only the finest silks, muslins, and wool. Between the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries, the clothing styles evolved, especially in women's clothing.

Men's Fashion

Men usually wore unstitched clothing, especially those who lived in the hotter regions of the country. Kumar illustrated the basic style worn by men was:

made up of three lengths of fabric: the uttariya, which was draped across the upper part of the body; the anatariya, which was wrapped around the lower body; and the kayabandhan... which was tied around the waist to keep the antariya in place and to add decoration (Kumar, 147).

However, at the turn of the seventeenth century, men began to wear stitched clothing. The uttariya was replaced by a tunic-like garment and it was worn with pants called paijama or dhoti as well as a shawl grazing over the shoulder. However, the focus of attraction of the man's outfit was in the head accessory he wore. Depending on the region of India, he wore what is called a pagri or a topi. By the eighteenth century, Western-European styles influenced men's fashion. Designers incorporated buttons, cuffs, and collars for the tops and made them more fitted. Still used to this day, they are called shirvani.

Man's Shirvani

Man's Shirvani

This is a typical man's shirvani that first began to evolve in the nineteenth century and is still worn today

Women's Fashion

Women, like men, usually wore unstitched clothing creating diversity by attaining their own styles regionally. As the thirteenth century approached, women began to dress similarly to men's style. They wore loose v-necked clothing that reached their ankles and tied in the front, which was famously known as a jama. A yaleck, an undergarment, was worn beneath it, as well as a paijama. Any body parts that were exposed were covered with jewelry. Also, during the winter season woolen shawls were draped on their shoulders which added to their layered look. Over the centuries, however, this conservative, quaint look transitioned into a more feminine look. They began to wear netted odani, a piece of long, decorated fabric hung over either the shoulders or arms, which is still worn in the present day. They also replaced their loose pants to fitted ones called angias. Gradually, the women also began to wear ghaghras or cholis which are loose ankle length skirts heavily decorated worn with a short- or long-sleeved top also adorned with intricate work. Some cholis were bare-backed and at knee length. Saris also came into play and were usually made of cotton. Saris are normally 9 yards of cloth wrapped around the waist several times and draped over one shoulder. A petticoat, an undergarment used due to the transparency of the saris, was worn beneath. This is worn with a short blouse, usually exposing the midriff. Sometimes, the saris were wrapped in such a way that legs were exposed knee down. When short dresses as such were worn, women began to wear payal, jeweled anklets that make noise.

Ritu Kumar's Collection

Ritu Kumar's Collection

This is a collection of Ritu Kumar's designs. Modern wear is usually splashed with bright colors and heavy work.

By the twentieth century, ghaghras became longer and more fitted and seam lined. They began to call them mermaid outfits due to their flared shape. Additionally, most of the garments were made of cotton and were dull in color. By the 1900s, silk took over and the colors used in the clothing were bright as vegetable dyes were replaced by chemical dyes. Although women's clothing evolved extensively, traditional clothes are still used. The new fashion trends are worn on a daily basis, while the traditional clothes are worn during special occasions, such as one's own wedding.