Fashion and clothing have a different definition and interpretation depending on the time, culture and the society that we are talking about. Take India for instance. The saree, which was considered regular wear at one point in time has now morphed into occasion wear. The Indian woman who at one point in time would drape herself only in a saree previously, draws ideas from all over the world today. They help define her idea of fashion, modesty and modernity. But what is it like to dress up the Indian woman in the 21st century? What does a wardrobe of modern Indian dresses comprise of? We take a look at all this and more in this post about the fashion uniform of the Indian woman in this day and age.
The saree has been synonymous with Indian fashion for centuries now. But somewhere along the line, the influence of the Mughal fashion, followed by the British Raj resulted in an appropriation of sorts and led to the Indian woman having a wider range of options to choose from. Among the clothes that she embraced, the salwar-kameez ended up becoming a mainstay. For a few decades now, at least the women in the north of India have worn the salwar kameez in its many variations, with aplomb. Then came the cable television and subsequently the internet which opened up a whole new world of fashion to be inspired from. The exposure spurred the demand for western clothes and led to the creation of hundreds of local brands that started manufacturing modern Indian clothes. Global fashion labels soon followed suit to set up shop in India to cater to the demand.
Today, one can find women in the urban areas dressing up in modern Indian clothes by homegrown brands as well as labels that their counterparts in the USA or the UK would sport. Not just the cities, even the women in the hinterlands today have exposure and access to fashion, thanks to their mobile phones that open up the gates to the internet and e-commerce. Even though the interpretation of ‘modern’ in rural areas might be restricted to teaming a kurti with a pair of jeans, there is a definitive change in the way clothing is being perceived - it is not traditional anymore.
But being an Indian at heart, the wardrobe of the modern young woman still has space for her heirloom Kanjeevaram or Benaras sarees and other handlooms that she pulls out for those special occasions. By straddling traditional and modern aesthetics, the Indian woman is carving out a niche for herself in the world of fashion. It is safe to say that Indian fashion is in the midst of an exciting churn that is weaving together international inspiration with traditional sensibilities to make a statement that is uniquely Indian.
Work wear is perhaps the most important part of the wardrobe of the modern Indian woman. Westernisation of fashion is definitive in the workspace, with younger women wearing formal western clothes to the corporate offices and banks. As a result, there has been a surge in the number of ready-to-wear labels offering western formals to women. Brands like AND, Allen Solly, Van Heusen and Zara have a dedicated formal wear line comprising of modern Indian clothes like pantsuits, skirts, formal shirts and even blazers aimed at the financially independent woman who wants to exude a powerful look at work. Her style is chic and smart, comprising of sharp lines and fine fabrics.
In workplaces where informal clothing is acceptable, you would even notice women sporting smart casuals like tee shirts, denims and skirts of appropriate length which also double as casual wear after work.
Aside from modern Indian dresses, the working woman’s wardrobe today also comprises of chic kurtas that are teamed with churidar pyjamas for occasions when they want to exude a traditional charm. Mix and match is the name of the game here - a trend spawned by the plethora of ready to wear brands offering kurtas and churidar pants as separates at affordable prices.
The influence of western fashion is more apparent in the way Indian women dress when they are off duty. Modern Indian dresses of varying lengths meant for casual occasions are an integral part of their wardrobes today. With fashion blogs and social media platforms like Instagram leveling the playing field, latest global trends like cold-shoulder, peplum detailing, asymmetrical hemlines or fringes become available within no time in the country and make their way into women’s wardrobes as well! You’d find a good mix of denim pants, shorts, tees, tank tops, jackets and a wide array of dresses to wear when they are out having fun, watching a movie, grabbing some lunch or simply partying away into the night.
Modern women in India today are as comfortable sporting a pair of ripped denims with a barely-there top as they are wearing a saree. The way they seamlessly switch from a cute tunic for a movie during the day to a hot sequinned sheath dress for a party in the night and own both looks with poise is truly commendable.
As the familiarity towards western clothing grows, we’ve seen Indian women put together killer ensembles with some clever layering and accessorising. If you notice carefully, the looks they put together are on par and sometimes even better than their international counterparts. It only goes on to prove that Indian women possess is a keen eye towards detailing, a talent honed by years of dressing up in traditional clothing and jewellery, which they are putting to great use in their day to day dressing.
While women depend upon mass produced outfits for their formal and casual wear, when it comes to weddings and festivals, they continue to retain a soft spot for exclusive designer clothing or handmade weaves that are a cut above the rest. Given the number of weddings and festive events that one is invited to in India, it is but natural for occasion wear to hog substantial space in a woman’s wardrobe. Unlike fast fashion, her festive wear comprising of sarees, lehengas, anarkali suits in myriad colours and fabrics take up the pride of place among her clothes and are treasured for their both monetary and sentimental value.
One look at their wardrobes and you would agree that even though Indian women have embraced western fashion like there is no tomorrow, they continue to appreciate the beauty and value of Indian fabrics, crafts and designs and ensure to give them utmost prominence in their style uniform.
But all said and done, one cannot discount the influence of modern fashion on even occasion wear. It has in a big way led to the reinterpretation of traditional wear in India. You now have festive crop tops teamed with a skirt - a modern interpretation of the lehenga-choli. Sarees in traditional fabrics are being styled like gowns to cater to the young crowd that wants something ‘new’.
When it comes to modern Indian clothes, it is actually not a question of tradition ‘vs’ modernity as it is about tradition ‘and’ modernity. Both Indian fashion labels and Indian women have successfully married both the design sensibilities to create a unique identity of their own in the world of fashion.
Modern Indian dresses are a beautiful play of Indian fabrics and style with international cuts and silhouettes that have an appeal that has transcended borders to made a mark globally.
Consider a Khadi tunic in an eclectic cut and silhouette, styled with a pair of well-tailored cigarette pants. It is a western ensemble but with an Indian stamp that is hard to brush off. Ensembles like these are finding their way into the wardrobes of many fashion conscious Indian women today who do not want to simply ape the west but want to establish a style that is truly their own. This has not just spawned a gamut of collections aimed at reviving Indian crafts through modern clothes but have also made Indian women aware of the beauty and the rich legacy of India’s craft heritage.
Between late last year and early this year, Victoria and Albert Museum held an exhibition called ‘The Fabric of India’, which for the first time explored the dynamic and multifaceted world of handmade textiles of India from the 3rd to the 21st century. Such is the clout that Indian fabrics command. This recent awareness around the variety of Indian handmade fabrics and the skills that go into them has resulted in handlooms regaining their lost popularity and place in the Indian woman’s wardrobe.So much that she now even sports modern Indian dresses that are made from locally sourced fabrics by homegrown brands that promote sustainable fashion.
Dresses, tunics, pants and skirts made from Ikat, Khadi, silk and Chanderi fabrics with Indian motifs and thread work are a rage among the modern women today. The amalgamation of contemporary silhouettes and Indian handlooms is a sight to behold and the pieces thus made naturally become a wardrobe favourite.
To sum it up, the Indian woman today is well aware of global fashion trends and has access to the best of high street fashion through international labels that have made inroads into India. But she certainly does not just ape the west blindly. Her wardrobe receives a regular update with modern Indian dresses that seamlessly merge Indian style and modern trends, making her a champion of both design sensibilities. Her wardrobe is a melange of vibrant colours and Indian craftsmanship that take up as much space as the smart casuals and formal outfits that she wears to work!
Image credit: refinery29, AND, India Today, jaypore, anitadongre, raw mango, thedelhibride, 11.11, pero