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Evolution Of The Saree | First Saree | Mughal Saree | British Saree | 1930s Saree | 1950s Saree | 1970s Saree | 1990s Saree | 2000s Saree | 2010s Saree
How Has The Saree Evolved Over Time?
30 th May 2017

There is nothing more quintessentially Indian than a saree. The image of a woman draped in a saree is instantly relatable as something to do with India. Yes, it’s the traditional garment of choice for Indian women everywhere but the saree is so much more than a national costume. Much like the country itself, the saree has persevered, toiled, transformed and continues to evolve, encompassing the changing world around it but also remaining consistently true to it innate qualities.

The story of the evolution of the saree runs parallel to the history of India in a way that is rarely witnessed and even less documented because it has been so in-sync with the changing tides that people have often failed to recognise it. However a little bit of investigative research on fashion through the ages reveals that the saree is not merely yards of fabric or simply a garment worn by Indian women, it is a relic to India’s past, present and future.

The earliest documented evidence of the saree comes from the Maury and Sunga periods around 300 BC. The earliest representations from the time often depict men and women wearing a draped rectangular cloth over their lower body and nothing covering their upper body. Sculptures and paintings from the Gupta period in the 7th and 8th century showed a stitched garment like breast band for women accompanying the lower draped garment. It is believed by historians that usually it was the women of the higher classes who wore two garments while women of the lower classes were bare-breasted. 

Evolution Of The Saree | First Saree

First Saree

During the time of the Mughals, there was a marked distinction between Hindu and Muslim women based on the way they chose to dress. Hindu women preferred to wear pleated sarees while Muslim women wore Persian inspired loose trousers with long tops (known today as Salwaar Kurta) with a shorter, thinner, scarf-like fabric covering the head called the Dupatta.

Evolution Of The Saree | Mughal Saree

Mughal Saree

When the British became the supreme rulers of India, the saree was once again transformed to suit their own rules of proprietary and morality. They found the finer and more diaphanous sarees worn by Indian women too titillating and immodest. Thus came the introduction of the ‘blouse’ and ‘petticoat’ that were to be worn under the Indian saree. While both these British garments became the norm for dressing for Indian women, there was also the gender bias of non-assimilation with the foreign culture. Indian men who were part of the imperial bureaucracy were afforded the opportunity to wear western clothing but Indian women were kept out and continued to stick with their traditional garment. It might seem absurd but wearing short sarees with boots was also quiet the rage back in the 1920s.

Evolution Of The Saree | British Saree 1

Sarees during the time of the British

Evolution Of The Saree | British Saree 2

Traditional Sarees during the time of the British Raj

Evolution Of The Saree | British Saree 3

Sarees from the 1930s to 1950s

Around the 1930s-1950s, in pre-Independence India, the still popular ‘Nivi’ style of sarees came into being. The style was mostly endorsed by women from Indian royal families and slowly crept into the saree-styling of ordinary Indian women. The drape was characterised as being wound around then tucked in at the waist and letting the loose end go over the back either free flowing or covering the head. Sari-pins fastened at the shoulder or waist were also in vogue and were most likely inspired by the brooches worn by British women.

Evolution Of The Saree | 1930s Saree

Saree during the 1930s

Sarees from the 1950s to 1970s

Post Independence India from the 1950s-1970s saw the emergence of Bollywood movies and along with it the influence of the beautiful starlets who graced the big screen. Sarees underwent some major experimentation with fabrics, patterns, weaves and drapes. Most of which were adopted rather quickly by newly fashion conscious Indian women. Nutan, Madhubala, Nargis and Mumtaz were all sporting different looks and for the first time ever, Indian women had the freedom to pick and choose their own individual style.

Evolution Of The Saree | 1950s Saree

Sarees during the 1950s

Sarees from the 1970s to 1980s

The 1970s-1980s brought with them increased affordability of colour televisions and with it the saree once again went through yet another metamorphosis. Gone were the basic muted monotones of weaves and dark traditional colours as bold, flamboyant and colourful prints were the order of the day. Bollywood had found its footing and the industry was prospering as were those attached to it. Inspired by on-screen styles worn by actresses, companies like Vimal and Garden Vareli developed printed sarees that were easily accessible at different price points to all Indian women.

Evolution Of The Saree | Sarees during the 1970s-1980s

Sarees during the 1970s-1980s

Evolution Of The Saree | 1970s-1980s Saree 2

Sarees during the 1970s-1980s

Evolution Of The Saree | 1970s-1980s Saree 3

Sarees during the 1970s-1980s

Sarees during the 1990s

Sarees went back to their original fluidity and sheerness in the 1990s solely because of the love stories of ace filmmaker Yash Chopra. The Yash Raj heroine was a sensuous chiffon saree clad angel who was the perfect balance of innocence and sex appeal. Indian women ditched their opaque printed sarees for these single coloured fluid versions with just a hint of salaciousness.

Evolution Of The Saree | 1990s Saree 1

Sarees during the 1990s

Evolution Of The Saree | 1990s Saree 2

Sarees during the 1990s

Sarees from the 1990s to 2000s

By the mid 1990s and early 2000s, Indian women had really come into their own style element. It was the age of supermodels, Miss Universe and Miss World winners and suddenly it became all important to be dressed in the creations of the most popular fashion designers. The subtly risqué chiffon saree gave way to the openly sexy net saree paired with equally revealing blouses. Indian women were making a beeline for anything fitness related to be able to confidently wear these utterly luscious sarees. The saree colour palette was also the boldest it had ever been with women embracing everything from deep dark tones to eye popping neons.

Evolution Of The Saree | 2000s Saree

Sarees during the 2000s

Sarees during 2010s

Around 2010s the world was truly globalised and most women couldn’t be bothered with arduous task of neatly draping and pleating a saree. Indian fashion designers used their ingenuity to create pre-draped versions of the saree that could be worn as quickly as any of the western garments preferred by modern Indian women. Pleats became totally optional as sarees could also be worn without them as half and half versions that had contrasting pallus and skirts. Infact the saree became the canvas for fusion wear like Lehenga-Sarees and Saree-Gowns to appease the discerning connoisseurs of Indian fashion who were now extremely well travelled, educated abroad and willing to spend on style.

Evolution Of The Saree | 2010s Saree 1

Sarees during the 2010s

Evolution Of The Saree | 2010s Saree 2

Sarees during the 2010s



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