Indian fashion has endless influences from the rich cultural heritage of India to various international innovations. Indian fashion never ceases to adapt to innovations in thinking as well as reviving popular styles from previous years. The evolution of traditional Indian clothing is particularly interesting and what is also fascinating are the historical legends that have left a lasting impact on the styles that are so richly bound up in Indian fashion today.
There are seven historical figures from 16th century to 20th century who have been highly influential for traditional Indian clothing.
Firstly there is the Emperor Akbar from the 16th century. He was the first Mughal ruler to want to unite religion and culture in India. His efforts in trying to unify Muslims and Hindus had a direct effect on traditional Indian clothing as cultures from both religions merged. It was because of the influence of The Emperor Akbar that the Angrakha, or long formal frock, with ties at one side became very popular.
Next there was Anarkali, the supposed 16th century Mughal Empress and wife of Emperor Jahangir. This Empress preferred simple garments. She was well known for wearing a long, flowing kurta fitted on the bust and flanked by large pleats. This eponymous and incredibly popular dress was named after its famous wearer.
There is then the Empress Mumtaz Mahal, the consort of Shah Jahan. This Empress was well known for her fashion taste and her beauty. The Empress was famous for wearing a short-sleeved or long jacket over her saree or kurti. She wore this item to maintain her sophistication and modesty, however this jacket soon became a fashionable of traditional Indian clothing.
Next there is Rani Lakshmibai, known as one of the most courageous female rulers. The Queen had to fight against the British with the Gwalior troops dressed in a saree draped in the typical Maharashtrian style known as Nauvari saree, with dhoti pattern. The saree tended to be made from muslin or cotton and so was comfortable for her to ride in.
In the early 20th century there was the Noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore who is famous for both his writings and his paintings but also his unique fashion sense. His style seemed to be a mixture of Japanese Kimono and Sikkimese bakhu. This robe did not become as popular straight away as other traditional Indian clothing that I have spoken about already. However it was recent Indian designers who revived this item of clothing. It is now full-sleeved, usually worn without any frills or strings. The simplicity creates a noble and sophisticated look.
There is then Jawaharial Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. The piece of traditional Indian clothing he is known for wearing is called now, the Nehru Jacket, which became very popular during the 1940s. The jacket was named after the Prime Minister as he introduced the hip-length close fitting coat.
Lastly there is Maharani Indira Devi. She was the mother of Gayatri Devi and considered one of the world’s most beautiful women. The Maharani Indira Devi is thought to have instigated the wearing of the trousseau, French chiffon. Indira Devi had first worn chiffon in Paris. The Maharani insisted that the material be made to 46 inches in width and thus the Chiffon saree was born.