Class 9 History

Clothing in India

During the colonial period, the influence of westernization could be seen on clothing among Indians, especially among the men. The Indians responded to the western-style clothing in three different ways:

Western Dress

Many people, especially men began to incorporate some elements of western clothing. The Parsis were among the first to adapt to western dresses. They began wearing baggy trousers, phenta (hat), along with long collarless coats. Boots and walking stick completed the look of the gentleman.

Western clothes were seen as sign of modernity and progress by some people. For some of the dalit converts to Christianity, western dress was a sign of liberation. In this case also, it was men who adapted to the new dresses.

Traditional Dress

Some people thought that the western culture would lead to a loss of traditional cultural identity. Such people preferred the traditional Indian dresses.

Combination of Western and Traditional: Some people preferred to use a combination of western and Indian dresses. Many people wore coats and hats along with the dhoti. Many others wore pagri along with three-piece suits. Many people wore western dress at their workplace but changed into the Indian dress at home.

Caste Conflict and Dress Change

India had its own strict social codes of food and dresses which were based on the caste system. Some of the dresses and food were strictly forbidden for lower caste people. Changes in clothing style often created violent social reactions because such changed threatened the established social norms.

The Shanars were the subordinate caste in the princely state of Travancore. The Shanar men and women were not allowed to cover their upper body. During the 1820s, the Shanar women began to wear tailored blouse after they were influenced by the Christian missionaries. The Nairs attacked the Shanar women in May 1822 for wearing a cloth over their upper body. The Government of Travancore issued an order in 1829 to prevent the Shanar women from covering their upper body. But the conflict lingered on for a long period. After many years of conflict, the government finally passed an order which allowed the Shanar women to cover their upper body but not in a way the upper caste Hindu women do.