Clothing: Social History

NCERT Solution

Question 1: Explain the reasons for the changes in clothing patterns and materials in the eighteenth century.

Answer: The reasons for changes in clothing patterns and materials in the eighteentch century are as follows:


Question 2: What were the sumptuary laws in France?

Answer: The sumptuary laws attempted the behavior of people who were considered as social inferiors. They were prevented from wearing certain clothes, consuming certain foods and beverages and hunting game in certain areas.

Question 3: Give any two examples of the ways in which European dress codes were different from Indian dress codes.

Answer: Two examples of differences between European dress code and Indian dress code are as follows:

Turban and Hat: For an Indian, pagri was a sign of self respect and the pagri should always remain on the head to maintain that self respect. For a British, taking off his hat to show respect for someone was part of his culture. When an Indian did not remove his pagri in front of a British official, it was considered as a sign of rude behavior.

Shoes: Indians take off their shoes when they enter a place of worship. Many Indians also take off their shoes when they enter their homes. Same decorum was also maintained when someone visited a person of high authority. The British followed this practice when they visited a raja or a chieftain. But they also wanted the Indians to follow the same practice while entering a high office. But many Indians did not obey this rule because they felt that an office is quite different from a home or a place of worship.


Question 4: In 1805, a British official, Benjamin Heyne, listed the manufactures of Bangalore which included the following:

  1. Women's cloth of different musters and names
  2. Coarse chintz
  3. Muslins
  4. Silk cloths

Of this list, which kind of cloth would have definitely fallen out of use in the early 1900s and why?

Answer: Muslins would have fallen out of use in the early 1900s because it was made by the traditional craftsperson on handloom. Most of them could not withstand the competition from machine-made clothes from Manchester and hence would have reduced their production. Chintz was cheaper and hence must have remained in use. Silk had always been prized for its fine quality and has withstood the test of time.

Question 5: Suggest reasons why women in nineteenth century India were obliged to continue wearing traditional Indian dress even when men switched over to the more convenient Western clothing. What does this show about the position of women in society?

Answer: The changes in women’s dresses in the Western society were mainly affected by practical considerations at the workplace. In India, majority of women still are housewives and the percentage of working women is minuscule. During the nineteenth century, most of the women were confined within their homes and could not get enough opportunity to interact with the outside world. Men, on the other hand, got influenced by the developments around them and hence adopted to western clothing. This shows that women had inferior status in the society at that time.


Question 6: Winston Churchill described Mahatma Gandhi as a ‘seditious Middle Temple Lawyer’ now ‘posing as a half naked fakir’. What provoked such a comment and what does it tell you about the symbolic strength of Mahatma Gandhi’s dress?

Answer: Winston Churchill was well aware of the powerful presence of Mahatma Gandhi. He was also aware of the professional background of Mahatma Gandhi and that is why he used the term ‘Middle Temple Lawyer’. The term seditious refers to the threat which Mahatma Gandhi posed to the British Empire. Winston Churchill probably also understood the powerful clothing symbol being used by Mahatma Gandhi.

Note: The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers; the others being the Inner Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn. It is located in the wider Temple area of London, near the Royal Courts of Justice, and within the City of London.REF: Wikipedia

Question 7: Why did Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of clothing the nation in khadi appeal only to some sections of Indians?

Answer: Khadi is a coarse cloth, which was costly and difficult to maintain. Mill-made clothes were cheaper and easier to maintain. Hence, khadi could appeal only to some sections of Indians.



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