At the dawn of Indian civilization in 2500 B.C.E. , women left their breasts bare. It was under Muslim rule, which lasted from 1500 to 1700 C.E. , that women began to dress more modestly. The choli, a sewn garment that covered women's breasts, became popular as the Muslims rose in power. The choli is worn with a skirt or under a sari, a draped dress.
Although Indian women wore unstitched garments from the beginning of Indian civilization, from the first invasion of the Muslims in about the tenth century some Indians began to wear stitched garments. The choli is such a garment. The first choli only covered a woman's breasts, leaving her back bare. The garment evolved into many different variations, the most common being a tight-fitting bodice with short or long sleeves that ended just below the breasts or just above the waist. Many other variations of the choli are worn throughout India today and include styles fastened with ties, versions with rounded necklines, and some that shape or flatten the breasts.
Worn mostly in the north and west of India, the choli is distinguished in different regions by various decorations. The fabric can be dyed bright colors, embroidered, or appliquéd with mirrors. Cholis are made of cotton or silk but can also be made of organza and brocade for special occasions.
Goswamy, B. N., and Kalyan Krishna. Indian Costume in the Collection of the Calico Museum of Textiles. Ahmedabad, India: D. S. Mehta, 1993.