Two styles of clothing have been most popular with Indian men and boys from ancient times to the present day: the dhoti and the lungi. Both the dhoti and the lungi are garments made from wrapping unsewn cloth around the waist to cover the loins and most of the legs of their wearers. Although these garments are most often worn by men, women do wear them and other similar garments that resemble skirts.
A dhoti is a large cloth wrapped around the waist and then between the legs with the end tucked into the fabric at the waist in back. A dhoti resembles trousers but is made of unsewn fabric. Commonly, dhoti drape below the wearer's knees to mid calf, but some men in warmer parts of India and young boys wear the dhoti above the knee. Although normally created out of a single piece of fabric, the dhoti can also be secured by a kamarband, or a piece of cloth tied around the waist like a belt. The lungi also covers the man from the waist down but resembles a long skirt. A lungi is made by wrapping a cloth around the waist and securing it with a knot called a duba. Both the dhoti and the lungi can be worn alone with a bare chest or with a variety of upper body coverings including shawls, shirts, or jackets.
Both dhoti and lungi have been woven out of silk, cotton, and sometimes wool. Although the dhoti is most commonly made of thin white cotton, the lungi is often dyed bright colors or decorated with colorful patterns. Lungis are either dyed a plain color or decorated with stripes or plaids and bordered in a contrasting color. If the garment is made with dyed yarn, the fabric is most often woven with a pattern of two colors. Popular colors for everyday lungis include white, dark red, blue, brown, and black while those worn for ceremonies or festive occasions are made in brighter shades of yellow, pink, turquoise, dark blue, green, and purple. Other decorations include embroidery on the borders, appliquéd mirrors, and patterns made from tie-dyeing or stamping carved blocks.
In ancient times entire families would be involved in spinning and dyeing the yarn used and weaving the fabric for these garments. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), the leader who rallied Indians in nonviolent protest against British rule in the early 1900s, encouraged Indians to shun imported British fabrics and to weave their clothes at home. Some Indians continue to weave fabric at home, but large factories with power looms are responsible for the greatest portion of modern-day production.
Askari, Nasreen, and Liz Arthur. Uncut Cloth: Saris, Shawls, and Sashes. London, England: Merrell Holbertson, 1999.