Indian Clothing

A historical record of Indian clothing is difficult to trace. While there is an abundance of sculpture and literature dating from the earliest periods of civilization in the Indus Valley (which flourished along the Indus River in modern-day Pakistan) around 2500 B.C.E. , scholars have had difficulty dating the changes in clothing styles and naming the variations on certain styles over time. Another problem in identifying trends in Indian clothing is the abundance of different ethnic and cultural groups that have lived and are living in the country; each of which has its own distinctive style. These circumstances make it possible to make generalizations about Indian clothing, but not to make concrete statements about each and every style worn in the country.

An Indian women often has to keep almost her entire body covered in clothing. Reproduced by permission of © .

The oldest type of Indian clothing was fashioned out of yards of unsewn fabric that were then wound around the body in a variety of ways to create different, distinct garments. This clothing was woven most commonly out of cotton but could also be made of goat hair, linen, silk, or wool. Some of the most popular garments are a wrapped dress called a sari, a pair of pants called a dhoti, a hat called a turban, and a variety of scarves. These styles of garments have been popular in India since the beginning of its civilization and continue to be worn in the twenty-first century.

Changes in the styles worn by Indians reflected their contact with other peoples. As different tribes of people invaded or entered India to trade or to live, they brought with them distinctive clothing styles. Throughout the different regions of India, the changes in clothing styles can be linked to some contact with other cultures. For example, Indians knew how to sew long before the sixteenth century when the Moguls, or Muslims, invaded, and they had long adorned their wrapped garments with elaborate embroidery stitches. But when the Moguls took power over the region, the Moguls' style of sewn clothing became popular among Indians. Sewn jackets and trousers were among the styles popularized by the Mogul leaders, although traditional wrapped clothing remained common.

Trade contacts also spread Indian clothing styles and cloth to other parts of the world. The Dutch and the English established trade routes with India in the late 1400s, and by the 1600s Indian cotton was exported to regions throughout Europe and the American colonies, where shawls made of Indian cloth became especially popular. In the twenty-first century India continues to be a major source of finely woven fabrics for garment manufacturers worldwide.


Askari, Nasreen, and Liz Arthur. Uncut Cloth: Saris, Shawls, and Sashes. London, England: Merrell Holbertson, 1999.

"Excerpts: Evolution of Court Costume." . (accessed on July 24, 2003).

Goswamy, B. N., and Kalyan Krishna. Indian Costume in the Collection of the Calico Museum of Textiles. Ahmedabad, India: D. S. Mehta, 1993.

"A Historical Outline." . (accessed on July 24, 2003).

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