India is a vast subcontinent, or landmass that is part of a continent but is considered an independent entity, that contains many varied geographical regions. The Himalayan mountain range, which includes the highest mountains in the world, stretches across the north of the country along its border with Tibet.
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.
The Koran, the holy book of Islam, directs believers to cover themselves and be humble before God. Different societies and religious leaders have interpreted this command of the Koran in many different ways, often requiring both men and women to cover their heads as a sign of religious respect.
The chadar, also spelled chador or chadoor, is a multipurpose garment worn by many people in India since before the third century C.E. Indians and others living in countries of the Middle East continue to wear the chadar to this day.
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.
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.
The jama is a jacket that was worn by men in India following its introduction by Mogul, or Muslim, invaders in the sixteenth century C.E., and which influenced later menswear. The jama resembles sewn jackets worn in ancient Persia, modern-day Iran.
The Punjabi suit, also known as the salwar kameez, is an outfit worn primarily by Indian women but also by some men. The Punjabi suit became popular around the time of the Mogul Empire, from 1500 to 1700 C.E., and has continued to be worn by modern Indians to the present day.
The word "purdah" comes from the Hindu word meaning curtain or veil. Purdah is a complex set of rules, followed in some Muslim and Hindu societies, which restrict a woman's movements both in the outside world and within her own home.
The sari, sometimes spelled saree, is a draped dress, created from a single piece of fabric five to nine yards long, which is wrapped around a woman's body in a variety of ways. The resulting garment can be practical working attire or an elegant ceremonial gown, depending on the type of fabric used and the style of draping.
Both men and women covered their upper bodies in ancient India with a garment called an uttariya. An uttariya was an unsewn cloth or scarf.
Over thousands of years, Indians perfected the art of looping, knotting, and twisting fabric into elaborate and elegant outfits. They applied similar techniques to their hair, twisting and tying their hair into a variety of styles too numerous to count.
From ancient times until the present day, the most common headwear for Indian men has been a turban. A turban is a length of cloth wrapped in a specific way around the top of the head.
Indians use colors and patterns of makeup for various purposes. Married women signal their marital status by dyeing the center parting of their hair red.
Men, women, and children in India all wear anklets. Anklets are not only decorative but meaningful.
Many historians believe that ancient ancestors of the modern residents of India began the custom of placing symbolic marks on their foreheads. Although the exact reasons and time forehead marks began has yet to be determined, some think the red markings had their roots in an ancient practice of blood sacrifice, that is, killing animals or people as an offering to the gods.
Areddish powder or paste made from the dried leaves of the henna bush, known by the scientific name of Lawsonia inermis, henna has been used to decorate the human body for thousands of years. Many historians believe that henna could have been used by people to decorate their hands and feet as long ago as 7000 B.C.E.
Jewelry has occupied an important part of life in India from ancient times to the present day. Evidence from the earliest Indus Valley civilizations, which flourished along the Indus River in modern-day Pakistan and which date back to 2500 B.C.E., indicates that early Indians adorned themselves from head to toe with many varied ornaments.
The abundance of jewelry in Indian culture has required the use of piercing to secure some important ornaments. The ears of women and sometimes men and the noses of men are the most common areas for piercing.
In the chilly Himalayan mountain northern regions of India, a variety of boots and shoes have been made over the centuries to protect the feet from cold and rainy weather. These boots and shoes are made of leather, wool, and plant fibers.
Chappals, a simple type of leather sandal, provide the foot with basic protection from hot surfaces and rough terrain. Made with flat soles attached to the foot by straps that encircle the top of the foot and big toe, chappals became a common type of footwear in India by the third century C.E.
The jutti is a shoe worn by men, women, and children throughout India. Most often made of leather from the hide of buffalo, camels, or cows, juttis can also have uppers, or the tops of the shoe, formed from other textiles.
Boots are thought to have been brought to India by foreigners. Boots were a common foot covering of early invaders from central Asia, including the Moguls, Afghans, and Persians.
The paduka—also known as the khadaun, kharawan, and karom—is the simplest type of Indian foot protection. At its most basic, a paduka is a wooden sole with a knob that fits between the big toe and the second toe.