Clothing in India

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Clothing in India is dependent upon the different ethnicity, geography, climate, and cultural traditions of the people of each region of India. Historically, male and female clothing has evolved from simple garments like kaupinalangotaachkanlungisarigamcha, and loincloths to cover the body into elaborate costumes not only used in daily wear, but also on festive occasions, as well as rituals and dance performances. In urban areas, western clothing is common and uniformly worn by people of all social levels. India also has a great diversity[1] in terms of weaves, fibers, colours, and material of clothing. Sometimes, color codes are followed in clothing based on the religion and ritual concerned. The clothing in India also encompasses the wide variety of Indian embroidery, prints, handwork, embellishment, styles of wearing clothes. A wide mix of Indian traditional clothing and western styles can be seen in India.

Female clothing[edit]

Indian girl in saree

In India, women’s clothing varies widely and is closely associated with the local culturereligion and climate.

Traditional Indian clothing for women in the north and east are saris worn with choli tops; a long skirt called a lehenga or pavada worn with choli and a dupatta scarf to create an ensemble called a gagra choli; or salwar kameez suits, while many south Indian women traditionally wear sari and children wear pattu langa.[citation needed] Saris made out of silk are considered the most elegant. Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is one of India’s fashion capitals.[citation needed] In many rural parts of India, traditional clothing is worn. Women wear a sari, a long sheet of colourful cloth, draped over a simple or fancy blouse. Little girls wear a pavada. Both are often patterned. Bindi is a part of women’s make-up.[citation needed] Indo-western clothing is the fusion of Western and Subcontinental fashion. Other clothing includes the churidargamuchakurti and kurta, and sherwani.

The traditional style of clothing in India varies with male or female distinctions. This is still followed in rural areas, though is changing in the urban areas. Girls before puberty wear a long skirt (called langa/paawada in Andhra) and a short blouse, called a choli, above it.

Traditional clothing[edit]

Sari and wrapped garments[edit]

Purple silk sari worn by Vidya Balan.

saree or sari[25][26] is a female garment in the Indian subcontinent.[27] A sari is a strip of unstitched cloth, ranging from four to nine meters in length, that is draped over the body in various styles. These include: Sambalpuri Saree from East, Mysore silk and Ilkal of Karnataka and, Kanchipuram of Tamil Nadu from South, Paithani from Maharashtra and Banarasi from North among others.[28] The most common style is for the sari to be wrapped around the waist, with one end then draped over the shoulder baring the midriff.[27] The sari is usually worn over a petticoat.[29] Blouse may be “backless” or of a halter neck style. These are usually more dressy with a lot of embellishments such as mirrors or embroidery and may be worn on special occasions. Women in the armed forces, when wearing a sari uniform, don a half-sleeve shirt tucked in at the waist. Teenage girls may wear half-sarees, a three piece set consisting of a langa, a choli and a stole wrapped over it like a saree. Women usually wear full sarees. Indian wedding saris are typically red or pink, a tradition that goes back to India’s pre-modern history.[30]

Saris are usually known with different names in different places. In Kerala, white saris with golden border, are known as kavanis and are worn on special occasions. A simple white sari, worn as a daily wear, is called a mundu. Saris are called pudavai in Tamil Nadu. In Karnataka, saris are called Seere.[31] The traditional production of handloom sarees is important to economic development in rural communities.[32] The Sari Series[33] provides a documented resource of over 80 different regional drapes of India.

Mundum Neriyathum

Malayalee lady wearing mundum neriyathum. Painted by Raja Ravi Varma, c. 1900.

Mundum Neriyathum is the oldest remnant of the ancient form of the saree which covered only the lower part of the body. It is the traditional dress of women in Kerala, a state in the southwestern part of India.[34][35] The basic traditional piece is the mundu or lower garment which is the ancient form of the saree denoted in Malayalam as ‘Thuni’ (meaning cloth), while the neriyathu forms the upper garment the mundu.[34][35]

Mekhela Sador

An Assamese girl wearing mekhela sador, 2010

Mekhela Sador (Assamese: মেখেলা চাদৰ) is the traditional Assamese dress worn by women. It is worn by women of all ages.

There are three main pieces of cloth that are draped around the body.

The bottom portion, draped from the waist downwards is called the Mekhela (Assamese: মেখেলা). It is in the form of a sarong—a very wide cylinder of cloth—that is folded into pleats to fit around the waist and tucked in. The folds are to the right, as opposed to the pleats in the Nivi style of the saree, which are folded to the left. Strings are never used to tie the mekhela around the waist, though an underskirt with a string is often used.

The top portion of the three-piece dress, called the Sador (Assamese: চাদৰ), is a long length of cloth that has one end tucked into the upper portion of the Mekhela and the rest draped over and around the rest of the body. The Sador is tucked in triangular folds. A fitted blouse is worn to cover the breasts.

The third piece is called a Riha, which is worn under the Sador. It is narrow in width. This traditional dress of the Assamese women is very famous for their exclusive patterns on the body and the border. Women wear them during important religious and ceremonious occasions of marriage. Riha is worn exactly like a Sador and is used as Orni.


Tripuri bride in Rignai and Rikutu

Rignai is the traditional dress of Tripuri women, the native inhabitants of Tripura. It is worn by wrapping it around the waist. It’s worn with “Rikutu” which covers the upper half of the body. It is worn by the every Tripuri women in Tripura.

The most significant rignai is called the “Chamathwi bar” and comprises white cloth bordered by maroon or other colors. The “Chamathwi bar” is worn during important occasions like wedding ceremonies and festivals like Goria Puja and Hangrai.

Salwar Kameez[edit]

Four women wearing Salwar Kameez, Puducherry, 2006

The salwar is a generic description of the lower garment incorporating the Punjabi salwar, Sindhi suthan, Dogri pajama (also called suthan), and the Kashmiri suthan. The salwar kameez has been worn by the women of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh where the suit has been called the Punjabi suit which is most common in the northwestern part of India (Punjab region). The Punjabi suit also includes the “churidaar” and “kurta” ensemble which is also popular in Southern India where it is known as the “churidaar”.[36]

The salwar kameez consists of loose trousers (the salwar) narrow at the ankles, topped by a tunic top (the kameez).[37] Women generally wear a dupatta or odani (Veil) with salwar kameez to cover their head and shoulders.[37] It is always worn with a scarf called a dupatta, which is used to cover the head and drawn over the bosom.

The material for the dupatta usually depends upon that of the suit and is generally of cotton, georgette, silk, chiffon among others.[citation needed]

The suthan, similar to the salwar is common in Sindh where it is worn with the cholo[37] and Kashmir where it is worn with the Phiran.[38] The Kashmiri phiran is similar to the Dogri pajama. The patiala salwar is an exaggeratedly wide version of the salwar, its loose pleats stitched together at the bottom.[39][40]


Ancient form of Churidar worn during the Gupta period.

Churidaar is a variation on the salwar, loose above the knees and tightly fitted to the calf below. While the salwar is baggy and caught in at the ankle, the churidar fits below the knees with horizontal gathers near the ankles.[41] The churidaar can be worn with any upper garment such as a long kurta, which goes below the knees, or as part of the Anarkali suit.

Anarkali Suit

Priyanka Chopra, a Bollywood actress, in an Anarkali suit.

The Anarkali suit is made up of a long, frock-style top and features a slim fitted bottom. The Anarkali is an extremely desirable style that is adorned by women located in Northern India, Pakistan, and the Middle East. The Anarkali suit varies in many different lengths and embroideries including floor length Anarkali styles. Many women will also opt for heavier embroidered Anarkali suits on wedding functions and events. Indian women wear Anarkali suits on various other occasions as well such as traditional festivals, casual lunch, anniversary celebrations, etc. The kameez of the Anarkali can be sleeveless or with sleeves ranging from cap- to wrist-length.[42]

Lehenga Choli (skirt and blouse)[edit]

A lady wearing a lehenga and choli.

Ghagra Choli or a Lehenga Choli is the traditional clothing of women in Rajasthan and Gujarat.[citation needed] Punjabis also wear them and they are used in some of their folk dances. It is a combination of lehenga, a tight choli and an odhani. A lehenga is a form of a long skirt that is pleated. It is usually embroidered or has a thick border at the bottom. A choli is a blouse shell garment, which is cut to fit the body and has short sleeves and a low neck.

Different styles of ghagra cholis are worn by the women, ranging from a simple cotton lehenga choli as daily wear, a traditional ghagra with mirrors embellished usually worn during Navratri for the garba dance or a fully embroidered lehenga worn during marriage ceremonies by the bride.

Popular among unmarried women other than salwar kameez are Gagra choli and Langa voni.[43]

Pattu Pavadai/Reshme Langa

Two girls wearing Pattu Pavadai.

Pattu Pavadai or Langa davani is a traditional dress in south India and Rajasthan, usually worn by teenage and small girls. The pavada is a cone-shaped skirt, usually of silk, that hangs down from the waist to the toes. It normally has a golden border at the bottom.

Girls in south India often wear pattu pavadai or Langa davani during traditional functions.

Girls in Rajasthan wear this dress before marriage (and after marriage with sight modification in certain sections of society.)

Langa – Voni/Dhavani

This is a type of South Indian dress mainly worn in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, as well as in some parts of Kerala. This dress is a three-piece garment where the langa or lehenga is the cone-shaped long flowing skirt.

Male clothing[edit]

Indian man in Sherwani

A man wearing a dhoti.

Traditional clothing[edit]

For men, traditional clothes are the Achkan/SherwaniBandhgalaLungiKurtaAngarkhaJamaShalwar Kameez and Dhoti or Pajama. Additionally, recently western clothing such as trousers and shirts have been accepted as traditional Indian dress by the Government of India.[44]


Kaupin is unsewn and langota is sewn loincloth worn as underwear in dangal held in akharas especially wrestling, to prevent hernias and hydrocele.[45]

It is mandatory for Sikhs to wear kacchera.


Dhotis are one of the most common male dresses found in India. A dhoti is from four to six feet long white or colour strip of cotton. This traditional attire is mainly worn by men in villages.[46] It is held in place by a style of wrapping and sometimes with the help of a belt, ornamental and embroidered or a flat and simple one, around the waist.[47]

Owing to its widespread popularity throughout India, different languages have different terms to describe dhotis. In Marathi, it is called dhotar. In Punjabi, it is known as a chadra. In Gujarati it’s known as “Dhotiyu”, while in Telugu they are called Pancha. In Tamil, they are called veshti, and in Kannada it is called Panche/Lungi. Over the dhoti, men wear shirts or kurtas.

Panche or Lungi[edit]

Chakravartin wearing a panchaAmaravathi, 1st century BCE. (Musee Guimet)

Lungi, also known as sarong, is another traditional garment of India. A Mundu is a lungi, except that it is always white.[47] It is either tucked in, over the waist, up to knee-length, or is allowed to lie over and reach up to the ankle. It is usually tucked in when the person is working, in fields or workshops, and left open usually as a mark of respect, in worship places, or when the person is around dignitaries.

Lungis, generally, are of two types: the open lungi and the stitched lungi. The open lungi is a plain sheet of cotton or silk, whereas the stitched one has both of its open ends stitched together to form a tube-like structure.

Though mostly worn by men, elderly women also prefer lungi to other garments owing to its good aeration.[48] It is most popular in south India, though people of Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Somalia also can be seen in lungis, because of the heat and humidity, which create an unpleasant climate for trousers, though trousers have now become common outside the house.[49]


Achkan sherwani and churidar (lower body) worn by Arvind Singh Mewar and his kin during a Hindu wedding in Rajasthan, India.

Achkan is a small-jacket that usually sports exposed buttons through the length of the jacket. The length is usually just at the knees and the jacket ends just below the knee. Achkan is very similar to the Sherwani which is much a much longer coat-jacket dress The jacket has a Nehru collar.[50] The Achkan was mostly worn with tight-fitting pants or trousers called churidars. Achkan is made from various fabrics for both formal and informal occasions. The achkan features traditional Indian embroidery like gota and badla. Achkan was commonly worn by the grooms during wedding ceremonies[51] or other formal festive occasions in the Indian subcontinent but when it evolved into the Nehru Jacket, the achkan became less worn. It was used by men. In India, the achkan is generally worn for formal occasions in winter, especially by those from RajasthanPunjab, Uttar Pradesh and Hyderabad. The achkan later evolved into the Nehru Jacket, which is now popular in India. It may be embroidered with gold or silver. A scarf called a dupatta is sometimes added to the achkan.


Jodhpuri or a Bandhgala is a formal evening suit from India. It originated in the Jodhpur State, and was popularized during the British Raj in India. Also known as Jodhpuri Suit,[citation needed] it is a western style suit product, with a coat and a trouser, at times accompanied by a vest. It brings together the western cut with Indian hand-embroidery escorted by the Waist coat.[52] It is suitable for occasions such as weddings and formal gatherings.

The material can be silk or any other suiting material. Normally, the material is lined at the collar and at the buttons with embroidery. This can be plain, jacquard, or jamewari material. Normally, the trousers match that of the coat. There is also a trend now to wear contrasting trousers to match the coat colour. Bandhgala quickly became a popular formal and semi-formal uniform across Rajasthan and eventually throughout India.[53]


Garba dancers, Ahmedabad. On the left, a male dancer in a Gujarati Angarakha

The term angarkha is derived from the Sanskrit word Aṅgarakṣaka, which means protection of the body.[54] The angarkha was worn in various parts of the Indian Subcontinent, but while the basic cut remained the same, styles and lengths varied from region to region. Angarakha is a traditional upper garment worn in the Indian Subcontinent which overlaps and is tied to the left or right shoulder. Historically, the Angrakha was a court outfit that a person could wrap around himself, offering flexible ease with the knots and ties appropriate for wearing in the various principalities of ancient India.[55]


The jama is a long coat that was popular during the Mughal period. There are many types of jama costumes which were worn in various regions of South Asia, the use of which began to wane by the end of the 19th century A.D.[56] However, men in parts of Kutch still wear the jama also known as the angarkha[57] which has an asymmetric opening with the skirt flaring out to around the hips.[58] However, some styles fall to below the knees.


The Indian turban or the pagri is worn in many regions in the country, incorporating various styles and designs depending on the place. Other types of headgear such as the Taqiyah and Gandhi cap are worn by different communities within the country to signify a common ideology or interest.


Sikh man and women wearing Turban

The Dastar, also known as a pagri, is a turban worn by the Sikh community of India. Is a symbol of faith representing values such as valour, honour and spirituality among others. It is worn to protect the Sikh’s long, uncut hair, the Kesh which is one of the Five Ks of Sikhism.[59] Over the years, the dastar has evolved into different styles pertaining to the various sects of Sikhism such as the Nihang and the Namdhari.[60]


Pheta is the Marathi name for turbans worn in the state of Maharashtra. Its usually worn during traditional ceremonies and occasions. It was a mandatory part of clothing in the past and have evolved into various styles in different regions.[61] The main types are the Puneri Pagadi, Kolhapuri and Mawali pheta.[62]

Mysore Peta[edit]

Traditional Mysore Peta on a bust of M. Visvesvaraya

Originally worn by the kings of Mysore during formal meeting in durbar and in ceremonial processions during festivals, and meeting with foreign dignitaries, the Mysore peta has come to signify the cultural tradition of the Mysore and Kodagu district.[63] The Mysore University replaced the conventional mortarboard used in graduation ceremonies with the traditional peta.[64]

Rajasthani safa[edit]

Turbans in Rajasthan are called pagari or “safa”. They are distinctive in style and colour, and indicate the caste, social class and region of the wearer. In the hot and dry regions, turbans are large and loose. The paggar is traditional in Mewar while the safa is to Marwar.[65] The colour of the pagaris have special importance and so does the pagari itself. In the past, saffron stood for valour and chivalry. A white turban stood for mourning. The exchange of a turban meant undying friendship.[66][67]

Jawaharlal Nehru wearing the Gandhi cap, 1946

Gandhi topi[edit]

The Gandhi cap, a white coloured cap made of khadi was popularised by Mahatma Gandhi during the Indian independence movement. The practice of wearing a Gandhi cap was carried on even after independence and became a symbolic tradition for politicians and social activists. The cap has been worn throughout history in many states such as GujaratMaharashtraUttar Pradesh and West Bengal and is still worn by many people without political significance. In 2013, the cap regained its political symbolism through the Aam Aadmi Party, which flaunted Gandhi caps with “I am a Common Man” written over it. This was partly influenced by the “I Am Anna” caps used during Anna Hazare‘s Lokpal movement. During the 2013 Delhi Legislative Assembly election, these caps led to a scuffle between Aam Aadmi Party and Congress workers, based on the reasoning that Gandhi caps were being used for political benefits.[68]

The Kashmir shawl[edit]

One of India’s most famous exports was the Kashmir shawl, distinctive for its Kashmiri weave, and traditionally made of shahtoosh or pashmina wool. Valued for its warmth, lightweight, and characteristic buta design, the Kashmir shawl was originally used by Mughal royalty and nobility. In the late 18th century, it arrived in Europe, where its use by Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and Empress Joséphine of France popularised it as a symbol of exotic luxury and status. It became a toponym for the Kashmir region itself (as cashmere), inspiring mass-produced imitation industries in Europe, and popularising the buta, today known as the Paisley motif. Today, it continues to be a symbol of luxury in the Western world, commonly used as a gift to visiting dignitaries and used by public figures.

Contemporary clothing[edit]

During the 1960s and 1970s, at the same time as Western fashion was absorbing elements of Indian dress, Indian fashion also began to actively absorb elements of Western dress.[69][70] Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Western designers enthusiastically incorporated traditional Indian crafts, textiles and techniques in their work at the same time as Indian designers allowed the West to influence their work.[69][70] By the turn of the 21st century, both Western and Indian clothing had intermingled creating a unique style of clothing for the typical urban Indian population. Women started wearing more comfortable clothing and exposure to international fashion led to a fusion of western and Indian styles of clothing.[69][70] Following the economic liberalisation, more jobs opened up, and created a demand for formal wear. While women have the choice to wear either Western or traditional dress to work,[71] most Indian multinational companies insist that male employees wear Western dress.

Women’s clothing in India nowadays consists of both formal and casual wear such as gowns, pants, shirts, and tops. Traditional Indian clothing such as the kurti have been combined with jeans to form part of casual attire.[70] Fashion designers in India have blended several elements of Indian traditional designs into conventional western wear to create a unique style of contemporary Indian fashion.[69][70]