A Look At Our Desi Clothes, Videshi Influence & the Female Couture

Why does upholding our tradition and culture mean criticising only women's clothes? Let's us understand how history and politics, not culture, influenced clothing.

“We must preserve our culture” has to be one of the most abused statements that we oft hear in today’s times.

The self-proclaimed guardians of culture use this more frequently than an average person bats his/her eyelid.

Of course, any sensible soul in India takes this statement with a pinch of caution because along with other things, protectors of tradition are almost always keenly involved with the idea of couture that a lady in Indian context should adopt.

Truths about culture

While technically there is nothing wrong with the idea of preservation or setting a moral code of dressing, there are two crucial factors that conservers forget to take into account while unleashing their views:

  • that culture is an ever-evolving process. It is not static. It is dynamic and fluid; its symbolic codes and intangible processes adapts and changes at its own pace with the needs of time
  • that dress codes must be uniformly applied to all genders and must be contextual to the time one is dealing with

Restrictions imposed on women in the name of culture

Instead, what we have is a mouthful of observation that sounds something like: women have ditched all their inhibitions; they have got into a frenzy of flesh show! How disgraceful! Our brethren in certain parts of the world are doing a delightful job by keeping their women under wraps and veils and any slip from that diktat only leads to loss of life. So naturally of course we should follow their footsteps and set an example. After all, a society not being protective of its woman-kind is no society at all. After all, as we all know (it’s elementary, my dear Watson) that the rising cases of crime in India– rape, murder, adultery, political faux pas, psychological enticement- is the result of feminine couture (and at times chowmein as well).

Women are judged on their ‘Indianness’

Thus, even if a woman is splashing waves in the majestic galaxy, her accomplishments must be judged on the basis of the Indianness of her external appearance. Given the context, let us just consider the options that women (in India) have to save and safeguard their culture as well as their own being.


The ultimate Indian dress for women! It is the benchmark for modesty, morality, respect, femininity, and everything that makes an Indian woman decent, respectable, and beautiful. Why?  Because it covers the lady from top to toe. Wonderful!  Let us take a tiny detour, hop into the time machine, and travel a few centuries back. The pious Indian women were devoid of blouse and petticoat! Blasphemous but true. They just warped around themselves some exotic fabrics called saree.  The bad white colonisers- the Britishers- ‘gifted’ the Indian women petticoat and blouse, thereby ‘civilising’ the Indian women. So it’s only with the emergence of the Brits that the licentious women from the ‘land of kamasutra’ finally got a taste of divinity through righteousness. Just imagine what would have happened to our immodest women if ‘goras’ had never enslaved us!

Never miss real stories from India's women.

Register Now

Salwar Kameez

This is the next best modest clothing that women in India opt for. It appropriately covers a lady from head to feet. It is also accompanied by a dupatta which is the extra protective layer to shield a lady’s bosom, calling for less attention. But another round of time travel will confirm that when the Mughals arrived in India they brought with them their culture of divided garments- salwar kameez / anarkalis / sarara and similar outfits (though identified by other names back then). Since then, salwar-kameez continues to linger in India in all its variations. Ironically, this modest clothing is also a ‘gift’ from a foreign culture.  Unfortunately, for our valiant angels of moral conduct, this one is a true cross-border affair!

Jeans/ Pants & Top/T-shirt

Now this is one is the most bullied of the lot. Worn by a minority few (and before you hit me…I say minority because it is mostly adopted by the elite, ‘progressive’, upwardly mobile generations of India -probably the ‘you’s and ‘I’s who are reading this post.  It is a different story though that jeans were first worn by poor farmers of the West who could not afford to buy clothes at regular frequency. Now, when the upholders of ‘culture’ speak against women wearing such ‘obscene’ clothing (I am not even taking into account the shorts-and-mini-wearing miniscule section of the female population, they are the damned lot) can they be kind enough to explain why they opt to flaunt off their visually unappealing legs to an entire nation sporting ‘borrowed'( read European) clothes themselves? How come their clothes add grace to the Indian culture while similar clothes the girls wear borrowed from the same foreign culture in its modest form bring in disgrace?

Are men’s clothes not part of culture?

While men have conveniently ditched dhoti’s / kurta’s (they are now restricted to very special occasions) women are still struggling with the burden of being the upholder of a culture that has changed a zillion times over the few light years that we have traversed in this ‘land of culture and tradition’.  Peeking into a lady’s flying dress and taking snaps while circulating it in publication is not considered to be obscene or disgusting though taking snaps of a man’s flying dhoti or lungi is not even considered. And how about having a social discourse on how inappropriately men are dressed- fugly paper-thin shorts, low waist jeans revealing unclean undies, and equally horrible butt cracks!

I am not being gender biased. If girls are being damned for wearing ‘revealing’ clothes then men must be taught not to hang around without upper garments (this is the most common phenomenon in most Indian households, men inside the domestic space/nearby areas of the home are invariably devoid of clothes on top, or at best cover themselves with a banyan).

Laws of the land should be equal for all. Our constitution offers freedom of expression within ‘reasonable restrictions’. So, if restriction is imposed on one gender, then similar restrictions should be imposed on others.

Indian culture is beautiful. Its veracity lies in its ability to adapt and adopt.  Let us not ruin it because a few sycophants cannot appreciate its beauty.

Image Source: Unsplash

Liked this post?

Join the 100000 women at Women's Web who get our weekly mailer and never miss out on our events, contests & best reads - you can also start sharing your own ideas and experiences with thousands of other women here!


About the Author

Dr. Khusi Pattanayak

Dr. Khusi Pattanayak was expecting a letter from Hogwarts but never received one. So, she decided to be the woman of letters and earned a PhD in English Literature. She has 13+ years of professional read more...

2 Posts | 491 Views

Stay updated with our Weekly Newsletter or Daily Summary - or both!

All Categories