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The Effect of British Raj on Indian Costume

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Toolika Gupta

The British entered India as traders, but they stayed back as rulers and ruled the country for almost 200 years. They came with their own cultural values and identity, very British clothing and fashion statements, leaving the Indians admiring the BURRA SAHIBS and the MEMSAHIBS. The average Indian wanted to look special and thus wanted to copy their styles.This research focuses on how the British Raj brought about a change in the costumes of contemporary India. How were the British costumes Indianised? Were they accepted by the Indians, or was the change of costume thrust upon them? How did the words “Petticoat” and “blouse” become a part of the Indian languages and of the Indian costume, the “Sari”? How did the Dhoti-Kurta clad common man change to a Shirt Trouser sporting one? Just as the “babus” became a part of Indian culture, so did their dress and dressing sensibility.

“English was not the first foreign tongue to be imposed on India as the language of the government.” (Watson, 1979). Similarly English Costumes were not the first foreign costumes to be imposed and adopted by Indians. Before the British it was the Persian influence in Fashion and Persian was the official language.

Fashion is a representation of cultural identity. The changes in the socio political scenario of the country brought about a marked change in their costumes. A look at the paintings of the early years of the Raj show that the Indian kings loved to adorn the western attire, where as the commoners and Brahmins considered it outrageous to begin with.

“Fashion is architecture. It is a matter of proportions”, said Coco Chanel, (Sievewright, 2007). So in keeping with the zeitgeist once the buildings of the city were being constructed in the imperial style, so were the garbs of men and women. It was fashionable to “talk English and walk English”.

“From Victorian times, as transport was fast, papers, periodicals and novels from England were available in India and they dominated the life of womenfolk. Fashions of London and Paris were also reaching fast.”(Dr. Murthy K.L., 2001).

The textiles being manufactured in India were also anglicized, this can be seen by the drastic change in the motifs from Lotuses to Tulips, and the style of depiction very Victorian. “By the beginning of the Eighteenth Century most of the flowering trees are displaying exuberant Baroque Curves.” (Irwin J and Brett K.B., 1970).


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This Work, The Effect of British Raj on Indian Costume, by zbeck is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported license.