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A Brief History of Indian Dresses

The beautiful, colorful Indian clothing that we are familiar with today is rooted in a deep, intriguing history. Dating back to ancient civilization, the evolution of Indian dresses was heavily influenced by culture, geography, climate, and history.

While we admire Indian garments today for their beauty, Indian dresses have had a long journey since their original creation. From 2500 BC to now, Indian dresses have adapted to withstand the test of time as a symbol of Indian culture. Continue reading to discover the rich history of Indian dresses and how they have evolved overtime.

Indus Valley Civilization Era

Indian dresses can date back to as early as 2500 BCE during the Indus Valley Civilization. Most of what is known about the fashion of this time became evident through the discovery of ancient statues.  It was found that people were growing, spinning, and dying cotton with advanced methods, some of which are still used today.

Statues depict men and women wearing lengths of fabric draped around the body, which resemble many modern Indian clothing such as sarees, dhoti, chola. There is also evidence that women often had their chests bare. In addition, they wore several forms of jewelry, such as earrings, necklaces, and bracelets.

Vedic Period

During the Vedic period (1500 to 500 BCE), single pieces of unstitched cloth were worn. However, despite the fact that stitching was already invented, in this time period the clothing was tethered rather than stitched. Women also added embellishments to the cloth, such as shining threads of gold and silver.

There were two notable fashion items worn during this time period that were likely due to the warm climate. First, the antariya, which resembled a loin cloth either worn around the waist or between the legs and tucked in the back. The second item, a uttariya, was cloth worn either across the shoulder or back and set in place with a belt. It’s also interesting to note that, while civilians wore simple, home-grown cloth, the wealthy wore imported silk.

Post-Vedic Dynasty Era

As dynasties were established, the way people dressed became influenced by outside cultures. For example, tunics were introduced from the Greek and various ways to drape clothing were introduced by the Romans.

Some people argue that the saree was first introduced during this period. In addition, stitched clothing became more prevalent and people covered their chests as blouses were introduced. Women wore various colors to show their feelings and personalities. For example, in mourning, it was tradition for women to wear all white.

As trade and textiles were introduced, more fabrics became available which had a large impact on the way people dressed. Many prints that are still common today were worn in this era, such as florals and stripes. As the beauty of the dress developed, it became increasingly interesting to other countries. Royalty adapted the attire to show their class and wealth, using the highest quality materials and embellishments, as well as accessorizing with fine jewels and gems.

British Era

Growingly interested in the textiles in India, Europeans made their way to the country. Fashion in India was then merged with British clothing. While the saree was and would remain popular, clothing such as pants, jackets, suits, gowns, and skirts were incorporated more into the style.

Traditional embroidery was reserved for ceremonies, while people wore more common attire for daily wear. During India’s fight for independence, Khadi was introduced as a way for Indians to become more self-sufficient and lessen their dependence on British goods. The hand-woven material was used to make anything from suits to sarees and remains an important symbol for this time period.

Post-British period (1940s-1980s)

Overtime, worldly fashion trends influenced the evolution of Indian clothing. New materials that were popular at the time, such as chiffon and denim, replaced traditional fabrics like Khadi and cotton. In addition, while some aspects of traditional Indian clothing remained, such as the saree, many classic clothing items were replaced by pants and t-shirts.

As this was also a time where many more women’s rights were introduced, the way women dressed shifted from being more conservative and traditional to bold and modern.

Bollywood and modern Indian fashion

Another shift in Indian fashion came with the rise of the entertainment industry. Gorgeous actresses seen in extravagant Indian attire became a symbol for fashion, and many people were inspired by the looks created by Bollywood.

As the film industry still inspires looks today, as well as international fashion trends, Indian dresses are evolving with each decade. However, sarees and other staple wardrobe pieces remain constant, which gives a sense of tradition in the modern world. While it is unlikely that Indian fashion will stop evolving, the fashion will never lose its cultural roots and unique history.


By discovering a brief history of Indian dresses, you can see that the way people dressed evolved overtime from cultural shifts and outside influence. Despite the changes, Indian fashion remains iconic in the modern day and shows off a rich culture. One thing is certain – the vibrant patterns and beautiful traditions will remain a key symbol for India for years to come.

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