Modern Indian Fashion: Before Independence

The pre-independence era was characterised by a wide range of Indian fashion and trends that were influenced by European styles, and these styles evolved over time. Then came the impetus from significant occasions that prepared the road for our freedom and had a significant influence on the timeline of fashion. And with Indian fashionistas sweeping the globe, Indian fashion is now on par with that of the rest of the world.

Fashion for Royals

India had the ability to produce fashion icons before it became independent; Maharani Gayatri Devi designed one of them. The royal wardrobe included dark glasses, French chiffon sarees in pastel shades like ivory, light pink, and Dutch blue, as well as pearl and satin blouse jewelry. The men of the royal family wore tunics and jackets with heavy embroidery, tiered necklaces of pearls and stones, and jewel-studded turbans.

Fashion for the Common People

Because they lacked the resources and status to do so, the average man and woman were far from wearing any clothing with a Western influence. The men could be seen sporting a vest-like top, a piece of cloth wrapped around their heads, and a piece of cloth called a dhoti or lungi that was tied at the waist. On the other hand, depending on which region of India we are referring to, the women wore sarees and blouses, lehenga cholis, or skirt and blouse pairs. Additionally, it was discovered that both men and women wore metal jewellery, such as bracelets or earrings.

Blouses and Petticoats

Even while cholis and lehengas existed along with other stitched items in the pre-independence era, blouses and petticoats were formerly an unknown concept. The saree, a white-colored, yards-long drape worn by a substantial portion of women, was essential for coping with the hot and muggy weather. The British arrival was greeted with an upward grin at the saree’s lack of layers. Because they considered it impolite to wear it without a blouse or petticoat, the ruling class gave it European characteristics.

Attire for Men

Before independence, the traditional and modest attire for Indian males was the dhoti-kurta. Many men adopted the shirt-trouser styles worn by the Sahibs due to broad classifications and a sizable population who wore the same clothing. The British clothing code was adored by Indian Kings and some commoners alike. The others believed that dressing in a suit and tie and wearing shirts would make them more popular and indicate literacy because clothes had come to represent one’s place in society. Shirts and trousers had become so ingrained in Indian clothing by the time the British left that they no longer seemed exotic. Bollywood had a significant role in blending western elements into Indian design. They became well-known because of the movies, but that doesn’t mean Indian guys have forgotten how to dress modestly. They continued to be portrayed wearing predominantly white kurtas and dhotis.

The pre-independence Fabric: Khadi

India nowadays is being urged by the government and activists to use locally produced goods in every industry, just as in the pre-independence era. For Indians, this will create a lot of new chances. Additionally, there won’t be as much need to complete tasks or hunt for work elsewhere. We must make every effort to abide by the definition of “self-sufficient” as much as possible. But if we go back to the time of the Raj, we’ll notice a movement that Gandhiji was in charge of. It further influenced the development of Indian fashion history and served a far more significant purpose. The movement employed clothes as a tool to communicate with both colonisers and colonised people. In every manner, Gandhi’s Khadi-Swaraj campaign is noteworthy.

Parda System

Before independence, Hindu and Muslim groups in India have used the Purda or Parda system for centuries. It is essentially a social and religious practise that divides the sexes (women and men). This practise limits women’s personal freedoms and segregates them. It is also thought to be a sign of respect and a way to hide female body parts. It is known as Purdah in the Hindu community and Burqa, Naqab, or Hijab in the Muslim community. For married Hindu women, it is especially crucial to wear a purdah, a veil, or a ghunghat in front of older males or strangers. The pallu of the saree, which is wrapped over the head to completely enclose the face, contains the pardah. The practise is still quite common among Muslims worldwide and is a significant aspect of their faith. Typically, women cover their entire body from head to toe with a black burqa that has mesh across the eyes. It is thought to safeguard the women’s honour. In front of adult males or outsiders, Muslim women typically wear the hijaab, another type of veil that covers the head and chest.


The impact of pre-independence time on Indian fashion history is undeniable. With a long history, Indian fashion is a force to be reckoned with today. Our handwoven textiles, stunning sarees, fashionable clothing, and elaborate embroidery have made the Indian fashion scene incredibly diverse. Indian textiles are even more colourful and enticing due to the regional diversity in weaving, embroidery, and clothing styles. The fashion industry as we know it now would not exist without the contributions of Indian designers! With a focus on eco-friendly and sustainable fashion, the nation’s fashion sector is continually developing and emerging. The history of fashion is something that is challenging to fit into a single box because it is constantly changing and evolving. Our decisions are and will continue to be influenced by what is popular and in style, but we can proudly say that India has the most vibrant and colourful range of fashion that has endured since the country’s inception.