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Traditional Clothes


The India of the eighties finds her woman earthy, vibrant and colourful. The void that existed in the Indian fashion scene has now been filled with the most colourful traditions which were always a part of India but had got lost under the onslaught of polyesters and chiffons from the east.

The seventies were faced with a vacuum. The youth, harbingers of fashion, especially the college students suddenly found that they had to look to the west for inspiration as the Indian market had nothing to offer them. Fashion was not a highly developed industry in India as it was in Europe. We had to depend on our tailors to give us something interesting to wear. Most tailors being unimaginative could not give us what we were looking for – something different, something exciting. The styles which were in fashion before independence were still going strong. There were little variations here and there but the basic style remained the same. Staid salwar kameezes or kutas with churidars and the saree of course which never goes out of fashion, dominated the scene.

Fed up with these unimaginative styles and eager to make the best of her new-hound liberation the Indian woman went back to her roots, to the villages and brought back with her a range of ideas which could be experimented with and materialized into beautiful traditional garments. The magic, she and the rest of the country discovered, lay in the fabrics and colours.

The country belles with their free and uninhibited lifestyle inspired their counterparts in the city. The heavy mirror-work ghagras (an ankle length gathered skirt made of more than six yards of cloth) with khanijri (backless longish blouse with half sleeves tied at the back with strings) and odhni (long scarf) of vivid colours had for centuries added life to the barren landscape of Gujarat and Rajasthan, have now found a new meaning in the cities. The Kantha work from Bengal, ikat from Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, chickankari from Lucknow, old embroidery like zarodozi and of course the khadi fabric, revived by Mahatma Gandhi during the days of pre-independence and worn only by the patriots and freedom fighters, have suddenly found a new lease of life.

Jaya Jaitley, who has been closely associated with this revival scene for 11 years, recalls the early days. She was then working for Gujarat was undergoing a drought. Instead of giving the villagers alternate means of employment the government decided to buy the quilts and garments they had once made but had subsequently stopped due to the lack of a market. These were sold in Delhi. Most of the pieces were old and worn out but the response was promising. Jaya then went to the villages to locate these craftsmen, to place orders and help revive the dying crafts of the state. Jaya recalls how when she was touring the villages she saw a woman wearing a bandhini odhni, she ran after the woman to find out who made these odhnis. Today these odhnis are a rage.

Soon the other states caught on to the idea. The purpose was to revive the ancient skills and create an interest in the Indian culture.

This effort culminated in the Visvakarma festival in 1982 which was an attempt to discover whether our textile heritage was still alive. To find the weavers and printers who had once upon a time been an integral part of the village economy. Visvakarma was an experiment in design development throughout the country. Visvakarma II in 1985 saw the first sample of a tanchoi fabric (handspun in Benaras) emerge with 80 clearly different design plots on the same fabric. A little known jamdani from Andhra Pradesh called upada jamdani was revived after a number of years with highly stylized patterns of birds and water vessels.

Another interesting thing was a zari warp with silk ikat weft on a 72 inches loom which had not been attempted before. This was later converted into sarees. The weaver producers in Puttapaka village in Andhra Pradesh had refused to accept its viability. But once the spread was ready they started interpreting cotton design with zari warp.

For the first time these fabrics were used not only to make sarees but also to make garments. India is today showing the world its rich traditions. The western world can now see what the human hand can do to fabrics. Each weave is different from the other and hence every garment made of hand woven fabric is unique. This is where the beauty lies.

The modernity of the fabrics is dependant upon the way they are used. While the weavers are experimenting with designs the fashion designers are busy experimenting with styles. The regional styles are being revived now. The kurtas which were out in only one style can now be seen in a number of styles. The kalidar kurtas, angarkhas, chuga style, abas and the jama style. The blend of hand woven fabric and traditional styles has produced a most exciting range of garments for the Indian woman’s wardrobe.

Not only fabrics but also embroidery like chikankari, zardozi and kantha work is being experimented upon. The zardozi work that was earlier being done only with gold or silver threads on silk is now being embroidered on cotton, with colourful threads. A kurta of a pastel shade comes alive with zardozi work on it or an ordinary kalidar kurta with kantha work looks very eye-catching. Embroidered salwars which were worn by the children in Gujarat are now being worn by adults. When worn with a well cut kurta it looks very elegant. The scope is unlimited.

Ghaghras are back in fashion with an equally exciting range. It is no more just mirror work. You can have mulmul ghaghras with leheria or bandhini work or cotton chintz for casual wear. For evening wear you have a wide variety of silks – bhagalpuri, moga pure silk with zardozi (zardozi work is also being done on chiffon). Raw silk patola work ghagras can be worn with blouses in pastel shades and bright odhnis to give the dress a striking look. The mix and match is endless. There has been very little change in the saree. It is complete in itself and always had a lot of variety. The saree blouses are more interesting now.

Fashion designers all over the country are busy trying out the different permutations and combinations in styles, colours and fabrics. The boutiques are doing a commendable job in marketing these products and the women are more ready to try out new fashions today than they were a decade ago. The idea behind reviving the regional crafts was to keep these crafts alive and provide employment to the craftsmen. Both these purposes are being served to a certain extent by the boutiques and a trend has been set in fashion. Some of the boutiques are producing authentic stuff and have employed craftsmen from the villages. The other outlets are the government emporias which sell authentic material and at very reasonable prices. The boutiques on the other hand are much more expensive but classy and the range is wider.

Fashion today is a flourishing industry in India. Entrepreneurs and businessmen alike have realized its potential. Experiments are on and one can look forward to a still more exciting range of clothes in one’s wardrobe.