History of Indian Ethnic Wear

History of Indian Ethnic Wear


India is a land of traditions with a rich cultural heritage. Each culture has its own set of traditional outfits. Indian traditional wear also finds its roots in countries’ centuries-old culture. The Indian fashion saw its first rise in the 1980s supported by few designers. However, with the economic boom and exposure to global fashion, Indian fashion saw a rise in the 1990s. Now the Indian fashion industry has strongly established itself. Indian fashion designers have made their mark in the industry with ‘Indian Couture Weeks’ showcasing the latest trends in all kinds of Indian ethnic wear along with wedding lehengas, sarees in traditional weaves, and unique draping styles, a trendy and elegant range of salwar suits, etc.


Lehenga became popular as attire in the 10th century. The original form of lehenga was stitched from cotton fabric however with the arrival of Mughals in India, it evolved through fine craftsmanship using royal fabrics and rich embroideries.

Lehenga has undergone transitions with cultural influences affecting the styling and silhouette. Traditional styles of lehengas are three-piece outfits comprising of a long skirt, blouse and dupatta.

With the changing global trends, plenty of different silhouettes are now available in lehengas. Coordinated sets are the latest trend in women’s ethnic wear with traditional lehenga-blouse taking a form of modern 2 attire; a long skirt and a crop top. The same can also be coordinated with a dupatta. This is a preferred style nowadays which can be easily carried out as occasion wear and looks trendy.

Lehenga style Saree is also a new trend and quite popular nowadays. It comprises of merging lehenga and saree silhouette into one, with saree drapes and pleats resembling the skirt of lehenga and dupatta draped as pallu of saree.

The silhouette of lehenga has also undergone variations like A-line, straight cut, Fish cut, or mermaid cut silhouettes. While traditional lehengas used to be stitched in cotton or silk, lehengas are now stitched from rayon, satin, velvet, crepe, and other fancy fabrics.

Lehengas are usually worn during special occasions like weddings, festivals, or parties. For winters, lehengas with heavier fabrics like silk, velvet or brocade can be worn whereas for summers, lighter fabric-based lehengas like silk and crepe, georgette can be worn.



Kantha Pure Linen Saree
Kantha Pure Linen Saree


The origin of the saree dates back to the Indus valley civilization and is considered one of the oldest forms of garment across the world.

Saree can be defined as an unstitched single piece of garment varying in length from four-and-a-half to eight meters. It is draped around the lower part of the body, gathered into pleats in front and the other end draped as a pallu over the shoulders. Even lehengas are considered to have their roots in this attire. There exist more than 80 variations of draping a saree from pleatless Odia and Bengali styles, the Kodagu style, the Malayali style, and the classical style. The saree comes in a variety of fabrics ranging from cotton, silk, Kanchipuram, Banarsi, etc. These also come with a variety of hand embroidery and prints – Kantha, chicken work, shisha, tie and dye, etc to name a few. It is one of the leading attire on the ramp during fashion shows, in Bollywood, and equally famous among working and non-working class.

history of indian ethnic wear

Salwar kameez

The salwar kameez is believed to have originated in the Mughal era and has strong Persian influence. The outfit consists of loose pants (salwar), tunic (kameez), and paired with dupatta. One of the most popular styles of salwar kameez is Anarkali suits. It is characterized by long flared kurta, with 6-8 Kalis flaring from the waistline, either ankle length or floor length. It usually has a lot of rich embroidery work giving it the elegant look.

The outfit can be made from a variety of fabrics like cotton, silk, velvet, georgette, chiffon, rayon, etc. The garment comes in a variety of silhouettes with prints or embroidery that creates different looks.

Various styles and forms can be seen in salwar kameez now. The outfit is preferred by both urban and rural women and is considered the most comfortable garment to wear. It can be worn as casual, formal, or party wear.


Sherwani is the most popular attire for Indian men especially for weddings and during family functions. The origin of Sherwani can be traced back to the Mughal era. It was the dress code of Turkish and Persian nobles and later on evolved as the traditional dress for the common man.

It can be defined as a long coat, buttoned up to the collar, and lengthwise it is usually below the knee. It is teamed up with kurta and salwar or churidar pyjama. The fitting is of utmost importance, it fits close to the body thus giving the elegant look.

Nowadays, sherwani comes in a variety of styles and designs. The emergence of Indian fashion designers and the influence of Bollywood movies has resulted in various versions of sherwani with a variety of fabric, colors, and silhouettes. Modern sherwanis are often teamed up with dhotis, patiyalas, or fitted trousers.

indian traditional wear

Nehru Jacket

The origin of the Nehru jacket dates back to the pre-independence era. At that time, it was popularly known as ‘Band gale ka coat’ or ‘Achkan- a coat-like garment worn during high-end ceremonies by the nobilities’ in India. The Nehru jacket is named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. It is a less formal alternative to the sherwani and is an important part of the Indian man’s wardrobe.

The jacket has a straight fit hip-length coat with a mandarin collar and button in the center. This gives it a formal yet elegant look. Initially, these jackets were usually made from khadi fabric. Owing to changing fashion trends, nowadays fabrics like linen, silk, cotton blends, velvet, etc are also used. These jackets showcase different designs and patterns. They are often embroidered in shimmering threads of gold, silver, copper and are popular as festive or wedding wear.

With ever-increasing changing fashion, its history is difficult to encompass in one article. With the influence of global fashion, even Indian fashion is becoming more versatile. However, Indian ethnic wear is becoming stronger than ever with lots of emphasis on the revival of local crafts and handlooms. These attires carry our traditional culture and will continue to be an important part of our wardrobes.

Credit: www. samyakk.com

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