The 1960s Post


1960sblouse260sSaira-BanuSleeveless blouses and kameez, the just got up and squeezed into my sari/kameez look, mile high hair and dramatic eyes.  A bit of a 50s hangover until the decade is it’s own self. Documenting the 60s on tumblr!

Don’t forget to check out Air india snippets. Clearly the 60s loved the Maharajah, the Maharajah loved the 60s.

Image 2 via ebay.

On Clothes

imageedit_7_2197255942imageedit_9_9257966257imageedit_11_5206617768Now and then i think of the underlying philosophy of clothes and how markedly this differs from country to country but haven’t sat down to pen a deeper piece.  So I have kind of relied on extracts as preliminary thoughts. It’s not a new thought, everywhere the evolution of clothes is always about how to integrate the new without compromising a fundamental essence particular to the land. Which in turn is so often shaped by geography and culture. The East vs West debate re clothing is also not new e.g. drape vs structure, timeless vs transitory, group vs individualistic with one preferred over the other depending upon the writer.

1. Fanny Parkes lived in India for a long time and her travel book (1850) is quite lively in it’s description of the country.  Parkes was a bit of an Indophile, not uncommon in pre colonial India.  She starts off a bit of a skeptic at the beginning of her stay in India but by the end is fairly rapturous. She was also a prodigious traveller, it wouldn’t be surprising if she ditched English clothing for Indian given the climate of North India. Re the extract while India certainly changed Parkes’ perception on style and taste, the debate between classical Western drapery (seen as more natural etc.) and the excesses of 19th century fashion I think was also much debated in her time.

2. Wu Tingfang wrote a book on his American experiences (1914) which contrasts Chinese and American mores, sometimes in a humorous vein. The extract is from a chapter on American costumes, in it the author discusses both aesthetics and comfort and contrasts it with the Chinese ideal. Wu Tingfang playfully ends his chapter by suggesting that everyone adopt Chinese clothing but of course thus far the modern age has more often than not gone the other way.  Though as this blog shows, not always:)

3. Anne Hollander wrote extensively on art and dress. The extract is from Sex and Suits which posits that innovations in men’s clothing post Beau Brummell became the template for 20th century fashions for women. It also discusses the fashioning of fashion (so to speak!) and visual representation in the West making it compelling to the rest of the world (the clothing norms of the rest of the world she sees as more fixed and pre modern I think).  The book roams far and wide and can be rambling but it does have interesting insights into how the “Great Renunciation” i.e. the departure from finery and into clean modern lines by Western men was to become the norm for both men and women in our times.

Personal Experience: I had barely ever worn Western clothing until I went to Australia.  My first encounter with wearing it on a daily basis was not dissimilar to Wu Tingfang’s. I found it clumsy,  restrictive, often weather inappropriate and requiring far more time and effort to co-ordinate than Indian clothing. It took me awhile to “get it” so to speak.

The SE Asia/East Asia Post

South-East Asia/East Asia

1. Thailand (1905) 2. Cambodia (1928) 3. Laos (1930) 4. Bali (1935) 5. Malaysia (Peranakan) 1930s 6. Indonesia (1940) 7. Vietnam (1930) 8. China (1930s) 9. Korea 10. Japan (1930s).

I have spent a fair bit of time in South-East Asia over the past year and got a little curious about the region’s (and East Asia’s) clothing history.  As in India, almost all the countries of the region went though a process of evolving a national dress (also X).  As in India there are regional variations.

While by no means definitive, a look at some of the clothing for women in the region in the period 1920s-1940s (bar pic 1 which is 1900s in order to show what I think is the chang kben – it seems to have a kachcham aka the tying of the cloth between the legs as in the dhoti).

Roughly a sheath like or tubular lower garment is common in SE Asia. In Laos and Thailand this is the sinh.  Additionally in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia a dhoti like garment (sampot or chang kben) was in use.The upper cloth which can cover the breasts and also the shoulders is common and generally an elaborate weave or ikat.

In Malaysia and Indonesia the lower garment is the sarung, The addition of a blouse is common and widespread aka the kebaya (X). In Malaysia it is more commonly known as the baju-kurung (X). While woven cloth and of course ikat is common you see a lot of batik. 1885 picture here. The kebaya encim of the Nyonya are also derived from this (X).

I didn’t have space (tumblr!) to put in the Philippines which had a number of Spanish and American influences on the native costume but there are some examples here of the baro’t saya (the saya being similar to the sarung) -the butterfly sleeves are very characteristic of the costume (X, X).

The hanfu is generally claimed as the origin of clothing styles in East Asia. While many of the clothing styles in the region are said to derive from the crossed collar style of the hanfu, personally I think that even with borrowings clothing tends to be quite distinct and specific and influenced by geography and culture.

In Vietnam the ao dai was common. There is actually an excellent chart on Vietnam’s historical clothing available. Like in Korea and Japan, there are Chinese influences on the clothing.

The qipao/cheongsam is seen as distinctly Chinese in origin. It is in fact a Manchu garment. Early versions were closer to the changshan (per Eileen Chang the changhsan was adapted by educated women) before becoming the very fitted version we are more familiar with. In fact the loose version was more commonly used in daily life. There are plenty of resources on  traditional Chinese clothing, largely on the qipao in the 20th century (X, X, X).

I think the costumes of Mongolia at this time also had distinct Manchu influences.

The hanbok has a jacket (jeogori) and a skirt (chima). The way colours are combined is quite specific for the hanbok while the jeogori underwent a number of variations with the short bodice more common in the early 20th century. Because of the length variations possible with the chima, the reformed shortened hanbok was quite popular in early 20th century Korea (X).

The kimono (and yukata) is again well known and extensively documented. In the 30s the drape of the garment seems to have remained unchanged with modifications in fabric and print. In the pic here (No 10) it is worn with a haori.  In fact western outerwear like jackets and coats could be easily worn with most SE/East Asian clothing.

As far as I can see it is only the sarung-kebaya and the baju-kurung (and perhaps the summer yukata, X) that remain in everyday use, the rest appear to be worn more for special occasions.

My favourite of the costumes is the hanbok but truth is each has its special history and charm and there has always been a good bit of thought behind the evolution of each, especially in the early 20th century. Its been great to be able to see them on the streets and in the museums.

Additional Links: X, X, X, X, X, X, X

Personal Notes

Just a note. I don’t make any money from my tumblr/wordpress site – or leverage it in any way – and that’s fine by me. I enjoy doing it and if people learn something from it and go off and do their own projects I am cool with it.  Long time readers will also be aware that I am meticulous about crediting all source material (unless I have lost it though I do my best not to).  However please do credit any material that you use from here that relies on more than the credited image! Some of the images and 100% of the written material is mine.  Plus some of the posts are extremely difficult to do and require a lot of research.  The ongoing one on each decade for e.g. I write from scratch because there is literally very little mapping fashions in each decade. I use about 30-40% of my material for posts (because else it would get too boring and obsessive) so well it requires a lot sifting, pruning aka loads of work! And as a scientist, I can say that all the pleasure is in writing a paper and being cited :-) So please do cite the blog if you use any material!

Modern Times


I love all those illustrations back in the day (largely the 20s) that have men terrified of the forthcoming emancipation of women.  More often than not, the women in the illustrations look so nonchalant and cool. Pic 1 from Korea possibly 1920s; Pic 2 from India (Woman’s Revolt, 1919) and Pic 3 from China, also possibly 1920s, titled “Future Position of Woman”.
It’s kind of interesting that unlike pic 1 and 3 which boast modern girl fashions, in pic 2 the woman is not in the modern sari. There is no blouse worn (the norm by this time for educated women).  Probably the wear at home outfit-best to be comfortable when the man of the house is serving tea:)

The 1950s in India

The 1950s was the first decade of India as an independent, sovereign country.  After the excitement of the 30s and 40s, it is a decade in which the excitement lies in nation-building.  This was a decade of nationalisation in which a number of institutions and projects (e.g. State Bank of India (1955), Bhakra Dam (1955), HMT (1953)) were initiated and the making of a national identity was seriously underway. A browse though the photodivision site will indicate many visits by foreign dignitaries – Khrushchev, Eisenhower, Zhou-enlaiChe, Jesse Owens all visited. The decade marked the beginning of the Republic Day parade intended to showcase India’s varied and differing cultures as well as culture as a national project, e.g. the Lalit Kala Academy came into existence in 1954.

India had its first general elections in 1951/52. It set in motion a one-party rule at the centre that only changed in 1977.

1951 onwards we had Five Year Plans, based on the then Soviet Union’s planning model.

1953 marked the beginning of states based on linguistic considerations with the creation of the then Seemandhra leading to the States Reorganisation Act. By the end of the decade, Bombay State split into two to form Gujarat and Maharashtra.

The Hindu Marriage Act intended to bring about reform was enacted in 1955. Amongst other things it increased the legal age of marriage and introduced inheritance for daughters.

In 1956, Dr. BR Ambedkar along with many of his followers publicly converted to Buddhism.

India was not the only country to free itself from colonialism. The 1955 Bandung Conference brought together several of these countries in Asia and Africa with the intent of economic co-operation and to oppose colonialism.

Independent India got it’s first woman IAS officer in 1951 (X), sadly she now seems to be living in the outhouse of her own home.

In 1959, Arati Saha became the first Indian woman to cross the English Channel [X] [X].


At the end of the 1940s India was dependent on imports for many materials. This didn’t change in some areas but textiles of the non-handloom kind were increasingly made in India. You can see this in clothing of the time, with art silk, rayon, georgette and nylon becoming more readily available.

The arts – and in particular the movies – brought about an “Indian look”. While regional differences remained, what we wore was increasingly similar across states, be it the sari or the salwar kameex. The six yard sari drape we are familiar with kind of became the “Indian look” in this decade including longer more Indian hairstyles, the bindi and the gajra.

Usually I try and include a piece on an actress of the decade. But this decade has a long list of well known actresses who are still remembered, amongst them Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Nargis, Vyjayanthimala, Suchitra Sen, Savithri, Bhanumati, so I will pass. Though Bhanumathi gets a honourable mention as a writer, actress, producer and director which was rather unusual for the decade. This was also a decade of strong roles for women, even when the roles are cast in the “ideal Indian womanhood” mould.

Need to know more? Follow 1950s; sari history. For the rest, this is just a glimpse of the decade and not a definitive history.

Year of photograph: 1956.

Lootera Deconstructed

There is nothing as much of its time as the period film – see successive Jane Austen adaptations for e.g.  I am therefore not terribly fussed about authenticity in period films, though it is always pleasurable if filmmakers do their homework and you get a film that feels truly authentic.

First off the bat, I really liked Lootera.  As you will see, it is a work of love and not a movie that puts its 1950s heroine in a Manish Malhotra sari for the modern audience:). The post is intended as a simple comparison between the way it was in the 50s and the way we wish to perceive it today.  This perception is subjective yet even my aunt – an easily satisfied movie viewer –  felt it wasn’t always 1950s in tone. So I will also try and isolate elements in the movie costuming that could lead to this feeling.

Lootera is set in a specific year, 1953. In which year the West Bengal Estates Acquisition Act was implemented, the effects of which form a crucial part of the film. The heroine, Pakhi (Sonakshi Sinha), is the daughter of a zamindar. Though not explicitly stated in the film, the family is probably orthodox Hindu and not Brahmo (for the contrasting dress of women from the zamindar families and Brahmo women, see for e.g. the characters played by Meena Kumari and Waheeda Rehman in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam. Though of course the film is set in an earlier time). But Pakhi has been to Santiniketan, an institute founded by Tagore, a Brahmo, and is no doubt influenced by it.  The setting is a small town/village in Bengal.  Such specificity in itself makes it a bit hard for the costuming department. In fact I myself take liberty in comparing it with the decade and not the year.

While the male protagonist is possibly from UP/Bihar (Varun Shrivastav, played by Ranveer Singh), the film is also an ode to 1950s Hindi cinema, specifically some of Dev Anand‘s film noir.  Styling for the key male characters therefore derives from the “petty gangster cool” characteristic of Dev Anand’s 1950s films. So there is a little bit of dissonance in this because the costuming for the female characters is not always film inspired.

With that background, first up the plain sari. Which features in Lootera. This was very much around in the 1950s, albeit not always  with a “matching” blouse. Rather, as someone on tumblr earlier noted, they tend to be brocade/art silk and brilliant for contrast (pic 4 comes closest). There is also a single occurrence of the brooch, a staple of Indian period films. It was sort of dying out by the 1950s. Then again it is Manikpur:)

Brocade blouses, closed neck blouses, V neck blouses with patterned neckline borders are all seen in the 1950s and they also feature in Lootera. I like that.

In the above set, a number of saris have gold/zari borders. While very much a trend in the 1920s and 1930s, they are of course seen in every decade after.  And in a number of non-film photographs of the 1950s, many of the handlooms with which we are now familiar appear. It is a quibble particular to me, but the woven Mangalgiri with zari kind of sari that seems to be used in Lootera always seems contemporary Indian urban to me. The 1950s saris tend to be more like this.

I post quite often about the necklines of the 1940s/1950s.  The square neck/sweetheart neckline here  echoes those trends. The yellow sari and blouse is probably the closest to images I routinely see of films of the decade. A definite plus in my book.

Simpler printed blouses were also common in the 50s. In fact in pic 1 below on Devyani (Shirin Guha) paired with a Bengal cotton sari it echoes Suchitra Sen. The film also uses Bengal cotton saris now and then (on Devyani in pic 3, on Sakhi in pic 4).  The printed silk (I am assuming then too a Santiniketan staple) appears. As does a black sari which kind of looks like Kalakshetra saris (pic 6).  I am not sure if it was intentional but it certainly adds an “artist girl of the 50s” touch :)

Of course there is the Occasion = Banarasi brocade! These saris seem to be under a cloud these days what with net saris and the world’s gemstones on it.

On the whole therefore the costumes for the women do in one way or the other evoke the 1950s in India.  If I had to tinker with it, I would change the way blouses and saris are paired. And though Bengal tended to stick to handlooms, I think a few synthetic saris or printed cottons wouldn’t have gone amiss. What looks to us like the 200 ₹ sari now was actually quite coveted in its time (worn here by Madhubala for e.g.). To be fair, the film does use plain synthetic saris.  Also in a minor vein, the open neck and 3/4 sleeve blouse (see below) while around in the 1950s isn’t something I would necessarily use to evoke the decade.

The bindi was actually not common in the 50s for unmarried girls, especially in Bengal and North India. This may seem surprising to us but the tradition of wearing a bindi from girlhood is seen more in South India.  I found the use of the bindi for Pakhi in all the Manikpur scenes a bit jarring but in all fairness I must point out that it was not uncommon amongst Santiniketan students. That tucked in sari pallu should also have been present though:)


Santiniketan (1955)

Similarly as far as I know the nose ring is not common in Bengal. If this is incorrect, please let me know!


There is also the hair. Which of course is hard to get right in period dramas.  Hair in the 50 was styled but in that very “Jabakusum telway (Jabakusum tel=Hair oil with hibiscus extracts). The bun common in this decade is a simplified version of the old Indian coiffeurs. The single thick braid was common, though not in Bengal. For young women, ribbons were common. Often, especially in Bengal, hair was left loose. In fact it wasn’t particularly styled, partly because a cloud of hair is often described in our poetry as attractive.  I think the movie does try to get this right but sometimes you are left thinking coned or not coned. There is also the makeup which tends towards the modern. I suspect the use of powder kind of got popular with this decade. The make up below for e.g. is fairly typical of the 50s:


Also saris tend to be draped far more casually in the 50s. Even though this is the case with Lootera i.e. it is not the modern draped to an inch style, it still looks more formal and less lived in.

As a rough comparison (and very rough indeed given the film is set in a boarding house in Calcutta and the main character is middle class), here is Suchitra Sen in the 1953 Sharey Chuattar (below). A number of elements will be familiar if you have followed the 50s posts. And now I wonder why Pakhi didn’t wear the Bengal sari drape even once! The wedding sari (last pic) as you can see is also quite different.

On to the men! In the 50s suits were common. The trouser was kind of baggy and high waisted; white shirts were common. Shoes tended to be classic or sandals were worn. This photograph, from Linus Pauling‘s 1955 visit, is an e.g. As also of Dev Anand on the sets of Baazi.



However, the film is in fact part homage to Dev Anand’s films of the 1950s which featured conmen who fall in love and reform plots. Plus the actor himself had a constructed urban and debonair persona. The costumes for the conmen is intended to evoke this. If you look at the costuming for the characters of Varun and Devdas in this context, it is fairly accurate. And of course there is the 1950s pomade. Props for the shirt pockets but I am not sure those shoes and the straw boater and the uber layering were quite the go in 1953!

For comparison, Dev Anand in movies like Jaal, CID and Baazi and with his wife, Kalpana Kartik.

KN Singh was very KN Singh. Being KN Singh is fairly easy:)

The movie also had a few nice touches by way of props etc. E.g. the niche with the mirror, a copy of Illustrated Weekly (second pic). And of course vintage car!

To sum up, Lootera is true to the decade (1950s) and time but also departs from it in significant ways for a contemporary audience. In fact the least 1950s part of it is the soundtrack, a given for all Indian movies which seem unable or do not want to to recreate the sound of the decade. But this is not to criticise the movie at all which is well made and has a good amount of attention to detail. The costumes, even when inaccurate, are beautiful to look at. The purpose of the post as I said is to help contrast the actual clothing of the decade with the way it is reimagined in 2013. Long as it is, I hope the post shows this clearly!

PostScript: This took forever. Many thanks to my new music crush, 10cm, for providing a very unlikely sound backdrop. Take it away, Americano and Han River Farewell!