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.

About Anu M

A potted history of Indian clothing and fashion.
This entry was posted in 1850s, 18th century, 1900s, 1990s, 19th century, 20th century, Costume, Culture, fashion, historical costume, History, Philosophy, Vintage, Women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On Clothes

  1. Dear Anu,
    CSMVS is developing a Textile Gallery wherein we are displaying the importance of textiles in our daily life and rituals and ceremonies. We are in urgent need of old photographs of various rituals like Simant or Godh Bharai, naming ceremony of a child, Navjot or Upanayan Sanskar, photos in ghagra-choli or parka-polka and frocks of young girls, wedding pictures of a bride and bridegroom, Mangalagaur, and celebrating other festivals to show variety of textiles and their use.
    Your blog has been a regular reference for us in the past and we would like your participation in our gallery. However, we would like to use your images with proper permissions and acknowledgements. Hence kindly guide us as to how we can make best use of your immense archive.
    We are sure you will participate enthusiastically in this project and help us to give Mumbai and the world a memorable experience of the rich textile tradition of our nation.
    Do send in your pictures here or write to us at csmvsmumbai@gmail.com

    Thanks and Regards,
    Museum Curatorial Team

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