There are plenty of examples of clothes from the West that make use of Indian textiles, at least from the Regency period onwards. Examples include muslin, paisley shawls, 1950s dresses and cotton gauze dresses of the 70s and 80s.

There are also in various periods clothes inspired by the sari – typically called a sari dress or sari gown.  More often than not they take an element of the sari -the flowing lower half, the one shoulder drape, the loose end over a shoulder – while adhering to the principles of dress construction (which is a defining shape as opposed to the sari where the wearer has a degree of latitude regarding the drape). The silhouettes are typical of a decade – be it a shift or a lower skirt.

A defining feature of sari wear rarely adopted in these clothes is the separation of the costume into a blouse and the main piece of cloth which usually leaves a portion of the waist uncovered.

Examples include 1) Regency gown 2) Regency overdress and 1880s dress, Paris – apart from the fabric the bottom mimics the skirt like pleats of the modern sari 3) Poiret’s version, one of many, the sari addition is usually a playful adjunct to the 1910s/20s silhouette 4 and 5) Schiaparelli’s version (she had a fair few versions – one looks a bit like a 40s sari) 6) Balenciaga gold sari 7) Oscar de la Renta’s 1980 version 8) Valentino’s 1989 gown (via europeanafashion.eu) and 9) Chanel’s 2010 gown. Click on the pics for a better view.

And more at a pretty comprehensive list @borderandfall-lens


A bit on Arnold Scassi’s gowns for Barbra Streisand in 1969 that used saris as the base material. This extract is a little rapturous about the saris he considered, eventually I think he went with the red with paisley design for a one shoulder sari gown.

Most educated women, and it is not an exaggeration to claim about 99 per cent, do not consider gowns as tasteful as saris. Jyotirmayee Gangopadhyay, Gown O sari, Bharati 1922, From the Seams of History: Essays on Indian Women.

If the Western incorporation of the sari involves an element of the drape, the Indian incorporation of a gown or dress is often by way of providing for a “frame” for the sari drape. The petticoat of the modern sari is an example – though lehengas et al were used in India they did not function as innerwear.  However, in some 19th century examples – like Lakshmi Bayi in pic 1 – the skirts below are showcased to give an appearance of a gown, a feature that also appears in a contemporary version (pic 2).

Not all “frames” are strictly Western, the khada dupatta uses pyjamas or churidars much like modern dhoti saris, though some examples of the latter veer towards tights territory for a sleeker contemporary look as in pic 5.

The easiest incorporation of foreign elements is of course via the blouse, be it 19th century Victorian influenced blouses or the jacket for a Satya Paul sari (pic 6).  To my mind the looser blouse silhouettes of today owe something to the East as does the obi for a sari (pic 7).

Coming to the drapes, Prajnasundari devi’s sari (pic 3) appears to be draped to look like a gown – though it veers more towards the draped gowns of classical antiquity that appear in Victorian paintings (of which Prinseps’ At the Golden Gate (pic 4) looks eastward and is quite similar to the Maharashtrian 9 yard). Note also the mantilla.

Modern variations of the drape as in the Nikhil Thampi “knot” sari (pic 8) which used an on trend sheer skirt still maintain the three part element – antariya, uttariya and choli.

Structuring the drape brings it as close to a gown as possible for a sari and indeed this version is simply called the sari gown (Indo Western sari seems to be the term of choice for the others).

And while it is hard to dislodge the ubiquitous 6 yard saree drape, the past few years have been very experimental and there seem to be plenty of sites around showcasing variations in drape and with more contemporary elements, be it leather belts or steampunk or just a ruffled underskirt (X, X, X, X, X). And there are plenty of blouse variations around too – though that of course is not uncommon and has a pretty long history.

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This evening dress ending in dhoti, or harem, slits for the feet was an example of the many experiments with trouser-legged fashions around 1910. New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, Caroline Milbank. 

The Edwardian era borrowed a lot of fashion elements from the East. Still I need to know much more about Edwardian styles before I can say this definitively, but some of the styles are reminiscent of dhoti/salwar , particularly in the folds of the lower half of the gown .E.g. the Duff Gordon dress of 1914 (pic 2) and the fashion illustration of 1912 (pic 3).

Poiret of course freely plundered a lot of Eastern styles and many terms specifically evoked this for his clientele e.g. the “harem trousers” of 1911. The 1913 copy of the Sorbet dress in pic 4 also evokes a dhoti or salwar worn with a short tunic.

Pic 1 is made for a period drama and may owe something to the pannier but the soft drapery and fabric evokes a sari.

About Anu M

A potted history of Indian clothing and fashion.
This entry was posted in 19th century, 20th century, 21st century, Colonial, Contemporary, contemporary fashion, Costume, Early 20th Century, fashion, India, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Costume, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, Indian Women, Late 19th century, late 20th century, salwar, Sari, Sari Blouse, sari drape, Sari Dress, sari history, Vintage, Vintage Dress, vintage fashion, vintage sari, Women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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