The Brahmika drape


I had an anon question on tumblr as an earlier question on wordpress that I will answer here together as they are kind of related.

1. I saw an early 19th century painting which showed women in a blouse and sari. I always thought blouse was introduced by Jnanadanandini Devi?

I think some sort of blouse (and possibly a kind of petticoat given ghaghra cholis and related outfits) was always around. Even Ajanta paintings have a few examples.  This early 19th century painting is an example of it too:

But I think a formal kind of blouse, often influenced by prevailing Victorian fashion, and the petticoat worn with a sari did come in with the 1870s both in Western India and in Bengal. A few books of the time and later refer to shops selling “jackets”, which term seems distinct from the choli.

The early 20th century Dhurandhar painting right on top shows differing blouse styles, from the indigenous choli to the modified choli with puff sleeves as well as more elaborate versions which are obviously Victorian in origin suggesting a variety of styles after the 1870s.

In summary I think the sari blouse was around but not essential. Especially in the hotter areas of India where a sari sufficed. From the 1870s onwards, however, it became an essential part of attire for educated women and then all women.

2. Several months back I had a query regarding Jnandanandini Devi’s introduction of the Brahmika (Brahmo woman) drape from Sari Sisters. The query was on the  difference between the Brahmika drape and Classical Bengal drape and whether the only difference was in the pleats on the shoulders.

At the time I assumed that there wasn’t much difference between earlier sari drapes in Bengal and the Brahmika saree. But the question stayed in my mind and I had some time this weekend to poke around a bit.  Not much came up. Though everyone agrees that the Brahmika drape was novel and inspired by the Parsi/Gujarati drape that Jnanadanandini saw in then Bombay, the exact nature of the earlier drape is not clear. Instead there is more emphasis on the introduction of accessories like the blouse, petticoat, hair net etc, which assisted in making the saree a dress for a bhadra (respectable) woman. Nevertheless there was some change since there are many remarks both on the untidiness of draping as well as the immodesty of previous drapes.

The only clear reference I got was in Rochona Majumdar’s book (Marriage and Modernity) where she mentions that the traditional style is the pallu (end of the sari) wrapped around the waist or hanging in front rather than the pleats of the Brahmika saree.  As it happens there aren’t too many pre 1870 pics that I could find except these.


Rabindranatha Tagore’s mother on the left (presumably an older style, though it isn’t clear to me if the pallu is tucked around the waist and also on the shoulder).  On the right a milkmaid of the 1840s, this drape has some resemblance to the Brahmika style but has no pleats and is simply wound around.


The Parsi/Gujarati style is seen above which is the seedha (straight) pallu style with the sari being secured on the right shoulder.


The Brahmika/Bengal styles are above. The style arranges the saree border in a way that mimics the seedha pallu (more evident in the left pic of girls in 1904*) but the pallu is eventually thrown over and secured at the left shoulder. So it does appear that the sari sisters were right in that process of pleating and arranging the sari in the upper part was probably different for the Brahmika saree (though some of the modern Bengal saree drape tutorials have a bit of a pleat arrangement in the bottom part too. Further the loose end can be thrown over the right shoulder).

As always feel free to comment/inbox and do let me know if Bengal has more draping styles or if there are differences I missed.

*1904, courtesy Geraldine Forbes.

Posted in 1870s, 19th century, 2017 posts, Bengal, British Raj, Colonial, costumes in art, Dress Reform, Early 19th century, fashion, historical costume, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Costume, Indian fashion, Indian Women, Late 19th century, regional styles, Sari, Sari Blouse, sari drape, sari history, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Teachers’ Day, 2017


Today is Teachers’ Day in India.

A piece on one of our first women educationists.

The pics: Girls School at Jaipur :- The Primary Class (1950). An interesting mix of frocks, uniforms and sarees for the young students.

Students of V year attend lecture by a professor of Radiology at the Lady Hardinge Medical College (1958).

Both via photodivision

Posted in 1950s, 2017 posts, 20th century, Children, Education, Girls, India, Indian Dress, Indian Women, mid century, photodivision, Photography, retro, Sari, Vintage, Vintage Dress, vintage photography, Women, women doctors, Working Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Indians in Sweden

The images below are from IMSPIX.  The initial images I downloaded a few weeks ago were not watermarked , subsequently they have watermarks. Merely posted for illustration and educational, especially given the pictures cover several decades.  Obviously no copyright infringement intended.

  1. Students, 1936/1937.  The odd frilled blouse as well as newer styles. A few seedha pallu style drapes, a good many “nivi” drapes. A mix of handlooms and prints.  And coats of course.

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2.  Mostly Parsi girls in 1951* and Una Chaudhuri in 1951.

The blouses and saris on the seven girls are very 50s (plain, prints).  Una Chaudhuri wears a printed sari with a border, with just the sari seen, the look could be from any decade really, especially 40s-70s.

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*Names listed as Dina Dordt, Piloo Mehta, Dina Daruwalla, Nergesh Motiwalla, Freany Vakil, Sheroo Mehta and Nergesh Kavarana.  Which reminds me – Navroze Greetings!

3. Tea Booth, 1963.

As seen here, in the early 60s simple silks replaced cotton/handlooms of the earlier decades and are often plain with a bit of zari or printed or with some kind of gold motif embossing.


The women in the pic are listed as Nazli-Rafiya Fyzee, Preshy Rai and possibly Leena Lal.

Posted in 1930s, 1950s, 1960s, 2017 posts, 20th century, India, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Costume, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, indian style, Indian Women, retro, retro fashion, Sari, Sari Blouse, sari drape, sari history, Vintage, Vintage Blouse, vintage fashion, vintage photography, vintage sari, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Karachi and Bombay, 30s/40s

The six yard sari must have been extremely on trend in the 30s and 40s (and of course it was also the peak years of the freedom struggle which might have added to it) since it cuts across communities and regions in the country. The sari drape is the same, just presented a little differently with each subculture.

On the left Zvia Epstein’s mother as a young woman, aged 19 (per my original notes, I think the link mistakenly identifies her as Zvia Epstein) in Karachi.  From the piece as well as the attire I guess this is late 30s/early 40s.

On the right a young Jewish woman in Bombay, 1948.  Its an elegant studio portrait. The blouse and drape reminded me a little of Nargis in Andaz, which suggests it was the style then.


Posted in 1930s, 1940s, 2017 posts, 20th century, Culture, fashion, Indian fashion, Indian Jews, Indian Women, mid century, Pakistan, Photography, Sari, Sari Blouse, sari drape, Studio Portraits, subcontinent, Vintage, Vintage Blouse, vintage photography, vintage sari | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the 70s

The relaxed fashion of the 70s. Lungis, Maxis, Prints and more.


Worn with a short kurta. Accesorised with a choker, bindi and watch.


In the 70s : Kaftans, Halters, Maxis and Pant suits.

Via  : X, X and X.

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Rehana Sultan. (click for larger view).

From the photograph I can’t quite say if it is a lehenga/sharara/gharara but it is worn with a short tunic and dupatta and the stripes are reminiscent of Awadhi costumes.

Dupatta detail below.  The shaped eyebrows and curled hair are quite 70s.

19711 PTV Karachi, Zaheen Tahira, Zeenat Yasmin and Khurshid Talat in 1971 

There’s a little bit of everything here, sari with a sleeveless blouse (the 60s carried over for a bit), perhaps a gharara, embroidered and spangled trousers (name?), perhaps a salwar with a short kurta.

See also X and X.

Plucked eyebrows and hoop earrings.


In the 70s: The Sari
In my opinion the sari is elegant in a very easy way in this decade. Very no fuss, hardly any pinning, tucking of loose ends etc and just a drape that flows well. The brief blouses hark back to the choli but the matching blouse and light fabric make it of the time and an unobtrusive complement to the sari.
Rather obviously the decade loved prints and textile brands seem to have offered every hue and design. As Femina copy of the time says, “It’s print that makes a colour come alive, that stamps a character on a fabric.” Plenty of voiles – which contribute to the easy-breezy, low maintenance look of the time – but also polyesters and cottons.
Posted in 1970s, 2017 posts, Indian Aesthetics, Indian Costume, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, indian style, Indian Textiles, Indian Women, late 20th century, retro, retro fashion, Salwar Kameez, Sari, Sari Blouse, Vintage, vintage fashion, vintage sari, vintage style, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Everything that Shabana Azmi wore in Kadambari (1976)

With a side helping of her co-stars.

Screencaps from the uploaded youtube film.

Few actresses carry the 70s/80s look better than Shabana Azmi.  Plus she (and the costume designer) create a consistent look for the entire film, a costume capsule that speaks of the character, the actress and the decade.  So let’s look at what she wore as Chetana!

There are a few different kind of sarees here but most of all you will want a Khatau Terkosa revival (I think Terkosa is Terene, cotton, saree – if so its a polycot and looks a lot more comfortable for the Indian weather than the faux Kanjeevaram thick  polycotton of the 90s).  Other mills offered similar sarees too – DCM, Cali-cloth, Finlays etc.

The whole look is so casual and sophisticated, in no other decade does the sari look as soft and easily drapeable .  Plus it looks like an easy care working woman’s wardrobe. Though I like printed and more elaborate saree blouses I find that the 2 by 2 matched blouses of this decade focus attention on the saree and let it shine.

First up the prints which immediately recall the 70s:

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There are a fair few saris with prints and borders. As well as some of the large prints popular in the 70s. The bright rani pink with olive green dispersed in it – I didn’t expect to be so charmed by it.

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Above: These large prints dispersed on a white background – especially the white and blue one – are also very 70s, as seen in this Air India uniform.

There is nothing much to say about Vijay Arora’s costumes for this film given they are usually a pant-shirt combo with the occasional kurta but here he wears a kurta and lungi/dhoti.

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Above: A pretty pink leheriya and also a gloriously multi-coloured bandhani. Probably both chiffons.

Above: The plain sarees.

In the flashback scenes, a gharara (which in the 70s doesn’t look too much like the classic gharara, the narrow upper half and a flared bottom half seems to fit in with the bell bottom era). And a salwar worn with a short kurta.

Above: A lot of glass bangles matched to the sari. Even the multi coloured bandhani has perfectly co-ordinated bangles.

The bindis – both a sindoor sort and the plastic stick on.  And of course hoop earrings and plucked eyebrows. And the straight hair with a few side wisps.

Chetana’s brother and his girlfriend Sheetal are trendy and “groovy” in the first half but later Sheetal (Arpana Chowdhury) wears a few printed saris which are pleasant in their own way (also full view of bandhani on Chetana in last pic).

The pink sari on the left is on a minor character in the film but I added it because I have a vague memory of similar sarees being Terkosa and it induced a bit of nostalgia for my family’s wardrobe – I was a child but I think the women of the house made frequent trips to the Khatau showroom:).

Chand Usmani has a charming turn as the male lead’s mother who forms a bond with Shabana’s character,  her sarees are very simple (all single mothers must only wear white! kind of thing).

kad credits

Above: In the credits.

Notes on the movie: Kadambari is based on Amrita Pritam’s story, Dharti Sagar te Sippiyan.  The link to the movie is provided but the uploaded film has no subtitles.


Posted in 1970s, 2017 posts, Accessories, Actor, bindi, Cinema, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, Indian Tales, Indian Textiles, Indian Women, late 20th century, Movies, Prints, retro, retro cinema, retro fashion, retro hair, Salwar Kameez, Sari, Sari Blouse, Vintage, Vintage Blouse, vintage cinema, vintage fashion, vintage sari, vintage style, Working Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

80s/90s Redux 2

“Filmy” fashions are quite often confined to film (and rightfully so!) but in the case of some of the late 80s/90s fashion here, these were actual trends that I can remember.

The late 80s had a lot of geometric patterns stitched together, ruched kurtas, large floral motifs etc. – feels like this was the birth of “Indo-Western”. Pic 1′s outfit of Maine Pyar Kiya was a bonafide hit of the season, with street versions available everywhere. As was the jacket Salman wears that Bhagyashree is holding in the pic.

Pic above are two 80s/early 90s staples, heavy mirror work and the entire print and match outfit right down to the dupatta. Versions of these are still around, though pic 4 kind of outfits are quite dated.

Deep love for the single colour, shiny sari in the 90s – the Surat mills must have churned them out in every colour. But yellow really ruled from what I remember and was worn with a heavy mirror work blouse or something equally dramatic.

As I always say why was I young in this decade:) Of these I had the print sets and the mirror work tunics, the latter of which I would probably still wear albeit with tinier mirrors than du jour in the early 90s.

Mostly sourced from Indomania.  The actresses: Bhagyashree, Meenakshi Seshadri, Kimi Katkar, Pooja Bhatt, Nagma. Mamta Kulkarni.

Posted in 1980s, 1990s, 2017 posts, Bollywood, churidar kameez, churidar kurta, Costumes in Cinema, fashion, Indian Dress, Indian fashion, Indian Women, late 20th century, Movies, retro, retro cinema, retro fashion, retro hair, salwar, Salwar Kameez, Sari, Sari Blouse | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments