Skip to main content

Clothing Matters

Dress and Identity in India

What do I wear today? The way we answer this question says much about how we manage and express our identities. This detailed study examines sartorial style in India from the late nineteenth century to the present, showing how trends in clothing are related to caste, level of education, urbanization, and a larger cultural debate about the nature of Indian identity.

Clothes have been used to assert power, challenge authority, and instigate social change throughout Indian society. During the struggle for independence, members of the Indian elite incorporated elements of Western style into their clothes, while Gandhi’s adoption of the loincloth symbolized the rejection of European power and the contrast between Indian poverty and British wealth. Similar tensions are played out today, with urban Indians adopting "ethnic" dress as villagers seek modern fashions.

Illustrated with photographs, satirical drawings, and magazine advertisements, this book shows how individuals and groups play with history and culture as they decide what to wear.

382 pages | 90 halftones, 36 line drawings | 7 x 10 | © 1996

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Asian Studies: South Asia

Culture Studies

Table of Contents

Glossary of Foreign Words
Preface: Reflections on a Portrait
1: Introduction: The Problem of What to Wear
2: Searching for a Solution in the late Nineteenth Century
3: Gandhi and the Recreation of Indian Dress
4: Is Khadi the Solution?
5: Questions of Dress in a Gujarati Village
6: Some Brahman Dilemmas
7: Some Peasant Dilemmas (Kanbi and Kharak)
8: Some Pastoralist (Bharwad) and Scheduled caste (Harijan) Dilemmas
9: Fashion Fables of an Urban Village
10: Dressing for Distinction: A Historical Review
Postscript: A Return Visit to India, 1993-1994


AAS South Asia Council: Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press