What were the clothes worn by Indians in 19th century?
During the 17th and 18th centuries, India exported vast
quantities of textiles throughout the world. The influence of
India's textile export may be judged by the number of textile terms
in use today which have Indian origins: chintz, calico, dungaree,
gingham, khaki, madras, pyjama, sash, seersucker, and shawl are
just a few..
By far the most prized of Indian fabrics during this time period
was Chintz, a cotton fabric usually having a large-scale, floral
pattern applied by mordants (a resist dyeing method). For the
finest chintz, the design was actually painted on the fabric, not
printed. The colors were fast (they didn't fade or wash out).
Chintz was used for both apparel fabrics and home furnishing
fabrics (drapes & bedspreads) (Irwin and Brett, 1970).
In the mid-18th century a new accessory was introduced to the
fashionable European woman's wardrobe which remained fashionable
for almost a century. This was a shawl produced in Kashmir which is
located in the northern part of India bordering the Himalayan
Mountains. The shawls were originally brought to England by the
East India Company, as well as by travelers bringing home
The finest shawls were woven from the very fine and soft hair of
a Kashmir mountain goat. (This is the fiber we know today as
Cashmere.) The Kashmir shawls were handwoven entirely by men. One
or two men would work 2-3 years to produce one shawl. Thismade the
shawls very expensive (A Kashmir shawl at that time cost the
equivalent of a mink coat today.). However, they were in such great
demand that European manufacturers quickly began efforts to try to
imitate them. A good source of shawl images and info is
Kashmir and paisley shawls can be identified by the use of a
certain design motif which in India is called the boteh.
After European textile manufacturers began imitating the shawls,
the motif began to be called a paisley, after Paisley, Scotland,
one of the largest producers of imitation Kashmir shawls (Reilly,
The phenomenon of the banyan, a gentleman's loose, long jacket
or gown in the 1800's, illustrates combined Japanese and Indian
influences. Trade with Japan was open from 1543 to 1640, and then
closed until 1854. During the time that Japan was closed to trade,
Japanese kimono made their way to Europe via Dutch traders who were
the only ones to have access Japanese ports. Because of the rarity
of kimono in the western world, it became a valued commodity.
Demand quickly exceeded supply. The scarcity of the kimono enhanced
its popularity and led the Dutch to manufacture banyans in India
where they were highly involved in textile trade and export.
The banyan was a loose, full kimono style in the early 18th
century, but later evolved into a more fitted style with set-in
sleeves, similar to a man's coat. It was known as an Indian gown,
nightgown, morning gown, or dressing gown. First used as a type of
robe, it was originally worn for leisure and in at-home situations;
but came to be worn as a coat out-of-doors, in the street, or for
business. Many gentlemen had their portraits made while wearing
banyans. They were made from all types of fabrics in cotton, silk,
or wool (Cunningham, 1984).
For gentlemen, this was a long robe or gown which replaced the
tight coat and waistcoat (vest) worn in public. Trade with Japan
and India affected the demand for gowns made in the kimono style.
The Dutch East India Company was the only trade group to have
access to Japan durign this time period. The demand for these
garments became so great that the Dutch eventually began
manufacturing them in India through their locations there. The
Indian Saree (a.k.a. Sari, Seere, Sadi) boasts of oldest existence
in the sartorial world. It is more than 5000 years old! It is
mentioned in Vedas, the oldest existing (surviving) literature
(3000 B.C.) Patterns of dress change throughout the world now and
then but, the Sari has survived because it is the main wear of
rural India. 75% of the population (now a billion as per official
estimate) wear versatile sari. We can certainly call this cloth
versatile because it could be worn as shorts, trousers, flowing
gown-like or convenient skirt-wise--all without a single
Saree (original--Chira in Sanskrit, cloth) is of varied length.
From 5 yards to 9.5 yards tied loosely, folded and pleated, it
could be turned into working dress or party-wear with manual skill.
For day today dress of middle class women, 5-6 yard sari is
comfortable to manage household chores. Working class tucks the
same length above the ankles and if they have to work in water or
fields, they would tuck the front pleats between the legs to the
back, and tie the upper portion round the waist. This left them
free movement of hands and legs.