In medieval Europe, the people were expected to strictly follow the ‘sumptuary laws’.
After the French Revolution members of the Jacobin clubs called themselves the ‘sans culottes’ to distinguish themselves from the aristocracy.
Some sumptuary laws were passed to protect home production against imports.
Clothing and the Notions of Beauty
Even after the end of sumptuary laws, the Europeans could not dress in the same way.
Styles of clothing also highlighted differences between men and women.
How Did Women React to These Norms?
English women started agitating for democratic rights by the 1830s.
With the development of suffrage movement, many women started campaigning for dress reform.
Eventually, at the end of the 19th century people started accepting the ideas of reformers they had earlier ridiculed. New values were introduced as times changed.
During the Industrial Revolution, in the nineteenth century, Britain began the mass manufacture of cotton textiles which it exported to India and many other parts of the world.
By the early 20th century, artificial fibres made clothes cheaper and easier to wash and maintain.
The two World Wars resulted in changes in women’s clothing.
Clothes got shorter during the First World War due to practical necessity.
The most significant step women took was to cut their hair short for convenience.
Transformations in Colonial India
Changes in male and female clothing in India during the colonial period was partly a result of the influence of Western dress forms and missionary activity; and partly due to the effort by Indians to fashion clothing styles that embodied an indigenous tradition and culture.
Caste Conflict and Dress Change
Men and women were expected to follow the local custom of never covering their upper bodies before the dominant castes.
Finally, the government issued another proclamation permitting Shanar women, irrespective of their religion, to wear a jacket, or cover their upper bodies.
British Rule and Dress Codes
The turban in India was used for protection from the heat and was also a sign of respectability.
In the Western tradition, the hat had to be removed before social superiors as a sign of respect.
It was customary for British officials to follow Indian etiquette and remove their footwear in the courts of ruling kings or chiefs in the early 19th century.
Designing the National Dress
Swept by nationalist feelings in the late nineteenth century, Indians started to devise cultural symbols that would indicate unity among Indians.
The Swadeshi Movement
India’s status in the world economy changed when the Industrial Revolution in Britain mechanised spinning and weaving.
Large numbers of people started boycotting British or mill-made cloth in the mid-20th century.
People reacted through the Swadeshi movement, when Lord Curzon decided to partition Bengal.
Mahatma Gandhi’s Experiments with Clothing
Mahatma Gandhi made spinning on the charkha and the daily use of khadi, very powerful symbols of self-reliance and resistance.
When he returned to India in 1915, he dressed like a Kathiawadi peasant.
In 1921, he adopted the short dhoti and wore it until his death.
The Gandhi cap
After his return to India from South Africa in 1915, Mahatma Gandhi transformed the Kashmiri cap into a cheap white cotton khadi cap.
With the rise of the Khilafat movement in the post-First World War years, the fez became a sign of anti-colonialism in India.
Not All could Wear Khadi
Motilal Nehru gave up his expensive Western-style suits and adopted the Indian dhoti and kurta, but it was not made of coarse cloth.
Nationalists such as Babasaheb Ambedkar wore the Western-style suit.
Women like Sarojini Naidu and Kamala Nehru, did not wear coarse, white homespun sari and resorted to coloured saris with designs.