Clothing : A Social History
SUMPTUARY LAWS’ & SOCIAL HIERARCHY
(i) From about 1294 to the time of the French Revolution in 1789, the people of France were expected to strictly follow ‘sumptuary laws’ which tried to control the behaviour of those considered social inferiors, preventing them from wearing certain clothes, censuring certain foods and beverages and hunting game in certain areas. According to the ‘sumptuary laws’, only royalty could wear expensive materials like ermine and fur, or silk, velvet and brocade. Other classes were debarred from clothing the selves with materials that were associated with the aristocracy.
(ii) The French Revolution ended these distinctions. From now on, both men and women began wearing clothing that was loose and comfortable. The colours of France – blue, white and red – became popular as they were sign of the patriotic citizen. Other political symbols too became a part of dress: the red cap of liberty, long rouses and the revolutionary cockade pinned on to a hat. The simplicity of clothing was meant to express the idea of equality.
CLOTHING AND NOTIONS OF BEAUTY
(i) The end of sumptuary laws did not mean that everyone in European societies could now dress in the same way, differences between the social strata remained. The poor could not dress like the rich, nor eat the same food. But laws no longer barred people’s right to dress in the way they wished. Differences. In earning, rather than sumptuary laws, now defined what the rich and poor could wear. The notion of what was beautiful or ugly proper or improper, decent or vulgar differed,
(ii) Styles of clothing emphasized differences between men and women in Victorian England were groomed from childhood to be docile and dutiful. Submissive and obedient. The ideal woman was one who could bear pain and suffering. While men were expected to be serious, strong, independent and aggressive, women were seen as frivolous, delicate, passive and docile. Norms of clothing reflected these ideals. From childhood, girls were tightly laced up and dressed in stays. The effort was to restrict the growth of their bodies, contain them within small moulds. When slightly older, girls had to wear tight fitting corsets. Tightly laced, small-wasted women were admired as attractive, elegant and graceful Clothing thus played a part in creating the image of frail, submissive Victorian women.
(a) How Did Women React to These Norms?
(i) Many women believed in the ideals of womanhood. The ideals were in the air they breathed, the literature they read, the education they had received at school and at home.
(ii) But not everyone accepted these values. By the 1830s, women in England began agitating for democratic rights. As the suffrage movement developed, many began campaigning for dress reform. Women’s magazines described how tight dresses and corsets caused deformities and lines among young girls. Doctors reported that many women were regularly complaining of actual weakness, felt languid, and fainted frequently. Corsets then became necessary to hold up the weakened spine.
(iii) In America, a similar movement developed amongst the white setters on the east coast. Traditional feminine the position of women. If clothes were comfortable and convenient, the women could work, earn their living and become independent. In the 1870s, the National Woman Suffrage Association headed by Mrs. Stanton, and the American Woman Suffrage Association dominated by Lucy Stone both campaigned for dress reform. The argument was: simplify dress, shorten skirts, and abandon corsets. On both sides of the Atlantic, there was now a movement for rational dress reform.
(iv) The reformers did not immediately succeed in changing social values. They had to face ridicule and hostility. Conservatives everywhere opposed change. Faced with persistent attacks, many women reformers changed back into traditional clothes to confirm to conventions.
(v) By the end of the ninetieth century, however, change was clearly in the air. Ideals of beauty and styles of clothing were both transformed under a variety of pressures. People began accepting the ideas of reformers they had earlier ridiculed. With new times came new values.
Many changes were made possible in Britain due to the introduction of new materials and technologies. Other changes came about because of the two world wars and the new working conditions for women
(a) New Materials:
(i) After 1600, trade with India brought cheap, beautiful and easy – to – maintain Indian chintzes within the reach of many Europeans who could now increase the size of their wardrobes.
(ii) During the industrial Revolution, in the nineteenth century, Britain began the mass manufacture of cotton textiles which became more accessible to a wider section of people in Europe. By the early twentieth century, artificial fibers made clothes cheaper still and easier to wash and maintain.
(iii) In the late 1870s, heavy restrictive underclothes, which had created such a storn in te pages of women’s magazines, were gradually discarded. Clothes got lighter, shorter and simpler.
(iv) Yet until 1914, clothes were ankle length, as they had been since the thirteenth century. by 1915, however, the hemline of the skirt rose dramatically to mid-calf.
Changes in women’s clothing came about as a result the two World Wars.
(i) Many European women stopped wearing jewellery and luxurious clothes. As upper-class women mixed with other classes, social barriens were eroded and women began to look similar.
(ii) Number of women workers multiplied fast. A job, they wore a working uniform. Shorter skirts and trousers became common dresses for women.
(iii) Bright colours faded; only sober colours were worn. Skirts became shorter. Soon trousers became a vital part of Waster women’s clothing; women took to cutting their hair short for convenience.
(iv) By the twentieth century, a plain and austere style came to reflect seriousness and professionalism. New schools for children emphasized the importance of plain clothing. As women took to sports, they had to wear clothes that did not hamper movement. When they went out to work they needed clothes that were comfortable and convenient.
TRANSE ORMATIONS IN COLONIAL INDIA
During colonial period there were significant changes in male and female clothing in India. This was a consequence of the influence of Western dress forms and missionary activity and due to the effort by Indians to fashion clothing styles that embodied and indigenous tradition symbols of the national movement. When western- style clothing came into India in the nineteenth century, Indians reacted in three different ways:
(i) There was a section of society to whorn western clothes were assign, of modernity and progress. They adopted these dresses. There was another section of society, who found western style clothing as symbolic of liberation. Among these, the important ones were the dalits who had converted to Christianity.
(ii) Another group of people were convinced that western culture would lead to a lose of traditional cultural identity. These people kept away from western clothes.
(iii) Another group of people began to wear western clothes without giving up their Indians ones. They would wear western style clothes when out on work, and would to back to more comfortable Indian clothes when relaxing at home.
(a) Caste Conflict and Dress Change:
(i) India had own strict social codes of food and dress. The caste system clearly defined what subordinate and dominant cast Hindus should wear, eat, etc, and these codes had these codes had the force of law. Change in clothing styles that threatened these norms therefore often created violent social reactions.
(ii) The Shiners (also called Nadirs) were a community of toddy tappets who migrated to southern Travancore to work under Nair Landlords. As they were considered a ‘subordinate caste’, they were prohibited from using umbrellas and wearing shoes or golden ornaments. Men and women were also expected to follow the local custom of never covering their upper bodies before the upper castes.
(iii) Under the influence of Christian missionsm, Shanar women converts began in the 1820s to wear tailored blouses and cloths to cover themselves like the upper castes. Soon Nairs attacked these women. Complaints were also filed in court against this dress change.
(iv) At first, the Government of Travancore issued a proclamation in 1829 ordering Shanar women ‘to abstain in future from covering the upper parts of the body’. But this did not prevent Shanar Christian women, and even Shanar Hindus, from adopting the blouse and upper cloth.
(v) The abolition of slavery in Travancore in 1855 led to even more frustration among the upper castes who felt them losing control. In October 1859, riots broke out as Shanar women were attacked in the market place and stripped of their upper cloths. Houses were looted and chapels burned. Finally, the government issued another proclamation permitting Shanar women, whether Christian and Hindu, to wear a jacket, or cover their upper bodies ‘in any manner whatever, but not like the women of high caste’.
(b) British Rule and Dress Codes:
In different cultures, specific items of clothing often convey meanings. This frequently leads to misunderstanding and confect. Styles of clothing in British India changed through such conflicts.
(i) When European traders first began frequenting India, they were distinguished from the Indian ‘turban wearers’ as the ‘hat wearers..’ these two headgears not only looked different , they also signified different things. The turban in India was not just for protection from the heat but was a sign of respectability, and could not be removed at will. In the Western tradition, the hat had to be removed before social superiors as a sign of respect. This cultural difference created misunderstanding. The British were often offended if Indians did not take off their turban when they met colonial officials. Many Indians on the other hand wore the turban to consciously assert their regional or national identity.
(ii) Another such conflict related to the wearing of shoes. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was customary for British officials to follow Indian etiquette and remove their footwear. In the courts of ruling kings or chiefs. In 1824-1828, Governor-General Amherst insisted that Indians take their shoes off as a sign of respect when they appeared before him, but this was not strictly followed. By the mid-nineteenth century, when Lord Dalhousie was Governor General, ‘shoe respect’ was made stricter, and Indians were made to take off their shoes when entering any government institution; only those who wore European clothes were exempted from this rule. Many Indian government servants were increasingly getting uncomfortable with these rules.
“Women in nineteenth century India were obliged to continue wearing traditional Indian dress even when men switched over to the more convenient Western clothing.”
It is doubtful if men changed over to western dresses out of reasons of convenience. They changed over to western dresses for different reasons. And these reasons were not applicable to women.
(i) Men had to go out to work and interact with their western bosses and native subordinates. These men would were western clothes to please their western bosses and carry fevour with them; and to show off their borrowed authority to their subordinates. The women had not to go for work. There was no0 need for them to change to new dress.
(ii) Social interactions of women were limited to closed family gatherings. They were more comfortable in their own traditional dresses.
(iii) Western dresses were not easily available, and these were costly. it is obvious that women were stay-at-home type, had little say in out-the –home affairs, and were conservative and little responsive to changes.
DESIGNING THE NATIONAL DRESS
(i) As nationalist feelings swept across India by the late nineteenth century; Indians began devising cultural symbols that would express the unity of the nation.
(ii) The Tagore family of Bengal experimented, beginning in the 1870s, with designs for a national dress for born man and women in India. Rabindranath Tagore suggested that instead of combining Indian and European dress, India’s national dress should combine elements of Hindu and Muslim dress. Thus the chapkan (a long buttoned coat) was considered the most suitable dress suitable dress for men.
(iii) In the late 1870s, Janandanadini Devi, wife of Satyendranath Tagore, the first Indian member of the ICS, returned from Bombay to Calcutta. She adopted the Parsi style of wearing the sari pinned to the left shoulder with a brooch, and worn with a blouse and shoes. This was quickly adopted by Brahmo Samaji women and came to be known as the Brahmika sari. This style gained acceptance before long among Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh Brahmos, as well as non-Brahmos.
(iv) Women of Gujarat, Kogadu, Kerala and Assam continue to wear different types of sari.
(a) The Swadeshi Movement:
(i) India accounted for one-fourth of the world’s manufactured good in the seventeenth century. There were a million weavers in Bengal alone in the middle of the eighteenth century.
(ii) The Industrial Revolution in Britain, which mechanized spinning and weaving and greatly increased the demand for raw materials such as cotton and indigo, changed India’s status in the world economy
(iii) Political control of India helped the British in two ways: Indian peasants could be forced to grow crops such as indigo, and cheap British manufacture easily replaced coarser Indian one. large numbers of Indian weavers and spinners were left without work, and important tactile weaving centers such as Muslimabad, Machilipatham and Surat declined as demand tell.
(iv) In the middle of the 20th century, large numbers of people began boycotting British or mill-made cloth and adopting khadi, even bough it was coarser, more expensive and difficult to obtain.
(v) The Swadeshi movement developed in reaction to this measure. People were urged to boycott British goods of all kind and start their own industries for the manufacture of goods such as matchboxes and cigarettes. Mass protests followed, with people vowing to cleanse themselves of colonial rule. The use of khadi was a patriotic duty.
(vi) The change of dress appeared largely to the upper castes and classes rather then to those who had to make do with less and could not afford the new products.
(vii) Though many people called to the cause of nationalism at this time, it was almost impossible to compete with cheap British goods that had flooded the market.
(viii) The experiment with Swadeshi gave Mahatma Gandhi important ideas about using cloth as a symbolic weapon against British rule.
(b) Mahatma Gandhi’s Experiments with clothing:
Mahatma Gandhi made spinning on the charkha and the daily use of khadi, or coarse cloth made from homespun yam, very powerful symbols. These were not symbols of self-reliance but also of resistance to the use of British mili-made cloth.
(i) As a young boy, Mahatma Gandhi wore a shin with a dhoti or pajama and sometimes a coat. When he went to study law in London he dressed in western salts so he would not be laughed at.
(ii) Deciding that dressing ‘unsuitably’ was a popular political segment; Gandhi appeared in Durban in 1913 clad in a lungi and Kuna. He also shaved his head as a sigh of mourning to priest against the shooting of Indian coal miners.
(iii) In 1915, he decided d to dress like a Kahiawadi peasant. in 1921, he decided to adopt the short dhoti, a form of dress he wore till his death.
(iv) He consciously rejected the well-known cloths of the Indian ascetic and adopted the dress of the poorest Indian.
(v) Khadi to him was a sign of purity, simplicity and poverty. wearing it became a symbol of nationalism and a rejection of western mill-made cloth.
(vi) He wore the short dhoti without a shirt when he went to England for the Round Table Conference in 1931. He refused to compromise and wore it even before King George V at Buckingham Palace
(c) Nor All could Wear Khadi
Mahatma Gandhi dream was to clothe the whole nation in khadi. Though he succeeded using khadi as a source to inspire the Indian people but there were many different opinions.
(i) The British machine made clothes were much cheaper as compared to khadi. Poverty rate was very high in India, so most of the poor started adopting foreign clothes.
(ii)The wealthy Parsi’s of western India were among the first to adapt Western-style clothing because western clothes were a sign of modernity and progress.
(iii) Though Moti Lal Nehru gave up his expensive Western-style suits and adopted the Indian dhoti and kurta but these were not made up of coarse material as suggested by Gandhiji.
(iv) As the casts system in India was very rigid and western dress style was for all, So many people adopted it for self-respect and equality.