Clothing: A Social History
Question 1: Explain the reasons for the changes in clothing patterns and materials in the eighteenth century.
Changes in clothing patterns and materials in the eighteenth century came about due to the development of capitalism and globalisation. Industry grew and colonisation brought together people from different cultures and walks of life. Styles and materials drawn from other societies and locations were now becoming popular and especially for men, western clothes were taken on all over the world.
Question 2: What were the sumptuary laws in France?
The sumptuary laws in France were aimed at controlling the behaviour of those considered social inferiors. These laws prevented individuals from the lower stratas from wearing certain clothes, consuming certain foods and beverages, and hunting game in certain areas. These laws were in existence in France from about 1294 to the time of the French Revolution in 1789.
Among other things, these rules tried to regulate the lifestyles of the lower classes by regulating the amount and type of clothes they bought. The materials for clothes were also likewise controlled. The lower classes were disallowed from wearing expensive materials that the aristocracy espoused, like ermine, silk, fur, velvet and brocade.
Question 3: Give any two examples of the ways in which European dress codes were different from Indian dress codes.
Two examples of the ways in which European dress codes were different from Indian dress codes:
(i) In Europe, dress codes were enacted on a socio-economic bias, while in India, these norms were along the lines of caste.
(ii) While the lower classes in Europe were barred from wearing specific materials, the lower castes in India were barred from wearing particular clothes; for example, the Shanar women, who were disallowed from covering their upper bodies like the higher caste women.
Question 4: In 1805, a British official, Benjamin Heyne, listed the manufactures of Bangalore which included the following:
Women’s cloth of different musters and names
Of this list, which kind of cloth would have definitely fallen out of use in the early 1900s and why?
Of the given list, silk cloths would have definitely fallen out of use because of the patriotic zeal that was aroused in the people due to the Swadeshi movement. In 1905, Lord Curzon decided to partition Bengal, and this gave birth to a nationalist sentiment that urged people to boycott British goods. Women were then encouraged to use homespun cloth, and throw away silks and glass bangles.
Question 5: Suggest reasons why women in nineteenth century India were obliged to continue wearing traditional Indian dress even when men switched over to the more convenient Western clothing. What does this show about the position of women in society?
Women in nineteenth century India were obliged to continue wearing traditional Indian dress even when men switched over to the more convenient Western clothing because of India’s inherent social and traditional customs. Our society is pre-dominantly patriarchal, and women were expected to maintain the honour of the family. Women in the Victorian age were expected to be docile, gentle and good housewives; the same rules governed the lives of women in India too. They could not dress like men and hence, they continued to wear traditional clothes. This directly points towards the secondary position that women held in society. It was not a decision they had the independence to take since women were considered the inferiors of men.
Question 6: Winston Churchill described Mahatma Gandhi as a ‘seditious Middle Temple Lawyer’ now ‘posing as a half naked fakir’. What provoked such a comment and what does it tell you about the symbolic strength of Mahatma Gandhi’s dress?
Winston Churchill described Mahatma Gandhi as a “seditious Middle Temple Lawyer” now “posing as a fakir” because of the latter’s decision to dress like a poor man to show his solidarity with the socially and economically deprived. In 1931, at the Round Table Conference in England, Gandhi wore a short dhoti and chaddar, eliciting the aforementioned comment from Churchill. The symbolic strength of Gandhi’s dress lay in its simplicity—he used it to show his support for the poor, to encourage boycott of British goods, and to erase religious differences and class distinctions.
Question 7: Why did Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of clothing the nation in khadi appeal only to some sections of Indians?
Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of clothing the nation in khadi appealed only to some sections of Indians because of different reasons. For the socially deprived, emancipation opened new doors—they wanted to experiment with Western dress styles now that dress restrictions did not hamper with their wishes anymore. This adoption of Western clothing was symbolic of new-found self and public respect for them. Others found khadi expensive to buy, and women in south India complained that they could not afford nine yards of khadi (standard length of the sari in the south).