The Evolution of Ethnic Wear: Influence of historical events and figures on Indian attire.


The story of Indian ethnic wear is a captivating tapestry woven with threads of history, culture, and the influence of iconic figures. From ancient civilizations to the colonial era, each historical event and prominent personality has left an indelible mark on the evolution of sarees, salwar kameez, and lehengas. In this exploration, we unravel the influence of historical events and figures on the evolution of India’s iconic ethnic attire.

1. Ancient Roots and Drapes:

  • The roots of ethnic wear can be traced back to ancient India, where draped garments were a common mode of attire. The simplicity and versatility of drapes, seen in early depictions of figures in sculptures and paintings, laid the foundation for the evolution of the saree.
  • Historical figures like Queen Draupadi from the Mahabharata are believed to have worn an early form of the saree, showcasing the garment’s antiquity and regal associations.

2. Mughal Elegance: Sarees as a Canvas of Imperial Style:

  • The Mughal era (1526-1857) left an indelible mark on Indian fashion. The saree, worn by Mughal queens and noblewomen, evolved to showcase opulent fabrics, intricate embroidery, and a distinctive drape style.
  • Historical figures like Empress Nur Jahan influenced the fashion landscape with their patronage of exquisite textiles and craftsmanship. The Mughal love for luxurious fabrics and fine details contributed to the grandeur associated with sarees.

3. Colonial Influences and Hybrid Styles:

  • The British colonial period (1757-1947) brought about changes in Indian attire influenced by European fashion. Traditional saree drapes saw modifications, and the use of European fabrics became prevalent.
  • Historical events such as the Bengal Renaissance introduced new fabrics and styles, creating a fusion of Indian and Western sensibilities. Influential personalities like Raja Ram Mohan Roy played a role in promoting social reform and sartorial evolution.

4. The Swadeshi Movement and Khadi Revolution:

  • The early 20th century witnessed a significant shift with the Swadeshi movement, promoting indigenous textiles and attire. Mahatma Gandhi became an influential figure in advocating for khadi, a hand-spun and handwoven fabric, as a symbol of self-reliance and resistance against British imports.
  • Gandhi’s adoption of simple, handwoven clothing, including the iconic khadi kurta and dhoti, influenced the idea of comfort and cultural pride in everyday wear.

5. Bollywood’s Cultural Influence: Lehengas and Salwar Kameez Take Center Stage:

  • The post-independence era saw the emergence of Bollywood, influencing fashion trends and popularizing ethnic wear. Actresses like Madhubala, Meena Kumari, and Rekha contributed to the cultural representation of sarees and lehengas on the silver screen.
  • The 1980s and 1990s marked the rise of salwar kameez as a popular everyday attire, with Bollywood divas like Sridevi and Juhi Chawla showcasing the ensemble’s versatility.

6. Globalization and Contemporary Adaptations:

  • In the era of globalization, Indian ethnic wear has transcended borders, with designers incorporating global trends while preserving traditional elements. Influential fashion designers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Manish Malhotra have played a pivotal role in shaping the contemporary narrative of ethnic wear.
  • Events like international film festivals and red carpet appearances by Indian celebrities showcase the global appeal of ethnic wear, contributing to its evolution as a fusion of tradition and modernity.


The evolution of Indian ethnic wear is a riveting journey influenced by historical events and iconic personalities. From the draped garments of ancient times to the regal elegance of the Mughal era, the colonial influences, and the cultural movements of independence, each phase has left an enduring impact on sarees, salwar kameez, and lehengas. As we navigate through the annals of history, we witness the evolution of these garments as cultural artifacts, each stitch narrating a story of resilience, adaptation, and timeless elegance.

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