The lavishly displayed “Influences of the British Raj on the Attire and Textiles of Punjab”, written by author-textile researcher Jasvinder Kaur, edited by Nirad Grover, and designed by Nikheel Aphale, traces simpler times in Punjab when western clothes were gaining currency among the men and women of the province — even when the British did not appreciate the idea.
“The British imposed some rules on dressing in order to emphasize the difference between the new rulers of India. Even the Indian royalty was subjected to these policies. They could not wear anything that would in any way resemble the English crown,” the author says in the book.
In the early 19th century, just as the East India Company and the British Empire, with it, was gradually spreading its control over the subcontinent, the man from Punjab wore a kurta, pyjama, juti, and the indispensable pagri (turban).
Soon, the common western-style coats, waistcoats, greatcoats, and overcoats found themselves mixed and matched with Indian clothes. The fusion of European and Indian also gave birth to the achkan and sherwani that incorporated elements of both fashion styles. Under the western influence, men’s clothes became slimmer and well-fitted. With the increasing western influence, Indian men started wearing different clothes at different times of the day, a practice alien to the Indian lifestyle thus far.
“Women’s clothes were impacted to a lesser degree, but changes came in the style of wearing a sari, the introduction of the blouse and the petticoat, and the use of cosmetics and accessories,” Jaswinder Kaur writes.
Trousers, she adds, were perhaps the last element of western attire that was adopted by Indian men. While men’s clothing saw an almost complete makeover under the Raj, Jaswinder Kaur points out that the traditional dress of Indian women did not undergo drastic changes. To a large extent, it has not happened even now.
The 160-page book is divided into five parts — Men’s Clothing, Women’s Clothing, Accessories, Materials, Acquiring Goods, Embroidery, and Handwork — tracking the changes through the years with words and photographs.
The book also tracks the introduction of western clothing accessories such as shoes, socks, purses, and watches into Indian men and women’s attire, as well as the entry of English fabric like lace, net, and velvet among others.