Tracing the evolution of fashion in post independent India

We look at the evolution of Indian fashion post 1947

author_img Rashmi Rajagopal Published :  13th August 2022 10:38 PM   |   Published :   |  13th August 2022 10:38 PM
A Lehenga by Sabyasachi

A Lehenga by Sabyasachi

Fashion in the context of our Independence sounds like an unusual topic. But is it really?

Today, India’s top designers from Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Manish Malhotra to Tarun Tahiliani and Anita Dongre, all talk about the revival of Indian crafts. And when one stops to think and question why there is a need for this revival in the first place, one can easily trace the decline of these heritage crafts back to the British era - when unchecked exploitation saw heavily taxed craftsmen, handloom weavers and artisans turning to cheaper ways of creating products, that replaced exquisite handcrafted treasures. And yet, in the past few decades, this group of talented couturiers have recognised the importance and beauty of our crafts and continue to keep them relevant to this day. It is a continuous effort, one that has greatly impacted and shaped Indian fashion. 

 Sabyasachi Mukherjee

Also read: National Handloom Day: Loom reclaims spaces in fashion shows, Parliament, campuses and streets

Manish Malhotra


In the immediate aftermath of the British withdrawing from the country, however, fashion in India was heavily influenced by global trends, the economy and the level of access to different fabrics. Blouses and petticoats, that were not traditionally part of Indian attire, were introduced after the arrival of the British and until today are integral to a saree. While the 1950s celebrated khadi, ‘the fabric of freedom’ which continues to be popular in 2022, the 1960s saw the costumes in Indian cinema influencing the trends of the country, think fitted kurta sets and vibrant and large prints. In the 1970s, the influence of the hippie culture was felt heavily. Tapered pants and form fitting salwars gave way for fussy polka dot tops and bell bottoms, not to mention oversized glasses, headbands, fringed details and psychedelic prints.


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Bollywood actress Zeenat Aman 


If there was an era where fashion was integral to a subculture, then this was it. However, as the late ‘70s progressed into the early ‘80s, fashion began being taken more seriously in the country. While in the West, French fashion houses like Louis Vuitton and Hermes had already been around for over a century, the concept of luxury fashion by an Indian label was still unheard of. During this decade, names like the legendary Satya Paul set up shop. We also saw the opening of India’s first multi-designer boutique Ensemble by Tarun Tahiliani. In addition, movie-goers continued to be influenced by the outfits worn by film stars… think bell sleeves, floral prints, sequins, bandanas, choker necklaces and short blouses with puffed sleeves.


Bollywood actress Sridevi


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As the ‘90s, the decade that began with the economic liberalisation of India, rolled around, so did denims in all shapes and sizes - mini skirts, high-waisted ‘dad’ jeans and even dungarees. There were also cropped tops, co-ord sets, and a healthy dose of plaid. In the 2000s, as we got familiar with American stars thanks to the easy access to American movies, TV shows and music, our obsession with Bollywood was paired with this love for the culture of this far flung Western country. Tube tops, low waist jeans, denim jackets, mini dresses were the order of the day and when it came to Indian wear, the shinier the better. In the 90s and 2000s, numerous fashion labels sprung up, from Rohit Bal to Rajesh Pratap Singh and JJ Valaya. However, the garments were mostly ehtnic Indian occasion wear. The designers did serve to bring the focus back to traditional Indian crafts like resham, zardosi, aari, mirror work, gota and chikankari, but there was definitely a gap in the market for luxe daily wear.


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Tarun Tahilani latest couture show


This need was answered by a growing set of younger designers who, in the early 2010s, began laying emphasis on sustainable, handwoven fabrics with a keen eye on producing comfortable, breathable, earth friendly garments that one could describe as ‘everyday luxury.’ Some of ghe names that spring to mind are No Nasties, Doodlage, Khara Kapas, Summer House and Sui. These are only a handful from an innumerable list of fashion labels that want the fabrics and fit to do the talking, rather than embellishments. The emergence of these new labels in the last 12 years, has forced everyone in the fashion industry to rethink and re-strategise.


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Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh in Manish Malhotra Couture

 Today, if the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘conscious’ are not part of your mission statement, you’re not always taken seriously. And yes, heritage labels such as Tarun Tahiliani and Sabyasachi continue to thrive and successfully co-exist with the new crop of designers. This is thanks not just to their expert craftsmanship but also their undiluted dedication to India’s heritage techniques and crafts that would have been long forgotten if not for these legendary names.