In Gujarat–as well as in all other states in India–the details of one’s attire has provided a means of differentiating between groups. The use of a specific fabric and a style of jewellery can identify a person’s community and religious affiliation. Religion still underpins many social customs and has a direct influence on the clothing choices of most people.
As one of the most industrialised states in India, it would be surprising to discover that much of Gujarat still continues to be dominated by agriculture and pastoralism. Urbanites, however, tend not to follow the established rules of attire and even perceive these customs as part of their history as opposed to current fashion.
Even among the most conservative sections of society, the dress code has not remained unchanged either. This reflects not only the technological developments, but also the social changes that have taken place in the Indian subcontinent throughout history.
The typical dress of Hindu women throughout Gujarat and Rajasthan consists of a three-piece ensemble of: an ankle-length skirt ghaghra, a backless or semi-backless blouse kanchali and a cloth duppatta. Even though a good deal of change was noticed in the urban attire in recent decades, the three fundamental components of traditional female dress have remained unchanged.
In the past 50 years, the textiles from which this traditional attire was made and the way in which it was made has undergone unalterable changes. In the past, the basic fabric was made by locally-based weavers. It was then sent to the dyers and printers before it was sold. People would purchase the cloth and take it to their tailor. This pattern of production has now largely disappeared.
Even though the orthodox dress is still around and very much alive, factory-made and mass-produced is now the norm. The increasing use of polyester has gone hand-in-hand with the decline in the use of handmade fabrics.
Due to access to technology, the aspirations and the dress code of the newer and younger generation are different to those of the older generation. This can even be seen in the changes that have taken place in the self-identity of an individual.
For a long time, these traditional ensembles were a source of pride and the expression of one’s own cultural identity.The dress that is particularly and specifically associated with a community is replete with symbols that define and identify group membership: not only to oneself, but also to others.
As a culture urbanises, attitudes tend to diverge and diversify. To many, traditional wear has the stamp of authenticity. It appears, at first glance, to memorialise the beauty of a bygone age. To others, it is old-fashioned, backward and a sign of resistance to change.
To me, it is yet another colourful ensemble to experiment with; and a style that I can possibly revamp, revitalise and refresh. After all, the innovations of today will be the traditions of tomorrow.