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Explain the reasons for the changes in clothing patterns and materials in the eighteenth century.

Before the age of democratic revolutions and the development of capitalist markets in eighteenth-century Europe, most people dressed according to their regional codes, and were limited by the types of clothes and the cost of materials that were available in their region. Class, gender or status in the social hierarchy also strictly regulated clothing styles. After the eighteenth century, the colonisation of most of the world by Europe, the spread of democratic ideals and the growth of an industrial society completely changed the ways in which people thought about dress and its meanings. People could use styles and materials that were drawn from other cultures and locations, and western dress styles for men were adopted worldwide.


What were the sumptuary laws in France?

In medieval Europe, dress codes were sometimes imposed upon members of different layers of society through actual laws, which were spelt out in some detail. From about 1294 to the time of the French Revolution in 1789, the people of France were expected to strictly follow what were known as ‘sumptuary laws.’ The laws tried to control the behaviour of those considered social inferiors, preventing them from wearing certain clothes, consuming certain foods and beverages (usually this referred to alcohol) and hunting game in certain areas. In medieval France, the items of clothing a person could purchase per year was regulated, not only by income but also by social rank. The material to be used for clothing was also legally prescribed. Only royalty could wear expensive materials like ermine and fur, or silk, velvet and brocade. Other classes were debarred from clothing themselves with materials that were associated with the aristocracy.


Give any 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-enconomic 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 woman, who were disallowed from covering their upper bodies like higher caste women.


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?

The reformers lamented that women who gave up traditional norms of dressing no longer looked beautiful, and lost their femininity and grace. Faced with persistent attacks, many women reformers changed back into traditional clothes to conform to conventions. The Shanars (also called Nadars) were a community of toddy tappers who migrated to southern Travancore to work under Nair landlords. As they were considered a ‘subordinate caste’, they were prohibited from using umbrellas and wearing shoes or golden ornaments. Men and women were also expected to follow the local custom of never covering their upper bodies before the upper castes. Under the influence of Christian missions, Shanar women converts began in the 1820s to wear tailored blouses and cloths to cover themselves like the upper castes. Soon Nairs, one of the upper castes of the region, attacked these women in public places and tore off their upper cloths. Complaints were also filed in court against this dress change, especially since Shanars were also refusing to render free labour for the upper castes.

The position of the women of that society was bad.


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?

Mahatma Gandhi’s life and his experiments with clothing sum up the changing attitude to dress in the Indian subcontinent. As a boy from a Gujarati Bania family, he usually wore a shirt with a dhoti or pyjama, and sometimes a coat. When he went to London to study law as a boy of 19 in 1888, he cut off the tuft on his head and dressed in a Western suit so that he would not be laughed at. On his return, he continued to wear Western suits, topped with a turban. As a lawyer in Johannesburg, South Africa in the 1890s, he still wore Western clothes. Soon he decided that dressing ‘unsuitably’ was a more powerful political statement. In Durban in 1913, Gandhi first appeared in a lungi and kurta with his head shaved as a sign of mourning to protest against the shooting of Indian coal miners. On his return to India in 1915, he decided to dress like a Kathiawadi peasant. Only in 1921 did he adopt the short dhoti, the form of dress he wore until his death.


Why did Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of clothing the nation in khadi appeal only to some sections of Indians?

1. Nationalists such as Motilal Nehru, a successful barrister from Allahabad, gave up his expensive Western-style suits and adopted the Indian dhoti and kurta. But these were not made of coarse cloth.

2. Those who had been deprived by caste norms for centuries were attracted to Western dress styles. Therefore, unlike Mahatma Gandhi, other nationalists such as Babasaheb Ambedkar never gave up the Western-style suit. Many Dalits began in the early 1910s to wear three piece suits, and shoes and socks on all public occasions, as a political statement of self-respect.

3. A woman who wrote to Mahatma Gandhi from Maharashtra in 1928 said, ‘A year ago, I heard you speaking on the extreme necessity of every one of us wearing khadi and thereupon decided to adopt it. But we are poor people, My husband says khadi is costly. Belonging as I do to Maharashtra, I wear a sari nine yards long … (and) the elders will not hear of a reduction (to six yards).’

4. Other women, like Sarojini Naidu and Kamala Nehru, wore coloured saris with designs, instead of coarse, white homespun.


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