Khadi: From Livery of Freedom to Livery of Fashion

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2015

13 Pages


The birth of Khadi

A bonfire of English apparel and imported clothes on the porch of Anand Bhawan- Piles of richly coloured satins, silks, chiffons, hand-tailored Savile Row suits and starched shirts. She witnessed as the ‘Fire put forth its first flickering tongue of flame’ and knew deep within she also had to give up the French Frock she spurned and a doll, who she thought of as her own flesh and blood and not merely an imported object. Indira was torn between the love for her doll and the duty towards her nation (Frank, 2002). Finally, her sense of duty won over her love for the doll and one day she set light to it on the roof of Anand Bhawan. As a child the incident had such strong an impact on Indira Gandhi that it formed the first and most vivid memory of her life. The lavish and magnificent Nehru home- Anand Bhawan was transformed overnight from crystal chandelier, Spode china, sterling silver, Venetian glass, expensive carpets, Carriages, Arabian Horses to Khadi clad family members (Frank, 2002).

Indira Gandhi, who was to later become the first and the only female Prime Minister of the Republic of India for four consecutive terms, was born in an era of such burning milestones and grew up in an intensely political atmosphere. India was witnessing a revolution- The Indian Independence Movement- such bonfires and boycotts had become a commonplace in the country (Frank, 2002). The citizens of India were frustrated due to the racial discrimination of The British Raj (rule) and were carrying out anti-British procession in order to over throw the British Government. They had come to the realization of the fact that boycott of foreign cloth and adoption of home-made hand-spun, hand-woven cloth could be a starting point of political changes and thus Khadi was born. Khadi became the symbol of Swadeshi (home industry) and the seed of a search for a national dress had been planted (Taylor, 1996). This point in history was about to permanently alter the future face on Indian fashion. (Indira, 2009).

Pre-Khadi India (Solutions of dressing during the British Raj)

The introduction of new forms of government, language, education and social etiquette combined with new perception of civilization with a new set of clothes created a problem of ‘what to wear’ for the Indians during the British imperial presence in India (Taylor, 1996). This problem could not be ignored and had to be tackled by the educated Indian man as the European garb was such an essential component of the European notion of civilization. They were torn between the choice of protecting one’s own identity and appearing ‘respectable and civilized’.

The pre-colonial Indian dress consisted of various clothes draped around the body and held together with tucks and folds most common being dhoti, sari, chadar (a long piece of cloth usually used to cover the upper body) and pugri (an Indian-style draped headgear) (Taylor, 1996). The Indian attire was considered disgraceful and indecent thus confirming to the British belief of Indian barbarism and their superiority of civilization. The British attitude towards the Indian dress revealed their attitude towards Indians in general. In comparison to the rigid rules of dressing ‘British’, the early European settlers had some freedom of choice in clothing styles and often discarded their heavy European clothing, adopting clothes more suitable to Indian customs and climates (Taylor, 1996).

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, as the British amalgamated their political governance in India, wearing Indian style became even more unacceptable finally resulting in the introduction of legislation in 1830 banning employees of the East India Company from wearing Indian dress at a public function (Taylor, 1996). The importance of the British attire to the British was largely due its ability to maintain differences between themselves and the undomesticated natives. The dress proved a vital tool of preserving British self-esteem and demonstrating British superiority to Indian spectators. It appeared as if the donning of black jackets and hard-boiled shirts were the sole dependable factors of integrity of the British Empire (Taylor, 1996).

More than their practicality or their aesthetic appeal, European garments were being gradually adopted by the educated Indians and the Indian elite for what they represented. Thus the problem of ‘what to wear’ faced by the elite Indian men can more precisely be defined as the problem of deciding the degree of foreignness to be adopted in one’s own dressing. There were a range of solutions considered by the natives in the various parts of the country. The simplest and the least controversial way of dressing modern without having to abandon one’s own traditional identity was by embracing European fabrics but retaining Indian styles (Taylor, 1996). Though the native women retained their Indian style of dressing in a sari, they gave them a new form by incorporating the latest European trends in fabrics, colours and designs. In an attempt to become Europeanized elite Indian men gave up wearing robs made from embroidered luxurious fabrics of muslin and silk for frock coats made from less ornamented dull material. The Europeanization of Indian garments, a gradual and subtle process, proved a less controversial way of looking respectable without having to let go of one’s true identity as an Indian thus becoming a popular solution particularly amongst the professional Indians (Taylor, 1996).

One other solution was the mixture of both Indian and European garments simultaneously. It became a status symbol of superiority and progressiveness for the natives as the European garments were expensive and often difficult to get hold of. The following extract from Vijayatunga’s essay ‘White man Passes through’ humorously describes the status attached to such clothes in a small Indian village (first published in 1935):‘It must not be supposed for a moment that we in our village are by any means out of touch with civilization. Civilization passes our way quit often, only it does not stop and stay with us. Now and then a White Man himself flits pass our village. Spluttering formidably, a cloud of dust in its trail appears a Wondrous Machine and sitting astride it a figure whose head and face are hidden beneath a ‘pig-sticker’ topee. We are all eyes on the phenomenon we marvel at him and the Civilization of which he is so marvellous a specimen’ (Taylor, 1996).

Popular combinations of the European and Indian garb included European shirts worn without a collar or tie but with a shawl draped over the top and European coats worn over a dhoti with no shirts. This opened the possibility to Indian men of being in fashion without having to westernize their appearance completely.

With the passage of time, as European sense of dressing began to be accepted by the educated and elite Indians, a new solution of ‘Changing Clothes’ was sought and preferred over the earlier one of mixing styles. An Indian man started wearing a complete British dress in an official context and a complete Indian one while at home in presence of his family and friends. This allowed the Indian man to abide to two different and inharmonious standards of mannerism of appropriate dressing (Taylor, 1996). The Indian and European image was divided by a boundary line which was supposed to be ones workplace or office.

By the early twentieth century a new generation of ‘English-Returned’, Indian men who travelled to England and attended British Universities, set new standards for anglicized Indian male. This new brand of men began to retain their western standards of dressing instead of changing back to Indian clothing even within the confines of their own home (Taylor, 1996). The Indian apparel was reserved specifically for traditional use during various religious occasions. And thus a more controversial solution of a Full European dress was invented. Though few men resorted to a complete westernized look, never the less it still formed a part of the Indian society (Taylor, 1996).


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Khadi: From Livery of Freedom to Livery of Fashion
Clothes and Human Experience
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
578 KB
Fashion, History, Design, Fashion History, Textile, Khadi, Textile Sience, Hand woven, Apparels, Textile design, Haute couture, Luxury, Fashion trends
Quote paper
Sneha Meghe (Author), 2015, Khadi: From Livery of Freedom to Livery of Fashion, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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