Indigenous (or native) fashion by the name says clothing, fashion and accessories that belong to a particular region or country or are native to a specific culture.
Back in the days, Native clothing was in fact connected to the people of North America and that’s where the term even originated. Native American clothing is a vital part of American culture and history. Weaving, beading, and detailed work such as feathering played an integral part in Native American clothing. Native American clothing was a main factor in cultural and religious ceremonies. Intricate beadwork and feathered headdresses were also commonly worn during ceremonial displays.
Be it the Americans, African Americans or the tribal Indians, Indigenous fashion was more than just fashion to them. It represented their culture and heritage, more than anything. Indigenous designers frequently incorporate motifs and customary materials into their wearable artworks, providing a basis for creating items for the haute couture and international fashion markets that become the latest trends in fashion.
Their designs may result from techniques such as beadwork, quillwork, leather, and textile arts, such as weaving, twining, and tufting. In some cases, however, they choose not to include any materials associated with indigenous cultures.
History of Indigenous Fashion
As was custom with the Native Americans, they were very resourceful with all of the materials that were available to them, and they used the skin of deer to make clothes as well as fibrous materials. Beads and Wampum (a shell) were also frequently used to adorn tribal dress. There were many different beadwork patterns that were symbolic to each tribe.
Women were primarily the seamstresses of the tribes. They would prepare the skins that would be used to make clothing. The act of making Native American clothing wasn’t a task that the women took lightly. Many of the decorations and the objects used by the women to adorn the clothing were significant symbols of stature and power. Family relationships were also honored through the art of making Native American clothing. Women would diligently work on the clothes for loved ones, and by using objects that represented the occupations of her loved ones.
While Native people have always produced clothing, until the twentieth century the garments they made were for personal or ceremonial use. However, forced assimilation policies throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries focused on eradicating Native American culture, including religious observance, language, and other traditional practices. Later, policies such as the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act changed the strategy for education of Native peoples, encouraging them instead to reconnect with their cultures, including the creation of traditional dress.
Indigenous Australians have also influenced modern Australian dress since first contact. From possum skin cloaks and booka kangaroo capes to shell necklaces in Tasmania, Europeans have been fascinated with Indigenous materials, skills and aesthetics. They have stolen, purchased, borrowed and worn them for more than 200 years.
In turn, Indigenous Australians have at times enjoyed wearing soldiers’ red jackets as battle spoils and possibly mocked the Europeans by wearing their top hats cockily in the early streets of Sydney.
Traditional dress practices, along with ceremony, language and music-making, were often banned by the colonisers. Missionaries often taught western-style leatherwork to men and needlecraft to women – yet powerful hybrids of self-determined dress also emerged, expressing subversive gestures and quiet resistance.
India’s Indigenous Fashion History and Descendance
It is estimated that the Indian handloom and weaving industries employ over 5 million weavers and allied workers. Woven textiles and handlooms make up around 15% of the cloth market and 95% of the world’s hand-woven fabrics come from India.
These government statistics don’t even take into account the highly unorganised embroidery industry that is almost completely run in non-descript locations all over the country. Small workshops that are mostly dilapidated structures with little to no electricity and no basic amenities. It’s easy for the word ‘sweat shops’ to immediately come to mind. The establishments are operated by well-meaning but uneducated owners who are struggling themselves to make ends meet after paying for their overheads. Resulting in no official record of their businesses and most dealings happening in cash to save on taxes.
Why are we telling you all this? Mostly because these people make up the meaning of Indigenous Fashion in today’s day and age. India’s fashion industry is at such a stage where the very people who are redefining the handloom industry of today are the only ones who’re changing the landscape of fashion and in a good way, bringing back hand woven textile and hand work in the latest fashion trends.
Clothing in India changes depending on the different ethnicity, geography, climate, and cultural traditions of the people of each region of India. Historically, male and female clothing has evolved from simple garments like kaupina, langota, dhoti, lungi, sari, gamcha, and loincloths to cover the body into elaborate costumes not only used in daily wear, but also on festive occasions, as well as rituals and dance performances. In urban areas, western clothing is common and uniformly worn by people of all social levels.
India has a great diversity in terms of weaves, fibers, colours, and material of clothing. Sometimes, color codes are followed in clothing based on the religion and ritual concerned. The clothing in India also encompasses the wide variety of Indian embroidery, prints, handwork, embellishment, styles of wearing cloths. A wide mix of Indian traditional clothing and western styles can be seen as of today in our country.
In India, trends in fashion for women’s clothing varies widely and is closely associated with the local culture, religion and climate.
Traditional Indian clothing for women in the north and east are saris worn with choli tops; a long skirt called a lehenga or pavada worn with choli and a dupatta scarf to create an ensemble called a gagra choli; or salwar kameez suits, while many south Indian women traditionally wear sari and children wear pattulanga. Saris made out of silk are considered the most elegant.The traditional style of clothing in India varies with male or female distinctions. This is still followed in the rural areas, though is changing in the urban areas.
Be it clothing, accessories, shoes, etc. , they use several techniques of surface ornamentation like embroidery, weaving, beading, printing, dyeing, and many more that enhance the beauty of any product.
One such indigenous example of a brand infusing modern techniques with age-old classic virtues, Pretty Peach by Dr. Rohini who runs a handcrafted footwear, clothing and accessories online shop. Despite being a practicing, ENT, Head & Neck, Skull base Surgeon, she founded DOODLE RAGE and PRETTY PEACH, both being brands launched by her in September 2019.
They provide a wide range of products from keeping Indian heritage alive with their exclusive juttis with a modern twist to strappy sandals and modern clothing.
The Jutti (resembles the modern-day ballet flats) was first used by Indian royalty in the 16th century. Women fought battles wearing Juttis, that’s how comfortable they are At Pretty Peach, they bring you a modern twist to traditional juttis with modern, fun designs ensuring they go with every outfit (Indian and western) and occasion. Along with Juttis, they also house a wide range of shoes, heels and other ranges as well. They also carry dresses, skirts, tops, pants, jackets along with handcrafted bags, clutches, jewellery that depict indigenous fashion. You can check them out here – https://www.prettypeach.shop and https://www.etsy.com/in-en/shop/PrettyPeachByRohini
From the IKF Desk
After much experimentation and with help from local governments, most Indian designers have worked out that the key to making India’s indigenous sectors not only sustainable but also profitable is reinvention.
Modern Indian men and women don’t want to dress like their parents and grandparents, but they don’t want to completely isolate their Indian ethnicity either. This is evident from the past decade when there has been a sudden resurgence towards being and wearing Indian albeit with a modern twist.
It might seem like this was just a random change in trends but in reality, India’s stalwart fashion designers have been working hard behind moulding this mind-set with their conscious and continuous efforts.