Redefining Indian Identity through fashion.

2,469 views
2,376 views

Published on

The word “ethnicity” is quite ambiguous. It has often been used while describing certain patterns or behaviors established within a society. At times, ethnicity can also be related to more literal geographic boundary. The definition has changed multiple times over the past few years. Earlier, it emphasized on the cultural aspect of a region whereas now, with the age of modernization, ethnicity usually refers to a social groups following a similar trait such as speaking the same language or having similar religious beliefs etc. Our perspective of ethnicity is with reference to individuality, values and practices of a group who feel connected to their heritage, either through traditional methods or via a hybrid of different cultures, overall making the society distinct enough to stand out from the other ethnic groups. However, ethnicity isn’t always inherited from the older generations. With globalization, ethnicity can be “constructed by external socioeconomic processes and media promotions” too (Nagel, 1994)
There is no fixed definition for ethnic identity. It’s a dynamic fluid term that keeps evolving with the various global conditions of society.

Referring to the statement of this particular assignment, Quentin Crisp quoted,
Fashion is what you adopt when you don’t know who you are.

Taking the sentence in a literal sense, it stated that those who are clueless about their ethnic origins would just adopt the fashion sense of their current society in order to derive a feeling of identity. Fashion styles are just one aspect contributing to ethnic identity. But why is ethnic fashion considered as a distinguishing characteristic? After all, fashion evolves at a rapid pace; new trends popping up constantly each year, various styles being adopted from different regions etc.
Ethnic fashion is vital because it has a multitude of identities. It can represent a person’s traditional heritage, or political affiliations, religious associations, or even simply, individuality in terms of personal taste. Just like the term “ethnicity”, ethnic fashion is dynamic, forever evolving and still managing to retain its own unique characteristic that allows it to differentiate itself from other communities.
The best place to study various styles of ethnic fashion is in India. With changes brought forth by globalization, India has been divided into three distinct categories of ethnic individuality, each unique and considering themselves to be the dominant Indian identity.

Published in: Design, Business
0 Comments
0 Likes
Statistics
Notes
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Views
Total views
2,469
On SlideShare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
0
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
44
Comments
0
Likes
0
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Redefining Indian Identity through fashion.

  1. 1. Module: Sociology Of Design Assignment 2: Redefining Indian Identity through fashion. (Ethnic Vintage) M.Des 1.1 Name: Harshal Desai Lecturers Dr Kelvin Lee Arabella Pasquette Date of Submission 7/21/2011 Word Count: 3392
  2. 2. TABLE OF CONTENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ................................................................................................................... 2 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY ........................................................................................................ 3 BRIEF HISTORY ................................................................................................................................ 4 CASE STUDIES ................................................................................................................................. 6 Traditional Youth ....................................................................................................................... 7 Semi-Modern Youth .................................................................................................................. 9 Modern Youth.......................................................................................................................... 11 CONCLUSION .............................................................................................................................. 14 WORKS CITED............................................................................................................................... 16 IMAGES REFERENCED ................................................................................................................. 17 1
  3. 3. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The word “ethnicity” is quite ambiguous. It has often been used while describing certain patterns or behaviors established within a society. At times, ethnicity can also be related to more literal geographic boundary. The definition has changed multiple times over the past few years. Earlier, it emphasized on the cultural aspect of a region whereas now, with the age of modernization, ethnicity usually refers to a social groups following a similar trait such as speaking the same language or having similar religious beliefs etc. Our perspective of ethnicity is with reference to individuality, values and practices of a group who feel connected to their heritage, either through traditional methods or via a hybrid of different cultures, overall making the society distinct enough to stand out from the other ethnic groups. However, ethnicity isn’t always inherited from the older generations. With globalization, ethnicity can be “constructed by external socioeconomic processes and media promotions” too (Nagel, 1994) There is no fixed definition for ethnic identity. It’s a dynamic fluid term that keeps evolving with the various global conditions of society. Referring to the statement of this particular assignment, Quentin Crisp quoted, Fashion is what you adopt when you don’t know who you are. Taking the sentence in a literal sense, it stated that those who are clueless about their ethnic origins would just adopt the fashion sense of their current society in order to derive a feeling of identity. Fashion styles are just one aspect contributing to ethnic identity. But why is ethnic fashion considered as a distinguishing characteristic? After all, fashion evolves at a rapid pace; new trends popping up constantly each year, various styles being adopted from different regions etc. Ethnic fashion is vital because it has a multitude of identities. It can represent a person’s traditional heritage, or political affiliations, religious associations, or even simply, individuality in terms of personal taste. Just like the term “ethnicity”, ethnic fashion is dynamic, forever evolving and still managing to retain its own unique characteristic that allows it to differentiate itself from other communities. The best place to study various styles of ethnic fashion is in India. With changes brought forth by globalization, India has been divided into three distinct categories of ethnic individuality, each unique and considering themselves to be the dominant Indian identity. 2
  4. 4. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY Our research focuses on the different aspects of ethnic fashion in India and how the variations manage to link up to a global Indian identity. We will first quickly browse through the rise of the fashion industry in India, the changes taken place after the British Era and the problems faced accepting the western culture. We will highlight the stages where western and Indian styles fused together to allure the Indian society and finally accepting a hybrid of the two cultures. However since there is still a vast majority that sees westernization of India in a negative viewpoint and prefers to stick to the old style, there are many variations of Indian attires. We created three personas reflecting the three divisions of Indian society, the traditional, the semi-modern, and the modern; and by analyzing their choices in attire we wish to find out how similar or different are these three variations of society. Our emphasis will be on the colors, style of clothing, derivations of the cultural history, and how and why these personas believe their sense of fashion depicts them as Indians. We are keeping the geographic boundaries within India for the most part of our report, and will touch on the subject of Indian emigrants in our conclusion. Also, we won’t be including the fashion styles varying according to religions or different castes, sticking only to people who fall broadly under the three main categories we listed above. The personas created are fictional accounts, and do not represent any specific individual. They are a generalization of the group of people that can epitomize their category. To sum up, our research involves 1. Brief Summary of the rise of Fashion industry in India 2. Case studies of traditional, semi-modern, and modern Indians. 3. Results. 3
  5. 5. BRIEF HISTORY To understand the involvement of fashion with Indian ethnicity, we must take a look into the past. Under the British rule, the cotton mills were introduced to the economy and were a major threat to the traditional handloom industry. After achieving independence in 1947, the Indian government was well aware of their disappearing industry and took actions to revive the handicrafts but was unsuccessful on a global level, leaving India to become a large exporter of mill-made clothing. Locally, Indians didn’t care much for these garments as a majority of them included shirts, trousers and skirts. The men accepted the western clothes more quickly because of the ease of fitting but women continued wearing the traditional saris for the next two decades. The reason for this wasn’t just primarily because of cultural differences; it also had to do with the fact that the clothing lacked individuality. Until the 1960s, the local fashion industry consisted largely of textile industries and tailors. Women would purchase the fabric that was hand woven and embroidered by tailors or printed out in textile mills. Everything was custom made, and the level of uniqueness and style depended on the talent of the tailors. (Tarlo, 1996) Eventually younger women started drifting towards western clothing, particularly skirts. Tailors were not able to reproduce the perfect factory fit that was available in readymade store-brought clothing. However, they managed to survive since they were still creating unique designs, using different kinds of embroidery and textiles in their hand-made clothing. (Chishti & Jain, 2000) The first generation fashion designers in India faced enormous challenges since they weren’t attracting their audience enough with western fashion trends. Like an entrepreneurs taking on new undertakings, the fashion designers had to “build trust and reliability at the industry and institutional levels in order to gain a strong socioeconomic foothold” (Aldrich & Fiol, 1994) The main issue came because the Indian populous didn’t understand the role of fashion designers at all. The classic method was to just purchase the garment, and send it to the tailors to customize it according to their taste. People would step into western stores, estimate a cost of the fabric required to make a shirt from the tailors and realize the western stores are charging at a much higher price. What they didn’t realize is the extra cost is for the style of cut, it was quite difficult for fashion designers to explain that to their customers. Basically, fashion designers were called overrated tailors. 4
  6. 6. To get their own distinct identity and establish a strong base in the Indian community, fashion designers focused on reinventing the traditional Indian clothing, trying to introduce the fitting styles into the women’s attire. They also studied the traditional styles of embroidery and embellishing, experimenting with hand-made textiles and colors, making the end product slightly more decorative and fashionable. (Mathur, 2002) They created two main varieties, one style of decorative clothing which could be worn on a day-to-day basis, and another with is richly decorated, suitable for festivals and weddings; all the while retaining the western sense of fitting and cuts. This strategy had effective results. First, adding the embellishments made the clothes look more magnificent and justified the designer’s reason to sell at a higher cost. The wedding and festival series were widely appreciated as they were considered lavish and luxurious, fitting the environment perfectly. Embellished clothing became the mark of luxury. Secondly, fusing the traditional methods with Western styles allowed designers to claim that they are reviving and preserving the traditional skills and crafts, keeping the cultural heritage of the country going forward, and the more people endorse them by buying their attire, the longer they can keep the traditions alive. (Tarlo, 1996) One has to make note that it wasn’t just emphasizing on traditional techniques, but using the crafts along with western fittings that made the fashion designers popular and stand apart from conventional tailors. They eventually pioneered the entire industry, giving rise to several fashion education institutions all over the country. Fashion magazines began popping up in the market, depicting the latest trends and styles. The media began promoting the brand new designers by hosting fashion shows, and using Bollywood films. Several stores opened up all over the country and eventually a point reached where they acquired a global status. Currently, Indian fashion is still on the rise. There has been a slight shift in context for some of the Indian populous who relate to the rich traditional wear as a costume while real fashion is something that looks elegant and can be worn daily with ease. The first generation designers emphasized on decoration, modern designers are focusing on the design of the clothing. It’s not a complete change; it’s a slow, albeit unstoppable transition. (Sengupta, 2005) Let us explore now whether this change impacted the three divisions of Indian society. 5
  7. 7. CASE STUDIES A majority of India’s population is young people. If you consider being “young” as people under the age of 30, this accounts to nearly 60% of the population, 47% of those being under the age of 20. That equals to roughly 160 million teenagers. This ensures that India’s population will grow in the future. It has been estimated that within 2015, people under the age of 20 will constitute 55% of India’s population. (Kriplani, 1999) From the numbers it is quite obvious that the youth has a definitive role in the socioeconomic conditions of society. However, research showed that not everyone is influenced by western culture. Kaustav SenGupta, an associate professor at the National Institute of Fashion Technology found out that you can categorize the youth into three groups: The traditional, the semi-modern and the modern. (Sengupta K. , 2011) Socioeconomic breakdown of Indian Youth Population Traditional Semi Modern Modern Figure 1: Socioeconomic breakdown of Indian Youth Population i We have created three generalized fictional personas based on our observations of these three categories, to study the different mindsets when it comes to fashion and how it still links up to one collective Indian identity. 6
  8. 8. TRADITIONAL YOUTH The traditional youth consists of 67% of the young population, living mostly in the rural areas of India. These are the places that have least western influence, and are rich in traditional values and cultures. People here have deep rooted family traditions and are generally adept in the classical handicrafts. Their major sources of trends are affected by Bollywood movies and small local news channels. (Sengupta K. , 2011) Figure 2: A street shop in a village ii From the picture we can take a look at the variety of bright colors available interspersed with a simple embroidered pattern or minimal embellishments, or even tiedyed patterns directly on the fabric. The design styles are quite basic, down-to-earth, keeping special attention on vibrant hues of pink, blue, oranges and red. Green is also a common color; however it’s mostly used in combination with the other colors. 7
  9. 9. Consider two traditional Indian teenagers, a girl named Radha and a guy named Krishna. Both have lived within their villages all their life. Krishna has two variations of attire. On any general day he can wear a plain colored shirt and trousers or ‘lehengas’. Jeans would be an extremely rare sight in a village. His daily attire mostly consists of muted shades, often earthy tones, which make us, link them towards their lifestyle and work environment. Basic and traditional at its finest. On special occasions, festivals or weddings, Krishna has a chance to wear a slightly more stylish ‘kurta’ which is an Indian variation of a t-shirt; there will be some embroidery involved and in certain areas, often a turban. Slightly more extravagant style might include a ‘sherwani’ which is common wedding attire for the groom. His fashion sense is influenced by Bollywood, and even though he doesn’t have options to mimic the quality, he can definitely modify his clothing to match the latest styles as close as possible. Radha on the other hand, has a more restricted daily wear. She isn’t generally allowed to wear shirts or trousers that men wear. For the most part, her attire consists of a salwaar kameez(shown in the pictures above) for day to day basis. In contast with Krishna, Radha’s attire is more colorful, having brighter shades, possibly to signify the woman’s capability to brighten up the environment and keep the overall spirits of the village upbeat, particularly during local festivals and gatherings. There are some embellishments and embroideries to depict a sense of uniqueness within each dress and portray women in a more artistic beautiful perspective. Almost each dress comes with a dupatta which is a long cotton veil that can be worn around both shoulder or crossed over one shoulder from front to back. While this does have aesthetic value, the primary reason is to cover up their chests. During special occasions, Radha has a chance to wear a brightly colored sari that consists of various beads, mirrors and other traditional embellishments. The embroidery consists of reasonably intricate patterns, enough to make them stand out amongst the rest of the crowd. Both Radha and Krishna may or may not accustom to more westernized attire, but if they would, they would be frowned upon by their community. They often live simple lives and believe they often don’t associate themselves with Western culture often, possibly because they have been following the traditional ways of their ancestors for generations and change doesn’t occur easily for them. They are content with their life and would consider themselves to represent the true Indian culture from the point of devoting their lives towards the traditional handicrafts. 8
  10. 10. SEMI-MODERN YOUTH Consisting of 31.5 percent of the youth population, they have moderate global influence. The youth here are quite aware of the global trends, but on most occasions still stick to their traditional roots, family values and customs. Figure 3: Semi-Modern Youth Fashion iii Consider the semi modern youths, a girl named Ragini and a guy named Kishore. Both have access to western wear, but prefer to go for the more localized fashion brands. While both Ragini and Kishore can wear the usual jeans and shirts comfortably, for most of the time they tend to avoid it. Ragini prefers to the modernized version of the salwaar kameez, whereas Kishore prefers a short kurta with jeans instead of a shirt. They frequently participate in festivals and often follow the traditional Indian values. Regarding the attire itself, Ragini’s dressing attire generally doesn’t contain the same flamboyant colors as depicted by the traditional Radha. The fabric fits more nicely 9
  11. 11. since it’s factory-made, and there is more emphasis on design and pattern. Colors are varied but rarely ever too bright, often including two-three combinations of hues. While they do have a dupatta, recently it has become an optional accessory. The fitting of the dress accentuates Ragini’s curves and the patterned fabric retains the appeal of artistic beauty. At times there may even be embroidery and embellishments though they are kept relatively small to keep the fabric lightweight. At times, Ragini might wear a combination of a kameez with jeans too. Kishore generally wears jeans on a regular basis. He shows his Indian identity by preferring short kurtas in place of shirts and tshirts for casual wear. Again, the colors are generally muted, not overly flamboyant. There are some embroidery patterns on his attire, frequently around the neck and collar. He too prefers the readymade fitting and finds it much more comfortable than getting his clothing tailor-made. Figure 4: Semi-Modern Indian Wedding Attire iv The scenario changes during festivals or weddings. The clothing styles for both Kishore and Ragini shift towards an overly flamboyant, heavily embroidered dress, often using gold threads to make intricate patterns, and even involving embellishments of semiprecious stones. Special occasions like these bring a myriad of vivid colors, red being the most common among weddings. Both Kishore and Ragini are decked up in a 10
  12. 12. hybrid of traditional Indian clothing with more modernized appeal. They perform all their rituals and practices that have been the norm for decades. For Ragini and Kishore, this represents their Indian identity and they consider themselves to represent the true Indian culture since they have maintained a fairly healthy balance between their Indian heritage and modernization. MODERN YOUTH They are the most influential amongst the youth. They might be just 1.5 percent of the youth, but that 1.5% equals to roughly THREE MILLION people, and their numbers are growing strongly (70 percent growth rate). They are tech savvy, highly influenced by western culture, music, food, fashion etc. They are quite frequently the first to experiment new trends, often being trendsetters themselves. (Sengupta K. , 2011) Figure 5: Modern Youth Casual Attire v Consider two modern Indian youths, a girl named Rita and a guy named Krish. Both are most comfortable sporting jeans and a tshirt as part of their casual attire. They generally gravitate towards western brands, though on an off chance might sport an Indian pattern in the form of motifs or tshirt prints from time to time. Rita doesn’t feel consider wearing the salwar kameez style of clothing as the semimodern Ragini. She prefers to have a more casual and completely comfortable style of clothing. She will often be looking for the latest trends globally and will adopt them according to her own taste. 11
  13. 13. Krish spends most of his times shopping for designer clothing. Colors and patterns attribute more towards his personal taste, often keeping it clean and modern. He also finds it more relaxing to wear the western attire over the traditional kurtas. This doesn’t mean that they go out of their way to avoid Indian attires. Quite the contrary, they too wear it sometimes on special occasions. However, for both Rita and Krish, its more of a costume to be worn for a special occasion once in a while. Even there, they manage to find western variations of it. Figure 6: Modern Bridal Wear vi Krish would wear a clean patterned, light embroidered and embellished suit, probably made of silk, which appears to retain the Indian style in some aspects but fits as snugly as a western formal jacket. While they may look simple, these are generally the top of the line designer clothing and much more expensive than the flamboyant counterparts of the semi-modern dresses. Similarly Rita may find a revamp of the standard western bridal gown, only hers isn’t white, it’s a striking shade of color, which would have light decorations on it. Keeping the focus more on the designer perspective rather than overwhelming the dress with embroidery and embellishments. Take note that Rita and Krish would wear these dresses simply because it’s fashionable. They might as well wear products from Armani or Chanel should they prefer to. For them, it’s the concept of style, design and level of comfort. 12
  14. 14. Rita and Krish have a very different outlook on the “Indian” identity. Both believe in the concept of a “global identity”, where there are no boundaries between cultures, no distinction of developed and developing countries etc. They are the harbingers of western culture to India, and are often criticized by the rest of the public for being spoiled by western civilization. Yet, even though they may not show it in their dressing attire or their lack of traditional family values etc, they consider themselves to be Indian at heart. Although their numbers are small, both believe to represent the Indian identity, in terms of the next stage of evolution, taking the most valuable aspects of Indian culture into the modern society, leaving behind some of the archaic traditions and shedding the boundaries of Indian identity to reach a more global perspective. They strongly believe in getting rid of the image of India being a slowly developing country, repainting the image that India is in fact, quite developed already and this will help make their country a better place and achieve a firm base on a global scale. 13
  15. 15. CONCLUSION Globalization in India has brought positive and negative feedback. Those who are determined to stick to the past, or preserve India’s entire heritage, globalization is a threat. They believe it’s the modernizing different industries that are causing an increase in unemployment numbers. Some have such a negative view that they blame everything upon westernization: crime, destruction of environment, religious violence etc. Such people are so unwilling to accept the change they overlook the positive aspects. The Indian economy has increased its influence on a global scale. Women have been empowered to perform non-traditional roles, giving more freedom. There’s been a huge rise with regards to new technologies, allowing us access to the entire world. We mentioned that the Indian Youth plays a vital role here. Among the modern youth, the 1.5% or three million people and growing, they are one of the most critical players in embracing globalization, reinventing their lifestyles in ways never imagined by others. Oddly enough, anthropologist Srinivas notes that there was a dual effect of globalization. While Indian youth was adopting western trends, the West was getting highly influenced by Indian culture and practices. Yoga, meditation, cultural arts were becoming the latest trends in the western world. When the Indian youth realized this, they had a renewed interest in learning about their own culture… quite the irony. (Srinivas, 2002) Most of the older generations believe this sudden fondness towards modernization is because the youth don’t know about the “hardships and shortages the nation faced after its economic reform in the late 1980s” (Stevens, 2004). There is some truth to that since the youth today is experiencing a very different Indian environment than what it was 20 years ago. They have a more global outlook and feel like they belong to a larger community where geographical boundaries don’t matter. They blend Indian values with western ideas. The youth culture has made such a global impact on the western world that many Hollywood celebrities were seen wearing the modern Indian attires during the film festivals. Oddly enough, Indian emigrants have their own variations regarding Indian fashion and culture. While some actually seek to learn about their heritage, others completely abolish it and adopt the culture of the locality in order to fit in, epitomizing Quentin Crisp’s statement, “fashion is what you adopt when you don’t know who you are” 14
  16. 16. However, after the detailed analysis of the variations of fashion in Indian youth, we have to say that Quentin Crisp’s statement doesn’t always hold true. All three categories of Indian youth have their own unique styles and still contribute to an overall “Indian” identity. While modern Indian youth may adopt western cultures and fashion styles, their roots are still Indian. They haven’t forgotten that, and are only evolving to newer, evolved versions of the stereotypical “Indian identity”. And regarding the large number of people objecting globalization of India? All we can conclude is that globalization of the country is always going to remain controversial and multidimensional, however it is definitely inevitable and will continue to progress at a rapid pace. 15
  17. 17. WORKS CITED Aldrich, H., & Fiol, C. (1994). Fools rush in? The institutional context of industry creation. Academy of Management review, 19(4), 645-670. Bhachu, P. (2004). Dangerious Designs: Asian Women Fashion the Diaspora Economies. New York: Routledge. Chishti, R., & Jain, R. (2000). Hand crafted Indian TExtiles. New Delhi: Lustre Press. Crane, D., & Bovone, L. (2006). Approaches to material Culture: The sociology of fashion and clothing. Poetics, 34(1), 319-333. Dasgupta, M. (1997). What is Indian about you : A gendered transnational approach to Ethnicity. Gender and Society, 11(5), 572-596. Kriplani, M. (1999, October 11). India's Youth: They are capitalist minded- and they are changing the nation forever. Retrieved August 16, 2011, from BusinessWeek: http://www.media-watch.org/articles/1099/0.html Mathur, A. (2002). Woven Wonder: The tradition of indian textiles. New Delhi: Rupa & Co. Nagel, J. (1994, February). Constructing Ethnicity: Creating and Recreating Ethnic Identity and Culture. Social Problems, 41(1), 152-176. Nash, M. (1989). The Cauldron of Ethnicity in the Modern World. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Patterson, O. (1975). Context and Choice in Ethnic Allegiance. In N. Glazer, & P. Moynihan, Ethnicity: Theory and Practice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Sengupta, H. (2005). Indian Fashion. Singapore: Pearson Education. Sengupta, K. (2011, July 18). Youth in India and their mutating consumer behavior. Retrieved August 18, 2011, from Imagesfashion.com: http://www.imagesfashion.com/content/PrintContent.aspx?cid=1023 Srinivas, T. (2002). The Indian case of cultural Gobalization. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Stevens, A. (2004, April 24). India's youthful revolution. Retrieved August 14, 2011, from CNN online: http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/asiapcf/04/19/india.young. Tarlo, E. (1996). Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in india. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 16
  18. 18. IMAGES REFERENCED Socioeconomic breakdown of Indian youth population. Data retrieved on 18 August 2011 from http://www.imagesfashion.com/content/PrintContent.aspx?cid=1023 i A street shop in a village. Image retrieved on 18 August, 2011 from http://desigirlsclub.com/indian-village-decent-dress/ ii iii Semi-Modern Youth Fashion. Image retrieved on 18 August 2011 from http://www.yourdesignerwear.com iv Semi Modern Indian Wedding Attire. Image retrieved from personal archives. v Modern Youth Casual Attire. Image Retrieved from personal archives. Modern BridalWear, Image retrieved on 18 August 2011 from http://product-image.tradeindia.com vi 17

×