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Costumes in Ancient India and China: An Overview of Traditional Attire

Costumes India China2
Costumes India &Amp; China
Costumes India China3

People in India wore mostly cotton clothing. India was the first place where people grew cotton, even as early as 5000 BC in the Stone Age. Men wore dhoti, a cloth wrapped around their waists and knotted at the back. Some men also wore turbans on their heads; many men wore man-buns and kept their beards short or shaved. Men kept on dressing like this for thousands of years. Women wore short skirts, just from the waist to the knees, and a cloth head wrap, maybe to keep the sun off. Women wore necklaces and bracelets, too, made of stone and shell beads, and later of bronze and silver and gold. By the Vedic period, women wore cloth wrapped and pinned around themselves much like the outfits of Iranian women or Greek women. Some women wore skirts wrapped and pleated around their waists and knotted in front, with a separate piece of fabric for a shawl or veil, and a tight shirt underneath.

By the Guptan period in late antiquity, about 500 AD, many women had shifted to wearing one very long piece of cloth called a sari (still with the tight shirt underneath), that they wrapped around themselves in different ways. The word sari comes from a Sanskrit word that just means cloth. The Vedas are the first written stories that mention saris, about 600 BC. Rich women wore saris made of silk from China, but most women wore cotton saris. Today, many people think of saris as the main type of Indian clothing. There were many different ways of draping saris, depending on how rich you were and where you lived in India. To dress up, women wore their sari-like skirts with a top part thrown over their shoulders or worn over their heads as a veil. Working women often pulled their sari up between their legs to make a sort of pants.

Costumes India China
Costumes India China6

The Mao Suit was popularized by China and the Nehru jacket hailed from India. With Mao and the Nehru sometimes confused as meaning the same thing, you will notice that the collar and the standard pocket design on the two are very different.


An outstanding example of a modern-day Nehru jacket, with the twist of including Mao-styled flap pockets. But, it is the mandarin collar (originally worn by Mandarins in Imperial China and measuring up to 2 inches high and fastened by a hook) seen here, along with the absence of lapels that distinguishes the Indian Nehru Jacket from all other designs.


While it may be surprising to see someone wearing a Mao suit on the street in China, the opposite is true for the Nehru suit in India. Mao-style is rather boxy, the Nehru suit is fitted and cut to size. Nehru jacket since ties are not worn with the Nehru and collarless shirts are recommended to be paired with the jacket.

Costumes India China5

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