Fashion isn’t all about sex, but as an industry it’s pretty damn hot. Fashion adorns the body, and clothing can become a second skin. If you’re looking for a little sultry indigenous style inspiration, then read the following article on the humble ‘blouse’. Read about its origin, its history, how it pushed boundaries in styling a woman and explore human quirks about getting
dressed; and appreciate the relationship between body, clothing and arious states of dress and undress. After all what can be more sexier than the realness of foibles?!
Mark Twain said, “The finest clothing made is a person’s skin, but, of ourse, society demands something more than this.” Our ancestors believed in adorning themselves with less fabric because their skin was a fabulous style statement. Coco Chanel once said that ‘Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with
ideas, the way we live, what is happening’.
At Bride of Honor we like to inspire our readers by sharing our knowledge and love for fashion, which is reflected in our posts and articles. Fashion continues to find inspiration in past trends and yet it is constantly undergoing radical changes. Here we outline some of the main trends in
the ‘history of blouses’ and link these to contemporary trends.
What is this blouse? The blouse is a traditional Indian wear worn with a saree. It is cropped at waist fitted blouson which is worn along with a saree.
Centuries ago, circa 1200 BC, in the reign of the Maurya and Sunga era, men and women wore nothing but a rectangular piece of fabric to cover their essentials and little else. Going topless seemed perfectly acceptable for women of these eras. Even the sculptures of ancient ruins of long forgotten mighty kingdoms depict erotic poses of women’s breasts defying gravity by their size and either bare or bursting from whatever is left of their fabric veil.
With the entry of the Mughals and their subsequent rise in the Indian continent, certain changes were introduced in Indian women’s attire like covering the head and the breasts; however the modern Indian blouse was still far behind.
In the 19th century, many women did not cover their torso in southern India, while some went bare-breasted under their saris in the northern territories. In Bengal, during the Victorian era, most women did not wear anything under their saris – they wore it bare-breasted. In some parts of India covering of the breasts had more to do with caste than propriety. So who brought the blouse; the imperative paraphernalia of the sari to the Indian shores?
The blouse, especially in Europe, has been the symbol of women going to work, thus stripping the garment of any qualities that would evoke desire or emphasize sensuality. As women stepped into workplaces that were dominated by men, the blouse too became more streamlined, fitted,
appearing like the business attire of their male counterparts. To the extent that the blouse metamorphosed into a statement of intent for female business executives. At its sexiest best, the blouse became an attempt to be feminine yet fit into a man's world.
No wonder the British were aghast at the indecorum of Indian women roaming bare-chested. It was the British who brought the blouse to the sari in India, along with the petticoat and their own ideas of European propriety. The blouse has easily been Britain's most powerful export to India, one that has outlived the influence of the crown. With its different sleeve structures and necklines, the blouse under the sari made colonial British and Indian fashions even resemble each other at some point.
According to a report by the BBC news it was Jnanadanandini Debi, the wife of Satyendranath Tagore – brother of the famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore –who was reportedly refused entry to clubs under the Raj for wearing the sari fabric over her bare breasts. She went on to change the norm thereafter and popularised the blouses, jackets and chemises esulting in the modern style of the sari draping with accompaniments today.
Once chided by the British for her impudence on being blouse-less, Jnanadanandini Debi later became the greatest style icon for blouses and chemises worn under the sari in India. She is a great metaphor for the spectacular influence of the British on garments in India in those times.
Blouse called in different names
A blouse worn with a saree is given different names in the rich and diverse cultures and regions across India. A blouse is a fitted bodice commonly called a choli in northern parts of India, Ravikein in South India, cholo in Nepal etc
Several factors go into designing a blouse. A blouse is the most personally curated and bespoke garment that a bride gives utmost prominence to, for her wedding. Each bride gets her blouse designed bearing in mind her body shape, her facial features, the colour of the saree and sometimes even the theme of the wedding. Some brides have been innovative enough to have gotten their love story weaved and narrated on their blouse and their
spouse's name embroidered on it too.
We now explore the different factors that are borne in mind while designing a blouse and the process involved in creating a masterpiece.
1. There are more than 150 variety of blouses. Most of the varieties are based on their necklines for eg: Halter neck, Boat Neck High Neck, Collar Neck, Knotted Blouse, Illusion/Sheer Neck Blouse etc.
2. Blouses are again segmented based on the fabric and material used, the different types of work done on the blouse etc
It’s an era of unique blouses. There was a period when expensive silk sarees were the centre of attraction at weddings. But now it’s a different scenario. Blouses have become the talk of the town. Much prominence is now given to the designers who bring in uniqueness and innovation to the blouse and they have become a significant part of the wedding industry.
While designing a bridal blouse various factors are considered. The diversity differs from one blouse to another depending on the client's preference. The brides and clients prefer a unique blouse to be paired with their saree for their big day.
While designing a blouse a bride brings her saree for consultation and speaks of any specifications she wants, incorporated in the blouse. Some bride’s leave it to the discretion of the designer to come up with innovative designs for the blouse while some brides look into various design atalogues to draw inspiration. Nevertheless, certain base criteria’s can be kept in mind while designing a bridal blouse
The concepts and the colours weaved in the saree can be considered while designing a blouse.
The designs on the blouse fabric are also looked into and sometimes additional embroidery work on the existing designs is incorporated.
There are some blouses where a completely different theme is taken into consideration and neither the designs nor any features from the saree are considered. Sometimes even the blouse fabric that comes with the saree is discarded. A piece of complete contrast fabric is used for the blouse which is aligned with the colours of the saree and the border.
Fabric: The base fabric for a blouse varies from pure silk, raw silk, silk brocades, ikkats, jacquards, jute fabrics or a combination of any or all of them too.
Motifs: The blouses now are sown with theme motifs and several pieces of jewellery are also sewn into a blouse and have become a signature design. The elaborate scenes of a doli procession are aesthetically and intricately sewn on the back of the blouse.
Gods, goddesses, elephants, peacocks, random motifs, booties are beautifully embroidered. Most of the embroidery work on a blouse is the handiwork of skilled artisans and hence each of these blouses is statement pieces and a work of art.
The borders, the necklines are done with minute detailing and intricate designs are sewn around, enriching the look of the entire outfit.
Some of the blouses are covered entirely with beautiful embroidery, stones, beads, sequins zardozi etc to give them a rick look. Some of these blouses are so filled with bling that they are quite heavy in designs as well as in weight.
The designs are detailed and intricate that sometimes a blouse is entirely done up with French knots, using thread and zari work only.
In blouses, either the sleeves are highlighted or the back of the blouse is the talk of the town
Much time and effort go into designing a complete look in a bridal blouse. It all begins with a concept, a basic sketch and the design. Later the colour coordination and the type of fabric and materials to be used is considered depending on the basic design. Then the fabric and materials are chosen to make the blouse. The design process takes ample time and a prototype is created and once that is approved, the work on the original piece begins. The Karigars are instructed accordingly on every detail of the blouse.
Several painstaking hours are clocked by the master craftsmen in just setting the right embroidery and design on the blouse fabric. Finally, the blouse is all pieced together and a masterpiece is ready.
This tedious and skilful work of craftsmanship is backed by an entire team of people and their labour of love is received with accolades when a beaming beautiful bride adorns it and walks the path looking stunning on her wedding day. A happy note from the bride is a certificate of ppreciation for a job well done.
While the blouse did liberate white women from the tight corsets in Europe it imposed its standard of decency and public decorum on the Indian population who had probably never considered breasts as titillating before being asked to cover it. In a country like ours where from time to time so called nationalists decide to define the integrity of a woman by her compliance to tradition, the story of the origin of the blouse shows us just how misguided notions of tradition and culture can be!
Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim. – Jane Austen