Types of Traditional Indian Clothing

Updated November 21, 2016

The first country to grow cotton, most of India's many traditional clothing styles are still made from the popular fibre. It is only since British Colonial times in the late 1800s and early 1900s that men, and to a lesser extent women, began to move away from wearing traditional Indian clothes. Although many Indian men in the 21st century wear western clothing, such as blue jeans and T-shirts, a significant amount of Indian women still wear traditional Indian fashion.


Although the exact origins of the sari are unclear, they are first mentioned in the Vedas (classic Sanskrit texts) as early as 600 B.C. Saris are long, draped fabrics made from cotton or silk, and are traditionally wrapped around the legs like a skirt and then draped over the shoulder and wrapped around the upper torso. During colonial times, a halter top, called a choli, was added underneath the top draping. Often colourful, saris are still a common form of clothing for 21st century Indian women. Traditional saris are unstitched because the Hindu religion believes clothing that has not been punctured by a needle is sacred.


Sometimes called a lungi or a laacha, the dhoti is a traditional piece of clothing worn by Indian men. The dhoti can be seen in sculptures dating as far back as 200 B.C. Similar to saris, though shorter, dhotis are long pieces of cotton cloth that are tied around the waist. These garments are often white in colour and worn like skirts, although some men bring one end of the cloth between the legs before tying, which makes them into baggy trousers.

Salwar Kameez

Popular in the Punjab region, the salwar kameez is a traditional cotton outfit worn by Indian women. Typically, it is made up of loose, ankle-length trousers (salwar) that are tied by a drawstring and a long, knee-length tunic top (kameez). Modern variations of the salwar kameez include the churidar, which is sleeker and narrower, as well as the silk salwar which is a fancier version of the standard outfit.


Originally, kurtas were worn only by Indian men, however, in modern times they are worn by Indian women as well. Made from cotton, kurtas are long, collarless, tunic-like shirts with long sleeves that typically go down to the knee or mid-thigh. They are also referred to as kurta pyjamas. Traditional kurtas are either white or pastel-coloured.

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