The Humble Blouse in your closet - I
The Humble Blouse in your closet!

If history takes us back we can see that blouse as such did not play a 
role in a woman’s wardrobe in the earlier civilizations known to 
mankind. Even as late as in the 19th century, many women did not cover 
their torso in southern India, while some went bare-breasted under their 
saris in Bengal.

In the early days much earlier than 1890s..know to us the millennium 
women like us , a blouse was mainly worn by workmen, peasants, artists, 
women or children. The blouse was in a loose design and gathered at the 
waist by a waistband or belt. Today, the term usually relates to a 
woman’s shirt who wears western outfits and blouse traditionally worn by 
women in India with sarees which can be fitted in style or worn loose as 
a crop top.

European ladies during this time laced themselves tight in corsets and 
dresses that covered them neck to toe. Only the silhouette, strangled 
into an hourglass shape, marked their femininity.

Much later during World War 1, the button-front fitted blouse was 
created in Europe. This was during the time that women were more forth 
coming into areas of leisure sports, education and jobs for the first 
time in history, and so the bustle of the heavy dresses of the previous 
century just didn’t fit into the newly growing culture and blouses 
started to occupy a predominant place in their wardrobes. The sewing 
machine became more popular and women began to sew their clothes at 
home, negotiating for their relief and style. Even today this practice 
is prevalent in many parts of India where the women sew their blouses 
for sarees at home.

The blouse had not only replaced centuries of corsets and full-length 
dresses but it also brought the frills and embroidery to the visible 
garment – The blouse.

Later, the blouse worn with trousers - staple look of the 1940s and 
early 1950s. Yet the high-neckline Edwardian blouse was not easy to let 
go of. It played up the prim all through the 1970s. Just a brief vogue 
for a blouse with a V-neck was vociferously denounced as indecent and 
condemned as a risk to the wearer's health.

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 of time.

Essentially, 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 

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 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.

Going back in history where we can see the depiction of the lifestyles 
of the civilization in the form of sculpture or painting we see from the 
Maurya and Sunga periods (about 300 BC), men and women wore rectangular 
pieces of fabric, on the lower part of the body and one on the upper 
part like a Uttareya. One very visible constant constant feature of the 
erotic sculptures found for example at the Khajuraho Temple (900-1050 
BC) in Madhya Pradesh, is the way the women’s breasts are portrayed; 
defying the gravity - with their size and either bare or bursting from 
whatever is left of their blouse.  It appears that going topless during 
these times was something acceptable. The invasion of Mugals and the 
adaption of their clothing by the locals were responsible for the 
changes in the way Indian women dressed. A lot of work done of the 
clothing in terms of embroidery fusion of fabrics that we see in Gujarat 
/ Rajasthan happened then.

In Bengal, during the Victorian era, most women did not wear blouses 
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?

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