Indian Dress: Modesty and Norms in Public and the Workplace

Katie Urban, St. Catherine University ’17

All around the world, dress is used as a form of expression. In preparing for my trip to India, I completed research about dress practices in both the public and the workplace in regards to the modesty and norms of Indian culture. What I found was what Indian women choose to wear symbolizes their caste position, marital status, geographic region, and religion (Shukla, 2008).

When most people think of Indian clothing, they picture the traditional sari, a long piece of cloth draped around the body (Kawlra, 2010), its draping style signifying the region a woman is from while promoting modesty (Lynton & Singh, 1995).  Young, newly married women wear brightly colored sarees, while older women wear subtler colors (Shukla, 2008).

Silk Sari

Saki Enterprises. (Photographer). (2016). Blue & Pink Pure Kanchivaram Silk Saree [digital image]. Retrieved from

Salwar suits have become a popular clothing option for everyday wear and the workplace, while sarees are reserved for special occasions. These suits consist of a kurta (tunic), salwar pants, and a dupatta (long scarf). The kurta ranges in length from upper-thigh to below the knee, while the necklines of garments conceal cleavage to provide overall modesty (Shukla, 2008).

Silk Salwar

Saki Enterprises. (Photographer). (2016). Green & Gold Blended Silk Salwar [digital image]. Retrieved from

Preparing for my trip to India has been an exciting journey in itself. I have learned about many interesting aspects of Indian culture. I was surprised by how much women’s dress is affected by their social status. It was interesting to learn that traditionally, jewelry is worn only by married women (Shukla, 2008). I also learned that the sari is referred to by different names throughout India: for example, in the north the sari is called the sadhi (Kawlra, 2010).

Understanding dress is important when considering Indian culture, which ultimately shows a woman’s place in society through the caste system and her marital status as well as how she portrays her status through dress. Throughout my trip I will experience modesty and norms relating to dress in Indian culture. I look forward to seeing how the locals incorporate their stories into their clothing. Through gaining an understanding of Indian dress practices, I have a better idea of what to expect while traveling and what to wear while I am there.


Kawlra, A. (2010). The sari. Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: South Asia and Southeast Asia, 115–128. Retrieved from

Lynton, L., Singh, S. K. (1995). The sari: Styles, patterns, history, techniques. New York: H. N. Abrams.

Saki Enterprises. (Photographer). (2016). Blue & Pink Pure Kanchivaram Silk Saree [digital image]. Retrieved from

Saki Enterprises. (Photographer). (2016). Green & Gold Blended Silk Salwar [digital image]. Retrieved from

Shukla, P. (2008). The grace of four moons: Dress, adornment, and the art of the body in modern India. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s