Exploration One: Indian Saree and the Mughal Period (1526-1858)


The Mughal period in the Indian subcontinent is one of the most important parts of its political history. Back then, India wasn’t so connected, and it was filled with religious and political prejudice. The Mughal period was the time in history when Emperor Akbar, a muslim ruler, conquored and then united kingdom after kingdom. It was a time of prosperity, trade and textile decadence. The combination of Sikh, Muslim and Hindustan peoples, led to much diversity in the cities, and many cultural norms. The diversity led to people wearing a combination of the traditional sari, the dhoti, and tailored silk trousers, vests, and jackets.

I’ll be going over, and showing you the contrasts between these three ancient ways of dress.

The Sari

Advertising Photographs of Air India Crews - 1971 (3)

The traditional saree, is a long piece of fabric which is tied around the body as clothing. You would wear this with a saree blouse, which is basically a crop top which exposes the back and stomach area. Generally speaking, a sari is sold, long enough so there’s enough fabric to make a matching blouse to be worn with it. There are literally dozens of ways to tie a sari around your body, because of the diversity of the Indian cultures. If you were from the North, you’d represent it by the style with which you wore your saree, the same goes for all parts of India. There’s an almost unlimited supply of silk, colors, quality, and prices to choose from. The sari world is a vast and exciting place in India to this day.

This shows only four, out of the dozens of styles you can wear your saree. With this much history of the saree being worn, you’d hope they’d have a few different ways of wearing it.

The Dhoti

The Dhoti is a simply designed long jacket like shirt. It goes down just below the knees, and can be worn in plain cotton or linen, or something like viewed below, covered in jewels and made from luxurious silks. Long baggy trousers were worn, similar to what the Turkish Ottoman were wearing close to the same time. Lastly, a popular accessory would be a shawl scarf.

This is a very luxurious modern day Dhoti, most likely for his wedding day.

Mogul Empire Dress

The Mogul way of dressing, was probably the most advanced when it came to fitting, design, and complexity. It was the fashion for both men, and women to wear fitted trousers, and jackets. What really marked your station in society was the silks used to make your clothing, and the jewels you wore.



Women from noble birth would wear fitted pants, with a long decorative skirt, which would fan out around them in a circle. This, they would pair with a blouse, some covering the belly, and others leaving it exposed. On a hot day, the girl would probably wear this and a shawl, which in public would cover her head. In more formal circumstances, she might be wearing a tight fitting jacket as well. This was far from the end of it, the bling was some of the most important part. Bangles have been a part of Indian history for thousands of years. The silk road was booming further East, and in their lands. Merchants, and bankers were the richest people in the world back then. Pearls were found in the strands, precious jewels, silver and gold. The richer you were, the more jewels you had, it was a simple way of life, but an expensive one. Facial piercings were common, but mostly just in the nose. Earrings were popular, as were many different kinds of rings, necklaces, anklets, and silver/gold weave fabric.



Men wore a much more masculine version of what women wore, without the skirts or crop blouses. They wore fitted trousers, or more flowing trousers which resembled what the turkish were wearing at the time. The patterns were relatively simple, but grand. Their shirts could either be tucked into their trousers, and dramatized with a bling belt (as seen below), or they would drop down over their clothing in an oversized look, good for displaying the silk which they used. Jackets were fairly common.

This is an historically accurate textile representation of Emperor Akbar’s clothing from the Mughal period. It’s from the movie Jodha Akbar, a great movie to see if you’re interested in this era of dress. This actor is Hrithik Roshan, and he’s a very dreamy Bollywood actor, who I’d very much recommend.