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Fashion during the Mughal Period of India

Introduction

The Mughal civilization in Central Asia is renowned for its contributions to the world of art in terms of architecture, clothing, and painting. The Empire existed from 1526 to 1859 in the Indian subcontinent that included modern-day Afghanistan and had higher standards of living than most regions in Europe at that time (Iftikhar, 2010). The arrival of the Mughal Empire in India in the 16th century resulted in the co-existence of the Hindu and Muslim cultures. Historical records attribute Akbar the Great for being the first Mughal ruler who acknowledged the need to assimilate the Muslim and Hindu cultures to form a unique and influential style, which remained relevant in the fashion industry for several centuries. This research paper is going to examine the influence of the Mughal Empire on the fashion industry. It will particularly examine the garments, color schemes, fabrics, jewelry, and decorations of the garments used by people in the Mughal Empire. The paper will also establish a relationship between the fashion style in the Empire and the caste system. Apparently, different caste systems were identified by unique styles in dressing. The paper would conclude by examining current fashion designers whose works are inspired by fashion styles of the Mughal Empire.

Garments

The clothing worn by Muslim women did not differ from those worn by men. The jama were long, loose like ribs with full sleeves, and open at the front. Women also wore an ankle-length vest underneath the jama and a veil that covered the hair, and the face completed the dress. Qabas(coats) were common during the cold season and were exclusive to women from the aristocracy (Dhandapani, 2013). Kashmir shawl clothes made from very fine wool fabrics complemented these coats as overcoats. Women outside the harem were required to wear the burqa, which covered the whole body except for the small part of the face that allowed them to see. The concealment of the whole body by wearing the burqa was common to women of the upper classes (Berg Fashion Library, n.d.). Most of the clothing worn by women in the early 1500s represented the predominant fashion styles of the Khurasan and Central Asia regions. Women found inside the harem had loose, wide, and painted drawers. Different kings required their women to have certain style codes. For example, women in the harem of King Humayun had to wear a cap termed taqi. This cap had a high crest and was mandatory for unmarried women (Dey, 2013).

Fabrics

A woman by name Nur Jahan had become famous for her unique designs of clothing made for women from the aristocracy. Some of the unique and popular designs of women dresses including gowns, laces, and brocades were the works of Nur Jahan. For example, the dodami, a lightweight dress was one of her outstanding fabrics that made her famous and sought (Dhandapani, 2013). Other notable designs in garments and fabrics attributed to Nur Jahan included the panch tola scarf. New patterns in dresses that emerged during this period included the Badla, Kinari, and Brocade. These patterns were all lace-based. The first marriage dress that gained wide acceptance by the majority of people in the Empire was the Nur Mahalli (Seth, 2013).

Widows in the Empire wore white dresses in accordance with the Hindu tradition. On the other hand, married women preferred colored garments with darker hues. Laced garments became fashionable for women from the upper classes. Most of women wore laced dresses with two to three garments, and each garment did not weigh more than one ounce (Abbasi, 2013). Chunris were multicolored saris that were popular among women from the middle and upper classes. Women from the upper classes were fond of clothing made from garments dyed Indigo. Headgears also symbolized the wealth of a woman (Seth, 2013). For example, some women from wealthy backgrounds had their “Taj” adorned with pins and decorative pins. Most of the fashion styles in that period were also under the influence of the Emperors, who were keen to eliminate the association of particular dress codes with either Islam or Hindi (Mears, 1998). In fact, some emperors are known to have designed some of the clothing styles. One of such designs was the daushala, which was a pair of shawls stitched together. As a result, the daushala had no wrong side.

Most of the clothing were made from silk and cotton. Silk was obtained from silkworms that were domesticated in the North-Eastern Himalayas while a significant quantity of it came from China (Krody, 2012). Wool was rarely used as a fabric, especially in the hot and humid South, which was famous for its fine cotton muslins (Harwood, 2008). However, wool spinning and weaving was a mastered craft in the mountainous and colder regions such as Kashmir. The quality of “Cashmere” wool remains highly valued in the contemporary world. Most of the wool, cotton, and silk fabrics were painted, printed, or resist-dyed in various color varieties. Ten varieties of red and various shades of blue, purple, and brown were the dominant colors of the fabrics (Harwood, 2008).

Jewelry

Women in this empire used jewelry to attract attention and announce their status in the society. Religious beliefs also influenced the kinds of jewelry. For example, Muslim women used jewelry as holy armlets and ornaments. On the other hand, Hindu women preferred gold ornaments for their auspiciousness. Common types of jewelry included turbans, head ornaments, ear ornaments, nose ornaments, hand ornaments, and necklaces (Mears, 1998). Jewelry designs associated with the Mughal Empire were the products of Indian goldsmiths and the prominent floral designs of the Middle East. The pieces had to undergo heavy stonework and enameling in order to become distinctive (Dhandapani, 2013). The gemstones commonly used in jewelry include diamond, emerald, ruby, Polki, Kundan, Jade, Pearls, Topaz, Tourmaline, and Quality Beads. Most of jewelry had gold bases (Dhandapani, 2013). The enameling process, though slow, enabled jewelry makers to create complex and small designs such as flowers and birds.

Turban was a favorite headgear for the nobility. Emperors often covered their heads with silk turbans that had sequins of feather-like ornaments made of pearls and gemstones. Head ornaments included caps and the Sis-Phul(Dey, 2013). The headgear alone consisted of thirty-seven different types of ornaments. The Sis-Phul was a raised belt made up of pieces of gold and silver. It was hollow and had embellishments from the inside (Dhandapani, 2013). The ornament had a bunch of pearls hanging to the middle of the forehead. The components were arranged in head jewelry to from shapes such as a star, the sun, and the moon.

Ear ornaments consisted of earrings made out of copper, silver, and gold. Most of these components were big enough to touch the shoulders of the wearer. These types of earrings were associated with women from the court of the emperor.

Norse ornaments were made from either silver or fine gold. Nose-rings varied in size from the tiny ones, consisting of miniscule gemstones, to huge ones, consisting of a combination of pearls and gemstones.

Necklaces worn by women during that period were in various shapes and sizes. The major component was gold accentuated with pearls and gems. A famous example of necklaces is the Golaband. This necklace was made of five to seven rose shaped gold buttons or pearls. Some necklaces could extend down to the woman’s stomach (Dhandapani, 2013).

Bangles and bracelets had a unique shape at that time. Instead of the typical circular shape, the ends of bracelets were made to touch each other. The components that were enameled into bangles and bracelets included squat gemstones and gold.

Rings symbolized the royal status of the wearer. Most of rings were made of jade or pure gold and had centerpieces, which were either square or circular in shape. Thumb rings, which were exclusive to the royal women, had a tiny mirror that could be used by the wearer.

Waist belts and hip chains worn by emperors and empresses were chiseled out of pure gold. Pearls and gemstones were embedded in waist belts as further decorations (Berg Fashion Library, n.d.).

Contemporary Designer Inspired by the Ancient Mughal Fashion

Fashion styles of the Mughal Empire have inspired many contemporary fashion designers. Jean-Paul Gaultier is a French fashion designer who has embraced the fashion that dominated in the Mughal Empire in most of his works. Gaultier extensively uses it in jewelry, but he also demonstrates some application of the same concepts on clothing. Evidently, most of designs during the Mughal Empire were focused on representing the royalty and upper classes. As a result, ornaments were predominantly gold plated or embedded. Jean-Paul Gaultier uses the same strategies by having ornaments that are heavily jeweled (Seth, 2013).

Conclusion

The Mughal Empire existed in the Indian subcontinent when it had experienced many invasions and civilizations. Rather than replacing one culture with another one, emperors combined the cultures from the Hindi and Islamic religions to create a highly fashionable and stylish society. Gold was emphasized in the Mughal Empire because it afforded women in the Empire the privilege to be recognized. The styles of fashion depended on the social caste system to which an individual belonged. Some of the fashion styles that emerged during that period have inspired modern-day designers such Jean-Paul Gaultier.

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