South Indian Costumes for Men and Women

Last Updated on 13/01/2021

South Indian Costumes for Men and Women

R.S. Balakumar
Associate Professor
Dept of Fashion Design & Arts
Hindustan University, Chennai, India


In Southern region of South India consists of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Pondicherry. South India established early trade contacts with the outside world. It was renowned for its fine cotton production centres and intricate patterns dyed in madder and indigo, which were in great demand in Saudi Arabia, South East Asia, the Far East, Java, Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula.

South Indian Costumes for Women
Fig: South Indian costumes for women

The artisanal skills of this region were highly appreciated – colourful printed cottons, Zari and silk – woven sarees, and silk dyed, ikat – woven fabric.

From 14th century onwards, same traders with trade links with Southern India developed their colonies at Calicut, Pondicherry and Madras.

The Southern India people had close interaction with the foreign traders and produced work according to the demands of the market.

But personally, preferred their own traditional garments, mainly unstitched drape.

Loose drape customer was more appropriate for the people of this region climatically as well. Therefore, the textiles and customer of this region were not too influenced by the outside world.

Traditionally the dhoti, Kurta, Shirt, angavastram and turban form the ordinary costumes for men in South India.

South Indian Costumes for Men
Fig: South Indian Costumes for Men

The ghagra, choli, blouse and odhani comprise the traditional costumes for south Indian women. Women of this region prefer the sari, so there exist a rich tradition of cotton, silks and Zari – Woven saris. There are various tribal people also, who wear bright and more colourful costumer.

The Sangam literature and the epics of south india, silappadikaram and manimekalai (1st century BC – 3rd century AD), inform that cotton – and silk weaving traditions existed during this period.

Sari: The term ‘Sari’ originates from the Sanskrit words shati and shatika, which appears for the first time in the panchatantra.

Women in the Vedic period wore an antariya (lower garment), an uttariya (upper garment) and a kaya band (waistband). Gradually, from the Sunga and Kushan periods, we have descriptions of a garment that is like a Sari.

From early references, it appears that initially the sari was the only garment worn by woman of southern India. With time, however, a choli (upper garment) was added to this attire. A petticoat (long skirt) was further added to this ensemble, making it the three-piece attire that it is in this modern day.

The sari has been worn in many different styles. The most frequent wearing styles are the Kachola style, the nivi style and a combination of the kachola and ghagra styles. These different wearing styles lend variation to the outfit.

Even today, women in Maharashtra wear the sari differently from those in Bengal, Gujarat or North India. Women of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh wear the sari is more than ten different styles.

A cotton sari with simple design is generally used as every day wear, while bright-coloured silk saris are normally worn on special occasions like festivals or weddings.

At present, the hand embroidery industry of India is busy in the production of saris. Wearers create magic by producing saris from various kinds of material such as muslin, cotton and silk.

These saris are woven with designs ranging from human beings to animal figurines, birds and floral motifs. They are either embellished on thelearn itself (Jamdani, baluchari, zari, or ikat) or women plain and later embellished through block printing, bandhani or embroidery.

The world over, people are bound to concede that the sari remains one of the most elegant attires for women. In India, a sari could well be a woman’s best friend.

The most common traditional costume for men is dhoti, shirt, angavastram and turban, scart.

The dhoti is worm in two distinctive styles the first is the standard wearing style of north india – the pleats are tucked in front in such a manner that the whole bunch, when tucked in, leaves no space between the buttocks and the inner most pleat of the bunch.

In the second wearing styles the dhoti is wrapped around the loins without any gathers or pleats either at the back or in the front. The dhoti then hangs as a straight skirt without any gathers, much like a lungi usually, men wear a while cotton dhoti with a narrow colourful border. Sometimes these dhotis are colourful or with check.

The angavastram or body cloth or scarf is commonly used by men in southern India. Men wearing dhotis, angavastrams and turbans on the occasions of festival and attending weddings.

Apart from the usual customers wornby common men, there is a fisher men community in Andhra Pradesh that wears a special kind of loin cloth, particularly known as Taliarumal. These cotton teliarumals are woven with ikat technique in maroon, white and black. These rumals can be used in a variety of ways – as a lungi, a turban, and a scarf to the thrown over the shoulders.

The tradition of sari weaving in southern India yields a rich variety of saris. The silk ikat saris from Pochampalli, the Kanchipuram silk and zari, brocaded saris of Tamil nadu, and the Karaikudi (white cotton with zari) of kerala constitute some of the best-known sari traditions of the south. The silk pattu and border with a cotton body, of the gadwalls and wanapartis of Andra Pradesh, are very famous for their quality work. Rich, gold brocaded saris are made for weddings or for offering to temples.

The cotton woven jamdani and intricate weave of vengatagiri’s are equally renewed for their work man ship. The Royal family of Tanjore patronised special cotton and zari-brocaded saris from the Kadalikaruppar area. These saris combine finely woven cotton with motifs worked in jamdani weave in gold thread.

Women of Southern India also wear the ghagra, choli and odhani, usually made of either zari and silk brocade or cotton. Colorful silk brocade saris, dhotis, and cotton silks woven saris are worn by women of this region.

The dhoti, Kurta and Parka are commonly worn by the men. During 18th- 19th centuries, Trousers, Shirts, hats, skirt and tunics are some of the common dresses used by men and women in this region.

Various ethnic groups who came to this region from different parts or the world and settled here, have enriched the indigenous world of Indian textiles. Being adaptable, Indians accepted their tradition and tangent them indigenous customs, therefore, straddle a vast and varied cultural and sociological landscape.


  • Indian costumes – AnamikaPathak
  • Costumes of India – S.N. Gupta

More articles published by the same author:

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  3. Chettinad Cotton Sarees in Tamilnadu – An Overview
  4. Mangalagiri Sarees and Fabrics – An Overview
  5. Indian Handloom Industry: Issues and Challenges in Recent Time
  6. Banarasi Saree: The Finest Sarees in India
  7. Present Scenario of Kanchipuram Silk Saree Industry
  8. Overview of Traditional Silk Sarees of India
  9. Overview of Zardozi Embroidery in India
  10. Khadi Industry in India – Present Status and Future Scope
  11. Dhoti: Indian Traditional Dress

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