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Evolution of the Indian Saree Blouse

For most of us, the blouse is paramount in making or breaking the look of a saree. The right colour, the right fit, right down to the perfect details - the sleeve length, the neckline and the opening of the blouse bring the whole look together. Today, as much as the blouse and petticoat remains synonymous with the saree – deeply seeped in our Indian heritage , both are in fact, by-products of the British Raj.

Much before the intermingling of kingdoms, cultures and British rule across the subcontinent, early sculptures show women in minimal clothing from a draped cloth – identical to a saree, covering their bare breasts to a stitched rectangular breast band. The Mughal era and the subsequent colonial era brought about changes in attire and the start of the saree blouse, as we know of it today.


A Parsi stall, Bombay, The Graphic 1889.
Original Source: Columbia.edu

Jnanadanandini Debi, sister-in-law of famous poet Rabindranath Tagore is widely credited with popularizing Victorian style blouses, shirts and jackets, similar to the Parsi style of wearing a saree. The trend caught up with the sari wearing communities across Bengal, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh in the late 19th century. Debi was allegedly refused entry into esteemed clubs under the British Raj for wearing her saree over her bare breasts which ultimately led to this popular urban style.

The blouses at the time, with high, closed necklines and full length sleeves were borrowed from the fit of English gowns.  

The pre-independence era saw mild bursts of experimentation with the saree blouse - Amrita Sher-Gil was known for her bold sleeveless blouses at the time and satin blouses with 10-inch sleeves gained immense popularity during Maharani Gayatri Devi’s time. With the success of the Indian Cinema in the 1940s and the subsequent rise of the costume and fashion industry, the heroines inspired many of the sartorial trends.


The Mumtaz Saree - a double wrap style with a sleeveless blouse. Source: Google Images

In the 1940s, blouses with short puff sleeves were hugely popular while the 1950s embraced fitted blouses with varied necklines from V-neck, boat neck to sweetheart neckline with elbow length sleeves to 3/4th sleeves. Shorter blouses with a hint of skin from sleeveless blouses to plunging necklines were quite in demand in the later part of 1960s and early 1970s.

The later part of 1970s and 1980s experimented with sleeve length from cap sleeves to mid length and full sleeves. This period also saw monotone, plain matching blouses with light, chiffon sarees.

Late actress Sri Devi wearing a monotone plain saree with a matching blouse. Source: Google Images

A period of brand consciousness amongst the Indian population and western influence marked the 90s. The impact can be seen in the many blouse styles favored during this time from off-shoulder and backless styles to halter necklines. A decade later, some styles prevailed and many new cropped up with the influx of designers and stylists now dressing the Hindi Cinema heroines. A more glamorous line of embellished and delicate blouses came in vogue.

A Tilfi organza-pure silk blouse inspired by the Victorian era 

The current decade, also termed as the recycled era, saw the comeback of many blouse styles and trends – elbow sleeves, relaxed crop tops, high necklines, plunging sweetheart necklines, among many others, are celebrated even today.While some new styles – for instance, the cold shoulder blouse and the saree gown may have caught our attention momentarily, styles inspired by the charm of a timeless era continue to take the center stage.  


In this section, we voice our impressions on the handloom, craft and textile sector.

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