The Maharashtrian Women Who Became Fashion Icons During The British Raj
Sneakers under your lenga, a crop-top for a sari blouse or even pairing ethnic accessories with formal shirts- today’s fashion forward future is about owning your garbed heritage your way. But even before words like “style”, “fusion” and “trends” had entered the fashion dictionary the women of a small Maharashtrian community; the Pathare Prabhus were making some bold choices when it came to their apparel. The Pathare Prabhus had immigrated from Patan; Gujarat to Mumbai in the 13th century and are among the first few inhabitants of Bombay along with theKolis. Though these Maharashtrian Hindus comprised of a small population of 60,000 they were an affluent and ingenious lot. They were employed in various important positions of the British administration in India with a claim of 100% literacy rate in their community. This special status acquired under the colonial rulers allowed the Pathare Prabhus to be included in British Indian society gatherings. Coming from a progressive and liberal upbringing the Pathare Prabhu women were equally resourceful as their men- having being exposed to British culture on a large-scale they began to experiment aspects of it with own ways of living. An immediate outcome was the Pathare Prabhu culinary traditions; a unique combination of Maharashtrian and coastal flavours with an English style of cooking which is a living legacy. Though few know that many aspects of their dressing was also inspired by the English fashion trends of their time. We dug out some of these unique looks created by the Pathare Prabhu women. bohemian wedding apparels in vintage style
The Puffed Sleeved Sari Blouses
The puffed sleeves have been a global fashion favourite for centuries, re-emerging in a new or old avatar just when you think it’s outlived its time. According to this report by Victoriana Magazine perhaps the most obvious feature in British fashion between 1820-40s were the puffed sleeves. There were a number of variations in designs; puffed at the top with a tapering lower sleeve, puffed in a huge billow from shoulder to elbow, puffed only at the elbow, puffed from shoulder to wrist in a tapering billow, and puffed in suspension from a dropped shoulder. The Pathare Prabhu women tailored their blouses with the English puffed sleeves and wore them under their Kasbis; a nine yard sari of satin like material with an intricate border done in pure gold and silver. This was just one of their many innovative ways to keep up with haute couture while still retaining their ethnic aesthetics.
Heels Under My Sari
While the women around them wore humble flat shoes like the juttis andkolhapuris, the Pathare Prabhu women were taking a liking to the finely embroidered and often bejewelled wooden platform like heels worn by the the British ladies of the 18th and 19th century. In conservative India where most women often dressed to pass unnoticed the ladies of the Pathare Prabhu community weren’t conscious of the enhanced poise these shoes might have given their figures. They paired them under their traditional saris and walked in them with an effortless elegance.
Jacketing It Up
While jackets and suits were still a masculine style of dressing even amongst the English until the 20th century, English women did wear jackets over their blouses occasionally, especially when going horse-riding. It seems likely that these jackets worn under skirts might have inspired the Pathare Prabhu bandhi; a long or short buttoned V-necked jacket worn over thesari blouse. Unlike their British counterparts these blouse jackets were usually made in brocade and added both an edge of sophistication and delicacy to the entire outfit. So if you thought jackets paired with saris was a novel fashion trend, think again.
While many of these unique English-Indian style statements were innovated because the Pathare Prabhu women saw it as a ways to assimilate with British fashion the marker of high society then, they still retained their traditional sari, wore the typical chunky Maharashtrian nose-ring, the ‘chiri’; a kind of bindi and other stylistic markers that represented their ethnic identity. Through their distinctive sense of dressing the Pathare Prabhu women were path-breakers in striking a balance between the old and new world charm; a phenomenon the world of fashion today is only beginning to understand and appreciate. Lost in the pages of history the Pathare Prabhu women were perhaps one of the first people’s style icons of the country whose legacy will live on in the world of Indian vintage fashion
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