Dhoti goes dashing!

Dhoti is the traditional men’s garment in Indian subcontinent. It is a rectangular piece of unstitched cloth, wrapped around the waist and the legs, and knotted at the waist. Surprisingly, dhoti has come up as a raging fashion trend for women! Say hello to dhoti-pants!

By Shahida Khan

Yes, trouser options for women have gone multifold this year. Indian designers have gone a step further and, as though harem pants were not enough, they re-invented dhoti-pants, and one key silhouette that is getting prominence are dhoti pants for women. Sorry guys, what was traditionally your drape, is now gracing women’s wardrobes.

The traditional Indian dhoti for men has been adapted by women with great style and élan. The new version is more cropped and tapers towards the ankle, giving a contemporary twist to the silhouette. Leave aside several international designers who have done their takes on dhoti, even top-notch desi like ace designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee has released an entire line of dhoti pants for women this time.

Recently, Mumbai’s fashion ramp showed up some glorious versions of the dhoti-pants. Models like Trishna Mehra and Simoli Rao, who were happy with the extra leg room the dhoti-pants offered, said: “What a relief. These pants are super relaxed.” Not to mention there being no stress of learning how to tie the dhoti. In its new avatar, with an elastic waistband, you just slip into it like a pair of pajamas.

Why are dhoti-pants such a good fashion statement? A female designer gives a lowdown and explains: “Quite simply, it is a re-assertion of our Indianness — our identity. It has got very ethnic roots. It is typically Indian silhouette, and it has always been around in one form or the other. Of course, like all other trends, it came back to us via the West, even though we did invent it. Designers abroad made dhoti-pants a style statement, which is why we in India now suddenly think they are so cool.”

Another female designer points to the existence of this roomy leg-wear long before they became trendy. “Many variations of this have existed in India – right from the voluminous ones we see today, to the humble salwar.” Another famous and hap fashionista agrees and adds: “It was India that gave dhoti pants to the world, and this is the time to reclaim it. It is perfectly suited to the Indian body structure and to our hot climate as well.”
Don’t try to drape one yourself. Go out and buy yourself the readymade version, aka the dhoti pants – the modern and convenient avatar of that most rustically Indian of all outfits.

Go for the one that you are comfortable in. It is important to pair a dhoti-pant with the right kind of tops. “A fitted kurta, singlet or a jersey top goes best with dhoti-pants,” says a leading male fashion designer.

The right fabric lends an appeal to the dramatic shape. As a thumb rule the fabric should be soft but not limp. “Dhoti-pants in mulmul look the best,” recommends an ace designer. For a casual appeal, team it with Kolhapuri chappals, sneakers or any kind of flats. Jazz up the ensemble with a small sling bag and you are ready to take on the world in style.

Dhoti-pants also make for great evening wear. For evening wear, you can try out gold and metallic colors and accessorize it with loads of jewelry.
Yet another designer suggests: “To get the funky look, a body hugging T-shirt and dhoti- pants would make a great combo. To complete the look, illustrative danglers and funky belts would look great.”

Loose dhoti-pants, which look like salwars or peg trousers, offer relaxed dressing and look trendy. Dhoti-pants come with elasticized waistband or draw strings. Go for the one that you are comfortable in.

Speaking about the hip quotient of this garment, designers give it the thumbs up: “This silhouette is not for short and stout girls. The gathers around the hip area can make it look voluminous,” cautions a designer.

But a Mumbai-based designer admits that dhoti-pants have an over-the-top feel, and that not everyone can carry off the dress. She adds: “They are the best for a relaxed, semi-formal evening, and the ideal length is a little above the ankles. The ideal fabric would be muslin or a blend of cotton and silk as it gives you a nice drape.”

About dhoti

The dhoti is considered formal wear all over the country. Mahatma Gandhi invariably wore a pancha/dhoti on public occasions, but he was well aware that it was considered “indecent” in other countries and was shocked when a friend wore one in London.

It is usually white or cream in color, although colorful hues are used for specific religious occasions or sometimes to create more vivid ensembles. Apart from all government and traditional family functions, the dhoti is also considered acceptable at country clubs and at other establishments that enforce strict formal dress codes. Off-white dhoti is generally worn by the groom in Bengali weddings. 

The same is true across the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. In many of these countries, the garment has become something of a mascot of cultural assertion, being greatly favored by politicians and cultural figures. Thus, the dhoti for many has taken on a more cultural nuance while the “‘suit-and-tie” or, in less formal occasions, the ubiquitous shirt and pants, are seen as standard formal and semi-formal wear.

White or turmeric-yellow is the prescribed hues to be worn by men at their weddings and upanayanams. Silk panchas, called Magatam or Pattu Pancha in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh respectively, are often used on these special occasions. Vermilion-red dhotis, called “sowlay,” are often used by priests at temples, especially in Maharashtra. Kings and poets used rich colors and elaborate gold-thread embroideries. Cotton dhotis suit the climatic conditions for daily usage. Silk panchas are suited for special occasions and are expensive.

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