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Tarlo, Emma (1992) Competing Identities: The Problem of What to Wear in Late Colonial and Contemporary India. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis examines the importance of dress in India. It focuses less on the material artefact than on the use of clothes in the construction of social and political identity. Scholars often stress the rigidity of the clothing system in India where identity appears neatly prescribed by caste and tradition. Challenging this view, I suggest that clothes are often a highly controversial issue. In Chapter 1, I define my approach as an examination of the problem of what to wear. This provides a dynamic model with which to address questions of local and national sartorial identity. Each chapter that follows is an exploration of the problem as faced by different people in various circumstances. Chapters 2-4 focus mainly on questions of national identity through a discussion of the clothing controversies of Indian men in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These are analysed within the context of British Imperialism and the Indian struggle for Independence. Chapters 5-8 concentrate primarily on contemporary clothing issues concerning women's dress in a Gujarati village. Here the clothing choices of individuals and groups are discussed in relation to such factors as caste, education, urbanisation and ideas of female modesty. Questions of local and national identity are brought together in Chapter 9 where I examine the development of contemporary "ethnic" fashions in an urban village in Delhi where members of the educated elite are returning to the clothes that rural women are rejecting. Finally I demonstrate how all of the sartorial trends discussed in this thesis are part of a long-term cultural debate concerning Indian identity which is played out at a variety of levels from the village to the nation. By incorporating the attitudes of people both to their own clothes and to the clothes of others, I hope to have created a new dynamic model with which anthropologists can approach the complexity of the relationship between clothing and identity.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 16:57

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