What we wear, like what we eat, is primarily determined by the geography (climate and agricultural produces) of a place, a region or a country and the technology available to produce the wear. This natural necessity is superimposed and modified by social customs, secular (civil) and sacred (religious) laws, sense of beauty, taste and refinement. This is how it is in every human cultural and social organization. There is not a place on earth where clothing is not gender dependent. Everywhere on our planet, men and women dress differently.
In the present world, all are pretty conscious about good and attractive looks because they sell better to-day than 50 years ago. Wearing clothes is no longer only to protect ourselves from the elements or to meet the demands of civilization. These outer coverings are also meant to attract and impress. It is the “apparel that proclaimeth a man” said William Shakespeare centuries ago. Depending on the occasion, our clothing change. On special or ceremonial occasions, we wear differently. Red colour has special significance in Hindu religion and customs. It is considered the exclusive privilege of women.
In a hot tropical country such as India, the ethnic wear for women is saree. This simple and ingenious clothing is designed for multi-purpose uses. It is airy, comfortable, and easy to wear, wash and dry. Saree keeps body warm in cold season. The most unique feature of saree: it is a universal wear that suits women of all ages, shapes, sizes, and colors. Saree makes a woman look more graceful and beautiful.
British PM Theresa May had recently posted on Facebook her full length picture in saree. She was looking very pretty. Men’s equivalent of saree is dhoti or tunic. In South India, it is called vesti or angavastram. Dhoti is so tied around the waist that it covers the lower half of the body in a descent manner. Saree is compatible with female body structure because it is made flat all the way down. In Kerala, females wear blouses or cholis on the upper half of their bodies from shoulder to waist or near about waist and sarees on the lower half. In other parts of India, a full-length saree is worn from head/shoulder to toe/ankle so that the torso is covered fully. In the days of my mother and grandmother, women mostly wore sarees without inner wear. Blouse and petticoat were worn only when they went out or on days of celebration. Situation is greatly changed now.
In principle, men can wear sarees like the way women wear men’s pants, shirts, jeans, shorts, etc. There is nothing wrong if men do so; after all it is a matter of perception or convention in society what one wears. If a man is brought up wearing sarees like the woman, no one will find anything odd in it. But in practice, men do not wear sarees. There are two very important reasons why men in India do not wear saree. First of course is the look and men are well aware that the vast majority of them won’t look as good as women wearing men’s apparel and dresses. Second, men will find wearing saree cumbersome because they are not accustomed to wearing them from young age.
In India, females belonging to certain communities wear salwar kameez or skirts from childhood. Very few of them switch to saree when they become adults. The social branding also matters. Adult females who wear sarees are branded aunties. Younger females wear something other than sarees. The trendy wears for teenagers and the youth are jeans, shorts/pants with some kind of top. There are many companies in corporate sector in US where wearing of saree is banned at work places. Should India reciprocate?
Economic and Social Impact of Men Wearing Saree
To meet the increased demand for sarees, production will increase. This, in turn, would boost the saree manufacturing sector and the associated businesses.
The number of retail shops and stores selling sarees, apparels and clothing for both men and women will go up.
Number of men’s tailors and designers would dwindle. Some might close shops.
Body structure of men and women being different, sarees for men have to be designed differently from those of women. This will generate additional employment for men’s designers and outfitters.
Men wearing saree will be another step towards gender equality. This will bring about attitudinal changes of men towards women. More and more of men and women would take to each other as good friends than now.
The entertainment value of men playing the role of women in disguise will go down because men wearing saree will no longer be a novelty.
Men can more easily disguise as women.
Attraction between heterogeneous males and females based on what they wear will decrease because of lesser differentiation and greater homogeneity.
Although sarees are a more familiar concept for women, men can wear sarees. To mention as an example, use of heeled shoes and boots started with men who wore them when riding horses. Then women started using them. Magazines depicted and advertised models wearing them. Finally, only females wear heels. Height of heels can be up to 5 inches and thickness as small as 2 millimeter.
The transition to saree for men, if it occurs, ought to be gradual. Working men will find it cumbersome initially. But the freedom to wear or not to wear saree will be man’s choice and prerogative. It can not be imposed upon.
By Dr. Sachidanand Das