Indian Traditional Dress for Women - Ethnic Essentials For Every Girl

India is a land known for its prodigious variety in food and clothes. India’s traditional weaves, fabrics, and vibrant colors are today popular all over the world. When it comes to women, Indian traditional dresses are exotic, and breathtakingly beautiful. Nothing accentuates the beauty of Indian women like the traditional costumes of our land. Indian traditional dress for girls and women are pretty much the same, with slight variations. So let’s dive in, and check out the traditional wear options for females in India.

1. Ghagra Choli

This traditional dress for girls and ladies is also called chaniya choli or lehenga choli in different parts of the country. It’s predominantly seen in Rajasthan, Gujrat, Bihar, UP, MP, etc. It consists of a blouse, and a flared skirt, and a dupatta – an unstitched length of cloth that is used to cover the choli – a small, body fitting blouse. The midriff is usually exposed, and the dupatta also partially covers it. The ghagra or the skirt usually has a wide border with golden thread weaved designs, embroidery or sequin work. The ghagras of Gujrat usually feature mirror work, and are made of cotton, in bright colors – red, green, yellow, black, orange, and purple; in the villages, girls can be seen wearing ghagras with small shells or cowries stitched on. The modern ghagras are now available in subtle pastel shades, and often with gold or silver filigree type embroidery, in fabrics ranging from silk and crepe to organza, and georgette.

2. Pattu Pavada

pattu pavada

This is the South Indian version of the ghagra choli, and is the most popular traditional dress for girl children. They are usually made of silk, and though pleated, not as flared as ghagras. They are also usually not worn by women. Pattu pavada is generally made in rich colors, and the skirts have contrasting borders, with traditional temple borders, or golden thread weaved patterns. The blouses are not form fitting – they are slightly loose, and are long, reaching just below the waistband of the pavada. Preferred for festive occasions, this dress allows the girls considerable freedom of movement as well. For regular use, similar skirts and blouses made of handloom cotton are also worn. This kind of skirt and blouse is also worn by girls in Maharashtra, and is called parkar-polka.

3. Davani or Half-Sari

In earlier times, unmarried girls, who had outgrown the pattu-pavada stage, would wear the davani – a cross between the pattu pavada and the ghagra choli. A simpler version of the ghagra choli, the half sari was a kind of dress to ‘prepare’ the girl for wearing the sari in her adult life. It has a small, tight blouse, and a long pleated skirt – not as flared as the ghagra – and a dupatta, to cover the blouse and midriff. While not as elaborate as the ghagra cholis of the North, the pattu pavada is an elegant traditional dress for teenage girl. The dupatta often is of contrasting color, with a border to add a dash of pizzazz to an otherwise sober costume. Traditionally, it’s not worn by older women, or even young women who are married.

The next few types of Indian women dresses can be broadly grouped under ‘Punjabi suit’ but there is such a huge variation in this costume today, that I felt each sub category warrants its own separate mention.

4. Salwar Kameez set

This is one of the trendy traditional dresses that is an absolute must-have in any Indian girl’s or woman’s closet. A long shirt like garment, often reaching well below the knees but above the ankle, is paired with a pant – which may be close fitting, or loose. This is available in a variety of colors, designs, patterns, and can range from a few hundred rupees to over 10,000. They are sold as sets, and separates, with or without a dupatta, full, three-fourths, or half sleeve, and so on. Hand block printed cottons, embroidered georgettes, digital printed crepes, handloom silk and cotton, chanderi, pastel shades, rich jewel tones, monochrome – you name it, and you have it. It’s a vast ocean out there. It’s a very practical and comfortable traditional Indian dress for women, and elegant to boot. It allows the girl or women wearing it to hurry about, ride two wheelers easily, and even participate in physical activities.

The pant is one of the following types:

  • Patiala salwar – a heavily pleated and beautiful garment that requires 3 to 5 meters of cloth, originally from Patiala in Punjab. The top worn with this is usually short, a few inches above the knees.
  • Churidar – a skin tight pant that is bunched up or pleated at the ankles.
  • Palazzo – a bell-bottom type flared pant
  • Plain salwar – a loose fitting pant with a few pleats
  • Cigarette pant – a close fitting pant that is open at the ankle, like a trouser

5. Anarkali

anarkali ethnic dress

This variant of kurti is beautiful – reminiscent of erstwhile royalty, it has several pleats, and is flared, often with an embroidered or contrast yoke. A sub-category of this type of ladies traditional dress is the Angarkha, which has an overlap, (like a wrap-around) and is tied to the right or left shoulder. In ancient times, this was a garment worn by men, but later, women made feminine versions of it and started wearing it. The preferred lower garment for this top is the churidar.

6. Traditional Shrug

This is a relatively new traditional dress for girls and women. A long, full sleeve shrug , generally made of transparent material with a tie in the center, is worn over a sleeveless top. This is paired with a churidar or palazzo type pant.

7. Kurtis

Kurtis are shorter versions of the Kameez, and can be paired with jeans and trousers – a trendy ethnic dress for girls and women. This combination of tradition and modernity lends an air of sophistication, and increases the ‘cool’ factor.

8. Saris

In my opinion, the no.1 in the list of Indian traditional dress for women; in fact,  not just in India but anywhere in the world. Nothing quite brings out the grace and beauty of the feminine form like a sari does. It is 6 yards of sheer poetry, flow, elegance, and a statement. It can make heads turn, when draped well. It can be worn for any occasion – and is available in a mind-boggling variety of colors, fabrics, prints, patterns, designs, and work: embroidery, mirror work, lace, cutwork, sequins, and what have you. Saris can be worn for festive occasions, office wear, relaxing at home, for weddings, parties, get-togethers, and more. Though it takes some time to master the draping, the final result is absolutely worth it. Today, stitched sarees are also available for those who don’t have the time or the inclination to elaborately drape a sari.

Several variants of the sari are found all over the country:

  • The Kerala Sari – this is a cream-colored sari with golden borders, with woven motifs on the pallu, and is from Kerala. Some sarees have bright colored borders interspersed with the gold, or even colored embroidery on the pallu.
  • Madisar Iyer Sari – traditionally worn by the Iyer community of Tamil Nadu, these are silk saris which are 9 yards as compared to the usual 6 yards sarees.
  • Nauvari – These are 9 yards saris from Maharashtra, and are tied with the pleats taken between the legs and tucked in the back – like a dhoti.

In addition, the popular varieties of sarees include Kancheepuram, Benarasi silk sarees that include tanchoi and katan, Pochampalli, Uppada, Mysore silk, Orissa handloom silk and cotton, Paithani silk saris of Maharashtra with bright borders and pallus, handloom silk and cotton sarees from Assam, light cotton sarees from Bengal and Tamil Nadu, Patola from Gujrat, bandhej (tie and dye) from Rajasthan, ikat weaves from Orissa, Andhra, Jamdani brocade sarees, and so on. The list is endless – I wouldn’t be able to do justice to any of them in one single blog. Such is the richness of India’s weaves and designs.

An Indian girl’s wardrobe is indeed incomplete without at least a few sarees – it is unmatched in beauty.

Purchasing a traditional dress may not be for everyone; you may not get the right fit, the fabric, color, or design may not be to your liking, and so on. In such cases, getting them stitched could be your best option. Do you want to get bespoke ethnic Indian dresses for yourself, or any of the girls or women in your family?

At BYOGI, we offer bespoke dressmaking services for our esteemed customers all over India. Just send us the fabric of your choice, along with your correct measurements, or a sample dress which fits perfectly. We will finalize the pattern after detailed discussions with you, with our team giving their valuable suggestions. We also have a wide range of fabrics for sale, and you can even choose from those. Our talented team of designers and tailors will transform that material into a statement that will turn others green with envy. 

Here are some of the dresses we can craft for you:

  • Kurtis
  • Blouses
  • Salwar
  • Lehengas
  • Anarkalis
  • Gowns