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Thursday, 8 March 2012

Nightie menace in India

If there’s anything that we Indians are religiously following westerners one might often think of two terms – sorry and thank you. But other than that also, I think they have left us something behind. Yes, not many can guess or they might have not observed that we have blindly accepted ‘nightie’ or ‘night dress’ or ‘nightgown’ from the west. Women in India wear them as if they were born in it. It is a must in their wardrobe and an integral part of their life.

I see my neighbours’ housemaids always in nighties. I think they have been given two nighties each, as I see them using only two nighties alternately. I haven’t even seen them in any other dress in the past one year and I don’t know how do they feel about wearing them always, as they have no say in what they want or what their landlords give them. 

Let me simplify what a nightie is. It is a loosely hanging costume, to be worn as a nightwear, exclusively meant for women for bedtime. We see them in cotton, silk, satin, nylon and often decorated in lace or embroidery at the bust and hem part. Some may have neckline, sleeves of different styles and types or some may be even sleeveless, some may have shoulder strap or back strap. Not just that, the length also varies -- from hip-length to floor-length. 

Okie, coming back to the topic. Don’t know when and how nighties entered India, somehow it seems to attract women like a magnet. I have seen exclusive shops selling nighties and nightgowns. Commercial Street in Bangalore has several exclusive shops selling them! 
I see many women wearing nighties and visiting neighbours, going to nearby shops to buy vegetables, dropping their children to schools, and funnily some even riding a two-wheeler. During my childhood, I used to see my friends’ moms coming to drop them and pick them up from schools, coming to give lunch boxes, in nighties. I used to wonder if my friends’ fathers were not in a position to buy their mothers any other dresses!

That was one dress I hated the most and I had not even dreamt that one day I would get married into a family, where my own mother-in-law would be wearing a nightie! Inspite of knowing that I don’t wear a nightie, my in-laws had purchased a nightie for me and my mother-in-law insisted that I wear it on the very first day after the wedding. When I refused to wear it, she made me to wear it on my churidhar and made my hubby to click my pic in the nightie. Thank god, the picture was completely blurred!

In Kerala, women seem to be more comfortable wearing this free-flowing gown both during day and night. Though a favourite of homemakers and worn primarily indoors, it is not uncommon to see many women stepping out into the streets in their nighties! In fact, many women even find it suitable for their early morning walk...
Wonder how Malayalis might have got this trend? I have heard my friends telling me that when the nightie made its entry into Kerala, it was frowned upon. During the 1950s and 1960s, when several Malayalis went to the Gulf in search of better opportunities, brought back not only money, but also this nightie! They thought their new outlook and attire reflected their new-found affluence.

I have seen many old women in nighties, going for walk, standing near the compound wall and gossiping. Often I wonder, why don’t they dress accordingly? Why don’t they stop wearing them once their kids reach teenage, or once they get daughters-in-law or sons-in-law. I can’t stop laughing when I see mothers-in-law wearing nighties and daughters-in-law wearing a churidhar or a saree. Maybe they want to feel young, chic and modern. Maybe they want to look more urban by wearing colourful nighties.

Gone are the days when women used to wear saree and walk to fields, carrying lunch baskets on their head. Now I see them in nighties and a towel or a dupatta, covering their chests! But I wonder in what way it makes them better or feel comfortable!
There are many of my friends who won’t wear them and dislike the very costume itself, not because of wearing it, but because of seeing how other women have over-used it (dare not say misused it!) And ask men if they like their wives to wear nighties and many of my friends firmly say no. Some even say, they have no choice as their wives don’t agree to wear anything else when at home! Maybe men feel it lighter on their pocket, as their wives don’t demand sarees and a nightie can cost much cheaper comparatively…

One of my classmates told me the other day that his mom never wore a nightie and it is very wrong to say that women shouldn’t wear them. “See, every woman has the right to dress according to her wish, but she has to wear it in a judicious manner, to keep the respect of her womanhood… If she feels comfortable in a nightie, she can wear it,” he said.

And then I asked, “Will you allow your wife to wear it? Does that mean that if your wife wants to wear a nightie, as she feels comfortable in it, will you not say anything if she goes in the same attire to buy vegetables in a nearby shop or face the visitors at home, or visit neighbours…??”

He retorted with a firm tone, “I will never allow my wife to wear a nightie and walk on the road.”

“There’s no doubt, it might be comfortable to wear, but that doesn’t mean it can be misused as a casual,” another friend smiled.
I wondered if I was mistaken that men also don’t like to see women in nighties all the time, as my classmate is still unmarried. So thought of checking what another friend, who works as a journo, thinks about it. Mind you, he is also not married yet! He put it in a more matured way, or should I say in a journalistic way? “It is as ridiculous as a man entering a boardroom in his boxers.” He also agreed that not many men are happy to see women in this nightdress always! 

Then, I thought of asking one of my former colleagues, who is much senior to me on how he feels about this nightie menace. All he could say was “awkward”, as he too is helpless in telling or checking his wife from wearing this great dress! She has been wearing it for nearly two decades and he has failed to convince her from wearing anything else and now, he dare not change her dressing style ;)

 And there were other friends who thought only those women who “never care about what others feel or see about them” wear them. Some even think that such women are “sheer lazy or perhaps don’t care types”. Interestingly, it is mostly married women with children who wear them. They walk on roads as if they are not bothered about the world. “It’s like they're not really bothered about their appearance, because I guess it’s not their priority… And I don’t see the purpose of the dupatta that they wear with the nightie though,” a friend quipped, while another said: “I feel like buying them some clothes… seriously.”

Then I forgot to mention about a funny incident. One of my friends, who is from North Karanataka and lives in Doha, never wore a nightie in her life. A few days back, when I called her, she told me how all her cousins make fun of her because she doesn’t wear a nightie. She told me how kids, as small as seven and eight, in her neighbourhood don colourful nighties. So last year she picked up a few nighties/nightgowns for her cousins at an exhibition in Doha. Surprisingly, she found an extremely beautiful cotton nightie and bought it for herself. Before I could exclaim, “What?” she continued, “I got this beautiful nightie with very beautiful lace work on it. I thought of getting it altered into a kurta. With that intention, I took the nightie to the tailor nearby. And the tailor was shocked when I asked her to cut the nightie and make it a kurta.”

I couldn’t control my laughter at her plight. She continued: “The tailor tried a lot to convince me not to get it altered. She even told me that the lacework would be lost, the beauty of the nightie would be gone if she turn it to a kurta. But I was insistent that she alters it to a kurta. I even gave her the idea that she can cut the lacework at the hem and stich it in between and I would not mind even if it looked odd.”
So I don’t know if it is the matter of comfort or the notion of looking chic and ultra-modern which makes most of the women prefer nighties, not just preferring, but wearing it the whole day, not just during the bedtime!

It might have been a new trend, a refreshing change when it entered the country. And I don’t think such a trend would have taken a long time to appeal to Indians. I have also heard that women used to get nighties for their relatives when they were returning for a vacation from abroad.
Maybe those who swore by the six-yard saree took a liking to the flowing kaftan like attire, lovingly termed it as ‘Maxi’ and teasingly called it as ‘Nighty’. The average woman simply lapped it up and the traditional sarees, skirts and blouses at last gave way to the present-day nightie. It might have become a hot favourite among women as it might have not restricted the movements in any way.   

Now let me go back to the origin and history of this great attire. Nightgowns or night dress or pajamas or nightshift or night smock or nightie or call them by any name, became very popular after 1950s. The Chemise was probably one of the first nightwear worn by women in the early middle ages. It was a medium-length tunic, not unlike the clothing worn by many of the ancient cultures in the Middle East. Interestingly, in medieval Europe, it had a dual function. It acted not only as women’s sleeping gown, but also as their underwear. Chemises protected the dress that women wore for years, from sweat. It was the cloth that a woman in the middle ages was likely to launder very often.
Chemise
Then came the Negligees which first debuted in France in the 18th century. Negligees were not the sexy see through garments of today. They were long and heavy like all women’s gowns. They also served the practical purpose of keeping the women warm in the winter in drafty sleeping quarters. Not to forget the fact that they did show a great deal of cleavage! And Negligee styles reflected the length of dresses of the era they were made in. Finally, in the roaring 1920s, when dresses made of silk and satin in shorter length become popular did the Negligee start to resemble something we recognize today as a Negligee.
Negligee
And nightgowns evolved from the chemise. In the beginning of the 20th century, the nightgown was widely used by American women. They were generally made from light-weight cottons in the summer and heavier flannels in the winter. Later, the lines between the chemise and the nightgown became somewhat blurred. Mid-light nightgowns without many buttons that lacked shape became to be known as women’s night shirts and they evolved into women’s sleeping tee-shirts and dorm sleeping shirts.

The chemise today is generally a short night gown made out of a more sensuous fabric like lace or silk. Nightgowns tend to be longer and more modest in character. Both the chemise and the nightgown are many times matched with a robe or dressing gown.

11 comments:

  1. But for observations from personal front, it's a sensible piece. depending on persona, nighties do add charm to women....but they fail in 98% of cases as women wear them senselessly

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  2. i don't know what your problem is. Did you know that women in India are oppressed and even beaten up- not to mention being raped- for looking attractive? I think it's very nice that a shapeless garment like the nightie, which is also comfy enough to live in- has caught up as a trend.

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. Read All hail the nightie: The new Indian national dress on http://www.firstpost.com/living/all-hail-the-nightie-the-new-indian-national-dress-367023.html#.T_ZqhcBw63I.facebook

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  5. loved it!as a woman i hate this nightie!it looks so odd and unflattering!

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  6. I love this article about the nightie menace! And I love cross-cultural fashion appropriations, in all directions.

    I'm inspired to provide some fashion notes from the US, where I have always lived, in case anyone is interested: it sounds as if the Indian woman is using the "nightie" the way American housewives used to wear what we called a house-coat, with the Indian woman not surprisingly doing it in a much more stylish way.

    American women have always worn something to sleep in, either a loose dress-like garment called a nightgown, which can be short or long, modest or immodest, cotton or flannel or synthetic; or some kind of pajamas, with various styles coming and going. We don't ever wear the same thing during waking hours, however, except for lounging around a bit at home.

    And then for some time there was a garment called the house-coat or house-dress, worn stereotypically by Mom when she was cleaning the house: the general look is a shift-like garment in a disagreeable print of some kind, falling somewhere below the knee -- never to the floor. It was okay for Mom to wear the housecoat out to the store, or to visit her neighbors -- or to sit on a chair in front of her house in it and smoke. Not okay to wear to a meeting with the kid's teacher or anything more social.

    You can still buy these. I think they're likelier to be worn by the elderly auntie/homemaker, and also at least in stereotype by the Mom who was not born in the US. No one would wear it to sleep in, though.

    If you can find reruns of I Love Lucy on YouTube, the beloved American 50s TV show, I believe you may find her or her friend Ethel in a housecoat.

    And - I found your page because I realized that the one thing I want to buy online very soon is an Indian nightgown!!! (which I'll wear from coming home to bedtime, but not to sleep in!)

    Thanks so much from Virginia Kelley, in Manhattan.

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  7. Congratulations for this wonderful reading article. I found it very informative and interesting too, I think you are a brilliant writer.All the girls love fashion.This is perfect for a fashion styles for women that long last .

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  8. All the above nighties for women are very beautiful.While any women wore this, will feel the comfort.

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  9. Waw! Amazing! Such a great post you have shared about Womens NightWear!

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  10. I dont think its inappropriate to choose an attire of your choice.. Its even worthless to write such a long article on an outfit which someone thinks is comfortable or affordable!

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