Saris and contemporary Indian womanhood: how middle-class women navigate the tradition/modernity split

Liz Mount

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Despite the major changes in urban middle-class Indian women’s clothing in the past 30 years, there are few accounts of women’s perspectives on their changing dress. This paper analyzes 31 semi-structured interviews with urban middle-class women in Delhi, Mumbai, and Pune to examine the changing meanings associated with saris in contemporary India. While the sari has entered the realm of global fashion and can thus be characterized as modern and sexy, the garment remains strongly associated with respect and maturity for women, particularly within their families, but also in public spaces and in the workplace. Women link their practices of sari wearing to modern aspirations by emphasizing saris as ‘modern’ fashionable attire, while simultaneously reinforcing the sari as a symbol of traditional, respectable married womanhood, thus exploiting the traditional meanings that the sari confers on them to their advantage. The emphasis on saris as simultaneously ‘modern’ and representative of Indian tradition indicates the cultural pressure placed on middle-class women to conform to dictates of traditional womanhood while also aligning themselves with modernity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-181
Number of pages15
JournalContemporary South Asia
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 3 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • fashion
  • gender
  • globalization
  • middle-class women
  • saris

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Saris and contemporary Indian womanhood: how middle-class women navigate the tradition/modernity split'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this