Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion Cover Image

Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion

South Asia and Southeast Asia


Jasleen Dhamija (ed)

Berg Fashion Library

Table of contents

Preface to South Asia and Southeast Asia

Encyclopedia entry

Pages: xvii–xviii

This volume deals with the South Asian and Southeast Asian cultures, two distinct traditions that have, in turn, been influenced by both Indian and Chinese cultural traditions. These regions include a wide variety of geoclimatic conditions, ranging from the highest mountains of the world, the Himalayas, and the high plateau of Ladakh, to the Thar Desert, rain-fed forests, and tropical landscapes, as well as the widely dispersed island archipelago of Indonesia. In addition, South Asia and Southeast Asia have the largest population of any region in the world, with multiple ethnic groups, languages, and cultural expressions. People from the extreme north, the Altai Mountains, and across Central Asia and China have moved into this region. It is in this context that the structure of this volume had to be developed, as dress is closely linked with the identity, culture, traditions, and history of the people.

South Asia covers India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Maldives, while Southeast Asia includes Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines. A rich range of textiles is used in the daily life of the people of these countries, both as part of their apparel and as exchange gifts for strengthening family and tribal affiliations. The use of textiles and dress in rituals conveys complex concepts of cultural identity, social status, and connection with mystical beliefs. Cross-dressing, carried out by transvestites who are known in South Asia as the ‘third sex’, is often a feature of these rituals. It is widely believed that the printing of a pattern or embroidering of a motif, or the particular location of these embellishments, has the ability to imbue cloth with an energy and power that can deflect evil forces.

The 74 articles written specially for this volume represent perhaps the first time scholars from all over the world have contributed on this subject. It was decided, where possible, to ask local scholars who had access to primary sources to write for the encyclopedia. Knowledge of the local language is crucial to understanding the multilayered significance of a form of dress and its importance to a social group. In South Asia, in particular, in-depth research by art historians, anthropologists, fieldworkers, and activists has been carried out following these countries’ achievement of independence. Similarly, a number of contributors to the volume have carried out extensive fieldwork over many years in Southeast Asia.

More than fifty authors have contributed to the volume. The volume editor herself has worked in this field for the last fifty-four years in India. Her fieldwork as a United Nations specialist in Iran, Central Asia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and twenty-one countries in Africa has informed her perspective on shared influences and common links.

The volume opens with an overview of South Asia and Southeast Asia. The general articles on each region that follow cover the history of the cultures, textiles, and jewelry of the region. The country-based articles look at the evolution of dress in the light of each country’s geoclimatic conditions and history and their influence on creative expression and forms of dress. The impact of colonialism is also analyzed, as well as the significance of certain important articles of dress, such as the turban, the sari, the shawl, and the blouse. It may appear that South Asia is covered more extensively, but this is because of the size of its population, the varied terrain and thus greater variation in dress, and the more extensive research that has been done by indigenous scholars.

This volume provides information for students of apparel, for researchers on the subject of dress, for teachers, for collectors of textiles and dress, as well as for all those interested in cultural traditions. To assist readers who wish to find out more about a particular subject, there are numerous cross-references to related articles in this volume and other volumes (readers may especially wish to refer to volume 6 on East Asia), and bibliographic references are listed at the end of each article.

Volume 4 benefited greatly from the support of Joanne B. Eicher, the editor in chief of the ten volumes of the Encyclopedia, who had the herculean task of being available to all the editors and providing both help and advice to a volume editor faced by many surprises and, one might say, a few near disasters. Thanks also go to Sylvia Miller, Encyclopedia Consultant, who conceptualized the Encyclopedia through its many transformations and travails; Rosemary Crill who responded tirelessly to the many factual queries that needed to be addressed and John Villiers who assisted in this task; publishing staff who took up the challenge of publishing such a complex project; and Julia Rosen, who had the thankless job of making sense of the varying opinions of numerous editors, each with his or her own approach. We would like to acknowledge the contribution of Mohammed Kassim Bin Haji Ali, who sadly died before this volume was published.

Last, but not the least, the wonderful K. V. Babu diligently worked through innumerable weekends over the past three years, helping with the huge amounts of correspondence and the typing, retyping, and correcting of the articles.

Jasleen Dhamija