16 June, 2021

The Second Skin

An unusual book on how Indian clothing reflects social attitudes

The Second Skin
A woman goes to her wardrobe, flings open the door and gazing in utter despair at the racks of clothes inside exclaims: "I haven't a thing to wear." Whether this scene takes place in downtown Manhattan or uptown Mahabalipuram, the problem is the same: what to wear? This is the conundrum Emma Tarlo returns to with relentless inquisitiveness in her book, Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India, her analysis and indepth research perfectly complementing the triviality and the profundity of this question.

Tarlo documents the changing attitudes towards clothes in India from the early colonial period to the present day. She set out to study the significance of women's embroidery in a Gujarati village in 1988 and found herself in a farcical situation: "There was I, showing inordinate interest in embroidery, when the women who actually made it were largely uninspired. Some had given up wearing it altogether, while others who still did confessed they were embarrassed by its backward connotations and were keen to be rid of it."

Other anthropologists may have...

In this article:

More from Anita Roy

Latest Magazine

June 21, 2021

other articles from the issue

articles from the previous issue

Other magazine section