Fashion identity is more western in most parts of the Northeast—simply
because Western music plays an important role in the lives of the youth.
The Jainsem is an integral part of the traditional dress of the female
folk of Meghalaya and is worn chiefly by the women of the two
communities of Khasi and Khynrium.
The main garment of the Mizo, the puan, which simply means cloth, has
always played a central role in the social fabric of the community.
The term Northeast itself is a misnomer. It comes from the larger
term: the Northeastern states, which is better known as the Seven
Sisters. Besides boasting a multi-ethnic background, each state has its
own distinct identity that is dictated by the religion practiced there.
a broader scale the Christian faith is practiced in Mizoram, Meghalaya
and Nagaland; Hindism in Assam and Tripura; and Buddhism in Sikkim and
Arunachal Pradesh. The Christian faith moulds people naturally to
Western styling, so here it has its own identity too–for instance, the
church going mid-length dresses, skirts and blouses, hats, bows and
gloves. The Jainsem is an integral part of the traditional dress of the
female folk of Meghalaya and is worn chiefly by the women of the two
communities of Khasi and Khynrium. It is adorned by a big colourful
shawl made of wool. The main garment of the Mizo, the puan, which simply
means cloth, has always played a central role in the social fabric of
the community. It has transcended its mere functional aspect as a
garment worn by women– and men too, in earlier days–to play a crucial
role in the performance of rites, rituals and other special occasions
like births, deaths, and weddings.
Fashion identity is more
western in most parts of the Northeast—simply because Western music
plays an important role in the lives of the youth here. It is a huge
influencer of trends. This is not just with the advent of globalization
but was true even decades before. In the 1970s, it was more iconic as
popular culture or rock (life and) styles influenced these trends in
terms of fashion. It influences trends in terms of a hairstyle or
accessory like the leather jacket, shades, shoulder bag or bandana
casually strewn over their head. here a natural swagger is a uniqueness
of their own which is inherent in their aesthetic.
Shawls here are
also important and have a story of their own. The more popular ones are
from Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Assam. The patterns and stripes are
different and often reflect the tribe that weaves them. These shawls
can be gender specific too: for instance, the Ao Naga red black and
white warrior shawl is only to be worn by men.
Craft and textiles
also play an important role in the everyday life of the people in this
region. For instance, the highly prized thu, a handcrafted bamboo
basket, is used for storing clothes. Ecological awareness is a reality
among most here, especially with their proximity to nature, and so
preserving and recycling craft in their day-to-day life comes naturally
here. Textiles from this region are unique too. Every state has its own
distinct loom. Among the states, Assam has one of the most beautiful
textiles popularly known for its muga and eri silk which has evolved
Dance too has a relationship with textiles.
The traditional Manipuri style of dancing embodies delicate, lyrical and
graceful movements which enhance the audience in its beautiful and
colourful costumes and presentations. The graceful Gandharva Manipuri
dance, which is evocative of the Raas Leela, has dancers wearing
costumes like the long and flared embroidered skirts from the waist,
translucent veils, and long peacock feather crows that add radiant
appearance. While the Bihu dance in Assam has boys wearing a churia
(dhoti), chapkan (shirt) made of silk, tangali (belt) and gamocha
(towel) on the head. The girls wear gitigee (kind of headgear), agoo
(mekhala) and Lagu Richa (chaddar). The garia by the Tripura community
celebrates the the beauty of vibrant design and drama on textiles. One
also sees this in the Chang Lo or Sua Lua dance of Nagaland with their
dramatic costumes of the traditional Naga warrior and finery of
Interestingly, the shape or silhouette of traditional
wear from Assam like the mekhla chaddar and puan from Mizoram have
closer links to the sarong or lungi and blouse or jacket worn in the
south East of Asia, though the textile used is more indigenous. One can
see the traces of this in the Burmese and Thai traditional wear. This
connect to Asia has always fascinated me and so I have always tried to
bring this out in my collections that often resonate Pan-Asian
influences. Growing up in Sikkim, the Buddhist play of textiles in silks
and brocades have always held their fascination for me.
fashion in the Himalayan belt came from the royal courts and trace back
to the kingdoms in Tibet. The bakhu, a loose cloak type garment that is
fastened at the neck on one side and near the waist with a silk or
cotton belt, and honju (blouse) were first worn in silks and brocades.
But now with the times changing is worn in crepe prints and lighter
silks and georgettes.
In the Northeast, though cultural identity
has changed over time for each of the states, there is a deep-rooted
understanding and respect for each other’s differences. Globalization,
in one way, has helped in assimilation and acceptance of changes amongst
the people of the region. With openings both for studies and
professional employment, there has been a movement of the youth working
and living in the bigger cities. Even though it seems to have displaced
them at first, it has changed the face of urbanscape, thereby reflecting
a more diverse India.