The pattern of Indian clothing in relation to tropical climate

The pattern of Indian clothing in relation to tropical climate

S. K. Chatterjee National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad, India Received and accepted 23 June 1977 Keywords: clothing, tropical climate, ...

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S. K. Chatterjee National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad, India Received and accepted 23 June 1977 Keywords: clothing, tropical climate, India.

T h e Pattern o f Indian Clothing in Relation to Tropical Climate In order to achieve a wide range of adaptability by buffering the effects of variations of the surroundings, man adopts and modifies the available choices of the pattern of clothing. In India, climatic variations are wide between different parts of the country and, obviously, the patterns of clothing or garments are also different. The eastern, southern and western zone climates are similar and can be recognised as hot-humid tropics. Garments with a loose covering of the body are the special features of these zones and this type of garment is essential to obtain a maximum convective and evaporative heat loss with the available air movement across the clothing worn. Northern zone people usually wear a long type of dress, such as the "pyjama" or "salwar" and long "kurta". Some form of head cover, which is especially common in the north zone, is possibly meant for protecting the head from solar radiation, while working outdoors. Obviously, the people of the hilly region wear long dress which covers the ankles, wrists and neck, meant only for protection against cold. Thus, the concept of textile development influences the clothing fashion, and the basic designs and patterns of clothing in different parts of the country could possibly be due to adaptation for the environmental variation.

T h e physiology of clothing is somewhat complex today. At present, clothing is to some extent controlled by fashion. Passmore (1947) wrote " I t is more important in this century to dress for the day rather t h a n for the season". Doriot (1944) is more critical of textiles. H e emphasized that " C l o t h i n g has largely been developed for the purpose of dressing a retail store window a n d not for dressing the ultimate consumer". But, the origin of clothing is somewhat intriguing. M a n , being a homiotherm, possesses a wide range ofadaptibility achieved b y buffering the effects o f variations in his surrounding environment, whereas h u g e perkilothermic animals could not survive because of the lack o f this adapfibility to their immediate environments. This adapfibility power can be enormously extended by providing a personal climate or "nullien intermediare" b y the use of clothing (Wullsin, 1949). Probably, the very first action of m a n ' s ancestors in covering up their bodies by some sort of clothing originated from sensations of discomfort arising from stress placed on the mechanism concerned with the m a i n t e n a n c e of b o d y temperature. A n o t h e r theory of the origin of clothing could be "decoration for sexual attraction or social prestige" (Shullman, 1945). T h e theory of " m o d e s t y " , illustrated by the fig-leaf story of the G a r d e n of Eden, has also been quoted regarding the origin o f clothing. Relatively hairless Homo sapiens, it is generally accepted, arose in the w a r m e r regions o f the world. T h e "tropical clothing or g a r m e n t " with loose covering for the b o d y is the special feature when c o m p a r e d with the close fitting g a r m e n t covering the whole body, such as the fur tunic and trousers of the Eskimo or "Arctic dress". H o w e v e r , this simple t h e o r y m a y have debatable points. Figure 1 gives a b r o a d spectrum o f the type of clothing w o r n in various parts of the world, according to statements taken from the CIBA Review, The Physiology of Clothing (1964]4). I n India, the pattern of wearing clothing is different in different parts of the country. I w o u l d like to show a few o f t h e m as w o r n b y men, and try to find out the rational basis, if any, for such a d a p t a t i o n in relation to climatic conditions. Journal of Human Evolution (1978) 7, 95-99


s.K. CHATTERJEE Figure I. An early 19th century map showing the type of clothing w6rn in various parts of the world.











First, let me show the clothing as worn by men from the eastern zone, i.e. Bengal (Figure 2). It is seen that the upper garment, which is known as the "Punjabee", is usually made of fine cotton cloth with a high air permeability and open at the neck, wrist, front and back. It is worn with a cotton vest. The villagers often remain naked on the upper part. The loin cotton cloth which is known as the "Dhoti" is worn in such a way as to give free ventilation of the skin. Meterological data for the eastern zone obtained for 60 years showed the average mean dry and wet bulb temperatures to vary between 75-9~ and 82.8~ and 72"0~ and 73.9~ respectively. The recorded dry bulb temperature was as high as 11 I'0~ during the summer months and the highest humidity recorded was 88 ~o. From these records, the eastern zone can be recognized as the hot-humid tropics. Since the environmental temperature is mostly below the average skin temperature, the two physical processes--convection and evaporation--play an important part in the thermoregulation of the body. The mean relative humidity is found to vary between 8265 ~ at 08.30 to 17.30 hrs, with an average wind velocity of 3"2 mile/hr, i.e. approximately 5.15 km/hr or 230 ft/min. It is essential to get a maximum convective and evaporative heat loss with the available air movement with clothing which will have free access to its ventilation. T h a t idea itself also dictates the manufacture of a type of clothing which will have better air-change across the garments. It is known from the work ofWinslow, Gagge & Harrington (1939) that any increase of air movement would greatly increase the convection per degree difference between the clothed surface and the air. They reported an increase from 2"13 to 6"25 kg Cal/m2/hr[~ from an~inerease of air movement from 4.6

INDIAN CLOTHING Figure 2. Dress w( people in the easten (Bengal).

Figure 4. Dress worn by people in the north.

Figure 3. Dress wc people from the sou

Figure 5. Dress worn by Saurashtrian people.




c m / s (9"06 ft/min) to 34 cm/s (66.93 ft/min). Shullman (1945)found that in a w a r m humid atmosphere, evaporative heat loss increased i'rom 190 g m / h r in still air to 235 gm/h in an air velocity of 6 mile/hr (528 ft/min). T h e adaptation in the design and pattern of wearing clothing for this zone satisfied both the convective and evaporative heat loss from the body. T h e various openings, at the wrist, neck, front and back as well as below, help these two physical processes with the available air movement. T h e "Punjabee", being of a fine texture, has a high air permeability for convective heat loss. Moreover, because of the fine texture of the cloth, the cloth soaks up the liquid sweat from the body and allows evaporative cooling from its surface. The effect of ventilation through closure is important as it has been found that there is a fall of skin temperature while working with an unbuttoned collar after a rise with a buttoned collar (Shullman, 1945). This result is valuable for future research for a civilian official dress like the "chust p y j a m a " and "'sherwani" or a r m y dress which is closed at the ankles, wrist and neck and worn in humid heat. It is often seen that a civilian spending time mostly outdoors in humid heat wears full European dress and this has also been convention rather than the rule. T h e addition of another layer such as a cotton jacket over his shirt, which is closed at neck by wearing a "tie" adds to the weight of the body and thus leads to more heat load on the individual. European dress is popular for the best fitness in different situations rather than for giving much consideration for better comfort. This European style of dress m a y not be suitable for the tropical climates and an alternative has to be thought of. T h e next zone which is similar to the east zone is the south (Figure 3). Here the cultural adaptation of wearing the "'dhoti" is different from the east. I t provides m u c h greater ventilation of the skin than the latter. T h e climatological data recorded from Madras for a period of 50 years showed that the dry-bulb temperature was slightly higher than the east zone (80.6-88.9~ and the average humidity was 67-76 ~ . It does not show any significant change in air temperature and humidity, except that it has a greater wind velocity, 10"8 mile/hr on average (i.e. approximately 17.38 k m / h r or 950 ft/min). The higher wind velocity provides better convective and evaporative heat losses. T h e upper garment is usually one short vest type of dress open at neck, arm, front and back which helps those two physical processes. I n the north zone the people usually wear a long type of dress which is either a "pyj a m a " or "'salwar" and the long " k u r t a " (Figure 4). One further notices that there is some form of head cover which is not seen in either the south or the east zone. From the climate of north zone (New Delhi and Ambala), observed for 45-50 years, it is seen that the dry-bulb temperature is over 90.0~ at 17.30 hrs for six months in a year. Since the dry-bulb temperature is much higher and, comparatively, the average relative humidity is also lower (i.e. 33-38 ~o at 17.30 hrs), the region could be known as the dry-heat type. I t is well known that clothing acts as a thermal barNer and the use of a long type of dress probably originated from reducing convective and radiated heat gain from the sun, especially in summer when the temperature touches over 100.0~ T h e head cover is also m e a n t for protecting the head from solar radiation, while working outdoors. Coming to the west zone, one finds that the climate of Bombay is similar to that of the east or the south zone. T h e dry-bulb temperature variation is only between 69.8-85.0~ in the whole year and the humidity also ranged from 60 to 80 ~ . Unfortunately, I have not been able to discover the typical dress, but the Koli people, who are supposed to be the



old residents of Bombay Island and whose main occupation is fishing, wear a short loincloth in the form of the south Indian style with the upper p a r t of the body bare. T h e climate, which is humid, fits with the type of dress worn by them. But the Saurashtrian people, where the climate is more dry (dry-bulb temperature 73.9-90.8~ and humidity 34-62 ~ ) , again wear a long tightly closed pyjama and short loose jacket (Figure 5). This m a y again be due to the dry nature of climate for reducing convective and radiative heat. T h e people of the hilly region wear long dress which is closed at the ankle, wrist and neck, and m e a n t as a fuel-saving device in a cold climate (dry bulb temperature 38.567~ humidity 53-58 ~ ) . Kashmiris keep an earthen pot (local name Kangri) tied round the belly under the clothing, in which they burn dried Chinar leaves for beating off the cold. It is like a hot water bottle kept under a quilt for keeping the bed hot. Thus, it is seen that the different designs and patterns of wearing clothing in different parts of India could be due to adaptation for climatic variation, but detailed research is needed incorporating social customs, nutrition, etc., for the rational basis of this complex problem. References

Doriot, G. F. (1944). Environmental protection. Proceedingsof the American Philosophical Society 88, 196. Passmore, R. (1947). Clothing. Practioner 159, 394. Shullman, L. E. (1945). Biophysical factors involved in protective influence of clothing. Dissertation, Public Health Department, Yale University. Winslow, C. E. A., Gagge, A. P. & Harrington, L. P. (1939). The influence of air movement upon heat loss from the clothed human body. American Journal of Physiology 127, 505. Wullsin, F. R. (1949). Adaptation to climate among non-European people. In (Newburgh, L. H., ed.) Physiology of Heat Regulation and the Science of Clothing. Philadelphia :W. B. Saunders