Blouses were rarely part of the fashionable woman's wardrobe until the 1890s. Before that time, they were occasionally popular for informal wear in styles that echoed peasant or traditional clothing, such as the Garibaldi shirt of the 1860s.
During the later Victorian period, blouses became common for informal, practical wear. A simple blouse with a plain skirt was the standard dress for the newly expanded female (non-domestic) workforce of the 1890s, especially for those employed in office work. In the 1900s and 1910s, elaborate blouses, such as the "lingerie blouse" (so-called because they were heavily decorated with lace and embroidery in a style formerly restricted to underwear) and the "Gibson Girl blouse" with tucks and pleating, became immensely popular for daywear and even some informal evening wear. Since then, blouses have remained a wardrobe staple.
Blouses are often made of cotton or silk cloth and may or may not include a collar and sleeves. They are generally more tailored than simple knit tops, and may contain feminine details such as ruffles, a tie or a soft bow at the neck, or embroidered decorations.
A choli (lehnga in Urdu or ravika in Telugu) is a midriff-baring blouse worn in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and other countries where the sari is worn. The choli is cut to fit tightly to the body and has short sleeves and a low neck. The choli is usually cropped, allowing exposure of the navel; the cropped design is particularly well-suited for wear in the sultry South Asian summers. Cut-out backs and front-opening buttons are some of the features of contemporary designs.
Saris are often woven with an extra length of material meant to be cut off and fashioned into a matching choli. The choli may be sewn so that the elaborately woven borders of the sari material form the bottom edges of the choli sleeves. However, cholis need not match the sari. There is a growing trend towards stretchy, comfortable cholis made from knit materials.
The traditional choli was worn without a brassiere (invented as recently as the late 19th century), as is evident from the images in the Choli Art Gallery, below. However, many modern South Asian women wear a soft bra under the choli, for a firmer appearance of the bust. Expensive designer cholis are sewn with padding and reinforcements so that a bra is not needed and backless or off-the-shoulder cholis can be worn with ease.
Women of the Gujarat and Rajasthan countryside may also wear the choli with a gypsy skirt, or lehnga. Their cholis are often loosely fitted and heavily ornamented with embroidery and mirror work, or shisha embroidery.
When wearing a semi-transparent kameez, women usually wear a sleeveless choli as an undergarment similar to a camisole or a bustier.
Office dress codes usually prohibit cropped, sleeveless cholis; similarly, women in the armed forces, when wearing a sari uniform, don a half-sleeve shirt tucked in at the waist.
Some Western women have started wearing the choli as part of their belly dance costume. They typically wear backless cholis (held together with strings) so that the audience can see a dancer's bare back as she sways.
Backless cholis have become a fashion in India after the movie Hum Aapke Hain Koun...!, in which Madhuri Dixit wears one.
A lehenga is a skirt worn with a choli, also called a gypsy skirt or gopi skirt. While women of the Gujarat and Rajasthan provinces of India usually represent the outfit for foreigners, the lehenga is native to several other parts of India too. Depending on which part of India one is referring to, the lehenga is worn in different styles, made of different fabrics and includes unique patterns. The lehenga of Rajasthan and Gujarat is known for its bandhni work which is a technique in tie-dye mastered by Hindu women of the region. In the Southern states of India, the lehenga skirt is not as voluminous and is worn without a chunni/chunri but with a kurti that covers the midriff. The lehenga worn in the Northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarkhand has a voluminous skirt and kurti/choli that covers midriff with a long chunni.
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