Bound from Head to Toe: The Sari as an Expression of Gendered National Identity


  • Shauna Wilton

    1. University of Alberta, Augustana Campus
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    • Shauna Wilton is an associate professor of political studies at the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta. Her research focuses on nationalism, the politics of identity, gender, and immigration, and utilises case studies from Canada, Europe, and India.


This article explores the clothing choices of Indian women and the relationship between clothing and the construction of the nation in contemporary India. Building on the existing literature on nationalism, combined with feminist and cultural studies approaches, the article uses interviews with young Indian women as an entry point into exploring the symbolic role of women and the sari within Indian nationalism. In doing so, this article questions to what extent choosing what to wear is an example of choosing the nation, whether it is a free and conscious choice, and whether it is appropriate to see these choices as constitutive of national identity or merely ornamental. In conclusion, I argue that something as ordinary as choosing what to wear has the potential to undermine dominant discourses surrounding the nation. While choosing to wear the sari does not always reflect a conscious choosing of the Indian nation, the clothing choices of Indian women do allow them to navigate complex social and cultural identities in their everyday lives and reflect the importance of the ‘everyday’ within theorising and explaining the construction and maintenance of nations.